Hands off our manager, say U's fans

SO MUCH will be at stake when former European Cup winners Nottingham Forest play host to Colchester United tomorrow, for only the second time in the club's history.

By Carl Marston

SO MUCH will be at stake when former European Cup winners Nottingham Forest play host to Colchester United tomorrow, for only the second time in the club's history.

Who would have thought that, before the season began, it would be the U's sitting in fourth spot, eying up an automatic promotion place, with Forest reduced to trying to gate-crash the play-offs with a late run.

Colchester have performed above themselves, while Forest have been the under-achievers, to such an extent that successful U's boss Phil Parkinson has even been linked with the full-time job at the City Ground.

Yesterday, Forest caretaker boss Frank Barlow (he holds that position jointly with Ian McPharland), seemed to imply that Parkinson would be the right man to be appointed Forest manager at the end of the season.

Barlow told the local Nottingham Press: “I think Parky would be most people's slot. I think he's a top manager in the making.”

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However, Barlow was quick to distance himself from that story, issuing a statement on the club's own web-site later in the day.

He insisted: “That's not what I said, nor what I would say. I have the utmost respect for Phil Parkinson and the job he has done at Colchester, but I would not be so disrespectful to Nottingham Forest to tell them who to appoint.”

U's supporters have already snapped up nearly 700 tickets for tomorrow's trip to the City Ground, and they will be united in one message to Forest - “hands off our manager!”

Parkinson has had three successful years in the Layer Road hot-seat, so he's no stranger to being linked with other clubs. Forest fit the bill of a fallen giant looking for an up-and-coming manager.

But the 38-year-old has just one thing on his mind - keeping the U's on course for promotion, preferably along with leaders Southend at the beginning of May, rather than through the play-offs at the end of that month.

“We want to finish the season strongly. We're pleased with where we are, and I thought we were terrific against Brentford (1-1 draw) last weekend. We just need to apply the finishing touch in front of goal,” said Parkinson.

“Looking at the tape from the Brentford game, it was one of our best performances of the season, sustained over 90 minutes. We felt a little hard done by, and that we didn't get the rub of the green, but we've been practising our finishing this week.

“Frank (Barlow) has done a good job as a caretaker manager at Forest. He hasn't changed the personnel, but they are a good side and Nathan Tyson's pace is their main asset,” added Parkinson.

It's desperately tight among the six teams immediately below pace-setters Southend - just six points separate second-placed Brentford from seventh-placed Barnsley.

Furthermore, improving Forest have won their last three games to edge closer to the top six - they are now a mere four points adrift of the play-off zone.

In fact, the Nottingham club have not looked back since former manager Gary Megson departed. They are unbeaten in seven games, and the momentum is with them.

The U's, though, will be gunning for their third league double of the campaign, having beaten Forest 3-1 at Layer Road on January 2.

Parkinson's men might have left it late, cancelling out Tyson's 90th-minute equaliser with goals from Mark Yeates and Richard Garcia in a thrilling victory, but they were full value for their win.

And the U's deserved more than the solitary point they gained from last weekend's 1-1 home draw against Brentford. The Londoners were holding on for the last hour, after Chris Iwelumo had nodded home his 18th goal of the season for the equaliser.

Competition for places remains hot this weekend, especially as the loan duo of Scott Vernon and Jamal Campbell-Ryce both scored in the Reserves' 3-0 win over Southend in midweek.

Tomorrow will be Colchester's second visit to the City Ground. The first was back on Christmas Day in 1950, when the U's held Forest to a 0-0 draw.

Just 24 hours later, Forest won 2-0 at Layer Road on their way to winning the Third Division South title.

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