No time for slip-ups

THERE are still 20 games remaining, but you get the feeling that Colchester United must win tonight to remain serious contenders for a play-off spot.

Carl Marston

THERE are still 20 games remaining, but you get the feeling that Colchester United must win tonight to remain serious contenders for a play-off spot.

That might sound a little premature, with 60 points still up for grabs and a team on a current run of just one defeat in 10 league matches.

But the U's cannot really afford to slip any further adrift of those top six places. Paul Lambert's men are 11 points behind sixth-placed Millwall, who also have two games in hand. The gap is bridgeable, at the moment, although it would require a terrific late surge to gatecrash the end-of-season play-offs.

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One thing is for certain - the U's cannot improve on their 11th position tonight, whatever the result against fellow mid-table outfit Northampton. They are four points behind 10th-placed Huddersfield.

Despite the recent transfer activity surrounding wingers (Lewis Gobern and Simon Hackney) and defenders (failed bids for Mike Williamson and Rob Jones), the U's ironically look to be most in need of strengthening up front.

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Club record signing Steven Gillespie hobbled off with a calf injury after just six minutes of Saturday's goal-less draw at Bristol Rovers, which happened to be the U's first 0-0 away draw for 784 days - the previous 0-0 was at Cardiff City on December 2, 2006.

Scott Vernon had a goal disallowed just before the break, and Mark Yeates had a close-range shot blocked by keeper Steve Phillips late on, but otherwise the U's rarely looked like scoring.

Gillespie has only started six league games, since his �400,000 move from Cheltenham last summer, and he is again facing up to a spell on the treatment table.

Jamie Guy could therefore be named in the 16-man squad for the first time this season. The 21-year-old returned from a long loan stint at Oxford United earlier in the month and has scored four goals in two appearances for the Reserves.

Vernon replaced the injured Gillespie at Bristol and could well start alongside Clive Platt this evening. The only alternatives are to operate with a winger up front, either Mark Yeates or Wolves loanee Gobern.

The fact that fellow winger Hackney signed for the U's last night, from Carlisle United, could allow Lambert to experiment with that set-up - a speedy front-runner alongside a big target man.

Looking even further ahead, manager Lambert will have an even bigger headache this weekend, because Platt picked up his fifth booking at Rovers and so will be suspended for the long trip to Carlisle.


COLCHESTER UNITED: Walker, Maybury, Baldwin, Reid, Tierney, Perkins, Izzet, Hammond, Yeates, Platt, Vernon, Hackney, Gobern, White, Wordsworth, Guy, Heath and Cousins.

NORTHAMPTON TOWN: Dunn, Rodgers, Hughes, Doig, Jackman, Coke, Osman, Davis, Clarke, Akinfenwa, Constantine, Crowe, Holt, Gilligan, Larkin, Dolman and Zieler.

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