Jamie is on the verge of a hat-trick

COLCHESTER United hot-shot Jamie Cureton is on the verge of completing a hat-trick of Golden Boots.The 31-year-old looks away and clear at the top of the Championship's goalscoring charts, going into Sunday's final round of matches.

By Carl Marston

COLCHESTER United hot-shot Jamie Cureton is on the verge of completing a hat-trick of Golden Boots.

The 31-year-old looks away and clear at the top of the Championship's goalscoring charts, going into Sunday's final round of matches.

He is two goals ahead of his two nearest rivals, and furthermore neither of them can add to their tally this weekend - they are both suspended!

Cureton has scored 24 goals, an outstanding achievement and one that helped to propel the U's to the brink of the play-offs. Snapping at his heels, in recent weeks, have been the duo of Michael Chopra and Diomansy Kamara, but they are now powerless to catch the Colchester star.

Cardiff City attacker Chopra and West Brom front-runner Kamara are both sitting on 22 goals. They both nursed genuine hopes of overhauling Cureton, until they both suffered the same fate - sent off towards the end of games.

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Chopra had been setting the pace during the first half of this season, only for the goals to dry up at the same time as Cardiff began their dramatic slide down the Championship table.

The ex-Newcastle United star then saw his Golden Boot ambitions go up in smoke, when he was dismissed after the final whistle in Cardiff's 1-0 defeat at QPR a fortnight ago.

It was the 10th time a Cardiff player had been sent off this season, and crucially the second time that Chopra had been flashed a red card. That meant a two-match ban, rather than the normal one-match suspension for incurring two bookings.

Cardiff's hierarchy were so angry with their chief goalscorer that they gave him a hefty fine. Already booked earlier in the game, Chopra was given a second yellow card after the final whistle for an altercation with QPR keeper Lee Camp.

Bluebirds manager Dave Jones blasted: “It was a stupid thing to do. Crazy!” These sentiments were echoed by his chairman, Peter Ridsdale, who admitted: “What happened was unacceptable.”

All this is sweet music to Cureton! Chopra missed Cardiff's 1-0 home defeat by Hull City last Saturday, and will also have to sit out City's final match at Ipswich on Sunday.

Kamara, meanwhile, was sent off during the closing minutes of West Brom's 1-0 win at Coventry City last weekend, and will now miss the Baggies' home game against Barnsley.

Cureton will not begin celebrating just yet, but a third Golden Boot looks a certainty. The next nearest challenger is Southampton's Grzegorz Rasiak on 20 goals, four behind the Colchester striker. And Rasiak is a doubt for this Sunday's game against already relegated Southend, due to a shoulder injury.

Former Norwich City trainee Cureton won a couple of Golden Boots earlier in his career, while at Bristol Rovers (1998-99) and Reading (2000-01), although they were in a lower division (equivalent of the current League One).

That's why this season's accolade would be extra special, scoring more goals than any every other striker in the second tier of the Football League.

And he will be looking to add to his tally against visiting Crystal Palace this Sunday. The U's have virtually no chance of reaching the play-offs, because they would have to beat Palace by five goals and also hope that Southampton and Stoke both lose, and that Preston fail to win.

That scenario won't happen, but Cureton is poised to lift the consolation of a Golden Boot.

“I started to think that I could win after scoring my hat-trick at Southend,” revealed Cureton, with reference to the U's 3-0 win at Roots Hall on Good Friday, April 6.

“That put me up there, because that hat-trick had followed my two at Southampton and one against Norwich. Winning the Golden Boot was not something that I set out to do, but it would be a great achievement. Everyone has played their part this season. I've been set up by so many different people, so it would be an award for the whole team.

“Some of the lads have said that it is a foregone conclusion that I've won it, but I won't be celebrating prematurely,” insisted Cureton.

Like the rest of his team-mates, Bristol-born Cureton was crestfallen after losing 3-1 at play-off rivals Stoke last Saturday, a result that all but dashed their dreams of making the top six.

He continued: “For the first 45 minutes we did really well at Stoke, and I think our downfall was that we didn't get 2-0 up.

“We needed another goal, but the game changed after their equaliser. Stoke over-powered us for 15 minutes, and that was the game over. Stoke are a strong side. Tony Pulis usually creates big teams, and their strikers were a handful.

“However, it's still been a great season for us, and we will definitely finish in the top 10. I want us to win our final game against Crystal Palace this Sunday, because it would be great to finish in seventh or eighth position,” said Cureton.

Championship top scorers

24: Jamie Cureton (Colchester)

22: Michael Chopra (Cardiff City) and Diomansy Kamara (West Brom)

20 Grzegorz Rasiak (Southampton)

18: Robert Earnshaw (Norwich) and Chris Iwelumo (Colchester United).

17: Steve Howard (Derby County), ALAN LEE (Ipswich Town), Gary McSheffrey (Birmingham City) and David Nugent (Preston).

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