Parkinson ponders U's strike pairing

CHRIS Iwelumo, and one other. That's the chief dilemma facing Colchester United manager Phil Parkinson ahead of tomorrow's crunch contest at Bournemouth.

By Carl Marston

CHRIS Iwelumo, and one other. That's the chief dilemma facing Colchester United manager Phil Parkinson ahead of tomorrow's crunch contest at Bournemouth.

Leading marksman Iwelumo has started every league match for the U's this season, and the big Scotsman will again lead the front-line on the Dorset coast.

But who will be partnering the U's 19-goal machine? Billy Clarke, Tony Thorpe and Scott Vernon are all vying for the privilege of teaming up with Iwelumo, and trying to sustain Colchester's exciting push for promotion.

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Thorpe started at Chesterfield (2-2 draw) last weekend, while Ipswich Town loanee Clarke was given the nod at home to Tranmere (1-0 win) on Easter Monday.

Vernon has started just one match, at Nottingham Forest, since his loan move from Blackpool a month ago. But he, too, is pushing hard for a place in the starting line-up.

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“Scott (Vernon) and Tony (Thorpe) scored for the Reserves this week, so I have a tricky decision to make,” admitted Parkinson last night.

“In fact, Scott has scored every time that I have given him a run-out in the Reserves. He could play alongside Chris (Iwelumo), not just instead of him, so he's pushing for a place.

“Scott is looking very sharp, while it was pleasing for Tony (Thorpe) to also get on the scoresheet for the Reserves. The three lads (with Clarke) are all desperate to start,” added Parkinson.

While Iwelumo has been banging in the goals this season, and is now just one short of reaching the 20-mark in all competitions, he has had a long line of attacking partners.

Richard Garcia, Jamie Cureton, Gareth Williams, Karl Duguid, Thorpe, Clarke and Vernon have all had spells alongside Iwelumo. Between them, they have totalled 18 goals.

The U's soared into the second automatic promotion slot, behind Essex rivals Southend, following their slender win over 10-man Tranmere on Easter Monday. Centre-half Wayne Brown netted the only goal of the game, from a 62nd-minute free-kick.

Parkinson's men retained their lofty position when fellow promotion hopefuls Huddersfield slumped to a 2-1 home defeat at the hands of Chesterfield on Tuesday evening.

As a result, the U's destiny is in their own hands. They know that if they win their final three fixtures, then no one can touch them.

Two of those three matches are away, at Bournemouth tomorrow and then Yeovil on the final day of the campaign. The U's will almost certainly have to win at least one of them to gain automatic promotion, which means they will have to end a lean spell on their travels that has lasted since January.

The Essex club have not won away from home in their last eight matches, since the 1-0 success at Cheltenham in the LDV Vans Trophy on January 24. Their last away league success was the 2-0 triumph at Walsall on January 14, when Neil Danns and Iwelumo bundled home late goals.

“We have drawn a lot of matches during that run, and the performances have been good. We just need to make sure that we start stronger,” continued Parkinson.

“Blackpool are one of those teams who have no fears of relegation or hopes of promotion. The pressure won't be on them, so they can relax, but that can work both ways.

“We have started some recent away matches slowly, but we want to change that. We know that we need to score goals, to stay in second place, and we have the players to do that.

“We can't just rely on the strikers, and we have had some moments of inspiration from others in the team recently, like Mark Yeates and Wayne Brown.

“There haven't been many games this season when we haven't created many chances,” added Parkinson.

Tomorrow's hosts Bournemouth are seven points clear of the bottom four, following an unbeaten run extending seven matches. Their danger-man is red-hot striker James Hayter, who has plundered 20 goals this term, all in the league. The rest of his team-mates have only contributed 25 in total.

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