Platt and Gillespie the key

COLCHESTER United's chances of gate-crashing the end-of-season play-offs might hinge on the blossoming partnership of Clive Platt and Steve Gillespie up front.

Carl Marston

Colchester soccer preview (Platt/Gillespie pics)

By Carl Marston

COLCHESTER United's chances of gate-crashing the end-of-season play-offs might hinge on the blossoming partnership of Clive Platt and Steve Gillespie up front.

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Gillespie is finally enjoying a run of games, after a nightmarish spell of injuries, while Platt has finally discovered his scoring touch.

This double boost for the U's could be just the formula that manager Paul Lambert has craved, as his side bid to make further inroads into the five-point gap between themselves and the top six.

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Target man Platt, fresh from three goals in the last two matches, will again team-up with livewire Gillespie, who is getting fitter with every day and every game that passes, for today's visit of Crewe.

Lambert enthused: “Clive Platt has been terrific for me throughout, although a lot of his good work goes unnoticed.

“Clive takes a lot of knocks up there. He gets some harsh treatment from defenders. But he offers us something different up front. A few supporters have knocked him, but I don't think that's very fair.

“And Steven Gillespie is getting better with every game. He's been a big help to Clive. He has suffered from a bit of cramp in some matches, but that's just because he hasn't played that much.

“Steven has had some stiffness, but hopefully he has a big part to play in our run-in. He could be a big player for us.

“Our pitch is very big, so it's important that we got a lot of width. Simon Hackney gives us this, and he's formed a good understanding with Marc Tierney down the left-hand side.

“Simon was great against Oldham and again on Tuesday night (3-2 win over Swindon). He's improving all the time, and he did well to set up Clive Platt's first goal against Swindon,” added Lambert.

Former MK Dons marksman Platt netted his sixth goal of the season with a second minute winner at Oldham last weekend. It was his first goal for two months.

But the 30-year-old did not take long to add to his tally, netting a brace of first-half headers against Swindon to make it eight goals for the season - that equals his total for last season, when he bagged eight goals in the Championship following his �300,000 move from Milton Keynes.

Gillespie has managed five goals since last summer's move from Cheltenham, not a bad haul when considered that he has only started eight league games all campaign.

Meanwhile, Lambert remains focused on propelling the U's further up the table, and ultimately into the play-offs, even though they are unlikely to improve on their 10th spot today, whatever the result against Crewe.

Tenth-placed Tranmere are three points clear, thanks to their midweek victory over leaders Leicester City, and they have a superior goal difference.

“It was always going to be hard to sustain what we had achieved in our previous good run (one defeat in 13 matches),” explained Lambert.

“We hit a rocky patch, but we have come again, which shows our determination to hang on for as long as we can. To be just five points off the play-offs is a terrific effort.

“But we are still looking higher than that. The fact that Tranmere beat Leicester (2-0) doesn't really mean anything to me. We are still just five points off the sixth place.

“There are a lot of games still to go, and it will be interesting to see where we all end up. I'm not so sure whether 75 points would be enough to get in the play-offs. It depends on what goes on during the run-in.

“Some teams might not handle it so well. MK Dons have struggled a bit lately. I know they have games in hand to take second spot, but it's Peterborough who have the points in the bag,” added Lambert.

The Scotsman looks set to name an unchanged starting line-up for the third game in a row, which would be the first time this has happened since his appointment in mid-October.

He confirmed: “Johnnie Jackson (shoulder problem) has trained this week and is not too far away, while Mark Yeates (calf) and Lewis Gobern (hamstring) are also back in training.

“But it won't be easy for them to get back in. They won't just walk back into a winning team. There are no certainties.

“Mark (Yeates) has been a big player for us, but it's never been about a one-man team to me, and we have won the last two games without him,” concluded Lambert.”

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