Hats off to Steve

BURNLEY manager Steve Cotterill accused Colchester United of committing daylight robbery after the U's sneaked a 2-1 win at Turf Moor in early September.

By Carl Marston

BURNLEY manager Steve Cotterill accused Colchester United of committing daylight robbery after the U's sneaked a 2-1 win at Turf Moor in early September.

He comically suggested that Geraint Williams' men should leave wearing sombreros, implying that they had enjoyed all the luck in the world!

Well, U's fans have not forgotten that throwaway comment, which is why there will be a few sombreros in the Layer Road crowd this afternoon. That should at least jog the memory of the Clarets boss.

Cotterill was not a happy man on the U's last visit, and he is not very happy at the moment, not least because his side have failed to win any of their last 14 fixtures.

However, he does recognise the tremendous achievements of Colchester this season. It is a success story that he likens to his time as the manager of Cheltenham Town - he guided the Robins to promotion into the Football League, and then up another division through the play-offs just three years later.

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“Good luck to Colchester. They have been excellent this season, but next season will be a tougher test for them,” insisted Cotterill.

“They have been first-class. Geraint (Williams) has done a good job, more than ably assisted by Mick Harford, who I know well. I'm pleased for them.

“I don't know whether it (Colchester's success) does surprise you when teams have come up and done well in the seasons before. I had the same myself at Cheltenham, when you keep the same side together that has come up through the leagues and had success.”

Cotterill enjoyed five good years at Cheltenham. He guided them to the Conference title in 1998-99, and then promotion via the Nationwide Division Three play-offs in 2001-02.

For a while this season, it looked as though he could enjoy another play-off adventure with Burnley, but now the priority is avoiding relegation rather than pushing for the top six.

Their last win was a 2-1 success over Leeds on November 28. The slump started at Ipswich on the following Saturday, when Town striker Alan Lee netted a last-minute penalty in a 1-1 draw at Portman Road.

In addition to a 3-2 defeat at Reading in the FA Cup, Cotterill's men have picked up just five points from their last 13 league games.

Goals have been a problem for the Clarets, especially during Andy Gray's absence through injury. Leading scorer Gray missed more than two months, and only returned a fortnight ago for the 1-1 home draw against Sheffield Wednesday.

Scottish international Gray, who cost £750,000 from Sunderland last summer, has still contributed 10 of Burnley's 35 league goals this season.

In fact, only Coventry City and the bottom three of Leeds, Southend and Hull have scored fewer goals than Burnley in the Championship.

The Clarets have won four times on their travels this season. Their last away success was a 2-0 win at Luton Town on October 31, when Gray bagged a brace. Their other away victories were at Norwich (4-1), Stoke (1-0) and Leicester (1-0).

Stephen Caldwell took over the captaincy duties for the midweek defeat by Leicester, even though regular skipper Wayne Thomas was back in the side.

Centre-half Caldwell, who captained Sunderland in the Premiership last season whenever Gary Breen was absent, is a Scottish international who began his career at Newcastle.

Caldwell will be alongside John McGreal at the heart of defence. Former Ipswich Town defender McGreal had the misfortune to score an own goal as Leicester notched a 1-0 win at Turf Moor on Tuesday evening.

Meanwhile, Gray will be partnered by powerful Nigerian striker Ade Akinbiyi this afternoon. The ex-Norwich City front-runner is back at Burnley after leaving them to join Sheffield United for £1.75m just over a year ago.

Akinbiyi was the Clarets' leading scorer with 14 goals when he left Turf Moor to join the Blades in January 2006. But the 32-year-old started just 12 games for the Blades, and he re-signed for Burnley on New Year's Day for £650,000, with a further £100,000 to be paid this summer.


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