No fear from Jackson and Co.

NEW recruit Johnnie Jackson has “no fear” of what lies ahead for rank outsiders Colchester United this season.The U's begin their first-ever campaign in the Championship at Birmingham City tomorrow.

By Carl Marston

NEW recruit Johnnie Jackson has “no fear” of what lies ahead for rank outsiders Colchester United this season.

The U's begin their first-ever campaign in the Championship at Birmingham City tomorrow. It promises to be a stiff test for Geraint Williams' wafer-thin squad but Jackson is confident of springing a surprise.

The former Tottenham midfielder is relishing the chance to pit his wits against the cream of the Championship following his summer move from White Hart Lane.

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“We are all fit and ready for action. We've worked hard for the last few weeks but the big test starts now,” insisted Jackson last night.

“We know that we will be underdogs for nearly every match this season but we don't mind. It takes the pressure off us a little, realising that people are not expecting much from us.

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“Of course there are some decent teams in this division but we don't fear anyone. Pre-season has gone well, despite all the waiting about who was going to be the new manager. I think that we have got better and better with each game. We're now ready for Birmingham,” added Jackson.

Williams has been the mainstay at Layer Road ever since former manager Phil Parkinson resigned on June 14. The Welshman had been an assistant to both Parkinson and his predecessor Steve Whitton and, following more than a month as the caretaker boss this summer, he was finally rewarded with the job full-time last week.

Jackson, along with the rest of the U's squad, was delighted to learn of Williams' appointment. Now the team can concentrate solely on matters on the pitch.

“It was an unsettling time for us all, not knowing who the new manager would be. We tried to be professional and we have all got ourselves fit but there was still that instability around,” admitted Jackson.

“It was all up in the air. George (Geraint Williams) was brilliant as the caretaker. He kept things going, and it was great that he got the job, and that it has all been resolved before the new season started.

“They were a difficult few weeks, especially as the managerial situation dragged on for a long time. We know it's going to be a hard season in the Championship but I'm really looking forward to the challenge.”

Colchester were immediately dismissed as favourites for relegation by all the national bookmakers following their surprise promotion from League One last season. And that was even before the loss of their former manager Parkinson to Championship rivals Hull City!

By contrast, tomorrow's hosts Birmingham are widely tipped as the favourites to lift the Championship title and so secure a quickfire return to the Premiership. Manager Steve Bruce has signed a host of quality players over the summer, having banked £13m for the sale of Emile Heskey and Jermaine Pennant.

Jackson continued: “I think that Birmingham are favourites to go straight back up, so it will be a hard first game for us. They are a massive club with a big squad.

“In fact, they have spent more money in the transfer market than a lot of the Premiership clubs this summer. But we are confident that we can go there and get something,” concluded Jackson.

Midfielder Jackson and striker Jamie Cureton have been the only new arrivals at Layer Road during the close season. Williams has earmarked the players that he wants to help bolster the squad, so there should be a lot of activity in the transfer market over the coming weeks.

At present, the U's squad is weaker than it was when they were a League One outfit last season. Manager Parkinson, star midfielder Neil Danns (to Birmingham) and defender Liam Chilvers (to Preston) have all left, joining the quartet who were released in May - Tony Thorpe, Gareth Williams, Sam Stockley and Stephen Hunt. Furthermore, the U's no longer have the benefits of season-long Tottenham loanee Mark Yeates.

Jackson played eight games on loan at Layer Road during the back-end of the 2002-03 campaign, operating as a left-back, although he has been a regular in midfield during this pre-season.

Ex-U's star Danns will be the main talking point tomorrow. He is set to make his Blues debut, although Jackson will be more concerned about overshadowing his former Tottenham team-mates Stephen Clemence and Stephen Kelly, who are both on Birmingham's books.

Meanwhile, U's defender George Elokobi will not miss the start of the season, despite being sent off for the Reserves during their Pontins' Combination Cup final victory over Cheltenham Town on Tuesday evening.

However, Elokobi will still have to serve a three-match ban, which kicks in after a fortnight. The Cameroon-born defender will be available for the first three fixtures, at Birmingham tomorrow and then at home to Plymouth and Barnsley next week, before missing the games against West Brom, MK Dons and Derby County.

U's fans will be able to pay at the turnstiles for tomorrow's visit to St Andrews. Half the allocation for away supporters has already been taken, but travelling fans will still be able to but a ticket at the ground.

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