So much for both sides today

TODAY'S game means so much to both clubs, but for very different reasons.Hosts Colchester United will be playing at Layer Road for the final time, with the exception of a youth team final and a reserves fixture, so bringing the curtain down on 101 years of football at this famous old ground.

Carl Marston

Colchester soccer preview

By Carl Marston

TODAY'S game means so much to both clubs, but for very different reasons.


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Hosts Colchester United will be playing at Layer Road for the final time, with the exception of a youth team final and a reserves fixture, so bringing the curtain down on 101 years of football at this famous old ground.

The stadium is soon to be knocked down to make way for a new housing development, while the U's will be moving to a new ground in August at Cuckoo Farm, boasting a 10,000 all-seater stadium.

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It will be a trip down memory lane for all Colchester fans this afternoon. A capacity crowd is assured - the few remaining tickets were snapped up by Tuesday morning - and most of them will be reflecting on past glories as they watch the action unfold on the pitch.

By contrast, Stoke City will not be looking backwards through time. Instead, the Potters minds will be firmly on the present, with just a cursory glance at what the future might hold - the promised land of the Premiership!

So much is at stake for Stoke. They need to take just four points from their last two games to be assured of automatic promotion, although they could even be celebrating promotion by this evening, if other results go their way.

There will therefore be a mixture of emotions on show. The result means everything to Stoke; the occasion means everything to Colchester.

A total of 16,000 balloons will be distributed to supporters before the game, and many U's fans will be rolling up in their favourite old team shirts. Layer Road will be awash with blue-and-white, and the atmosphere should be superb.

The team news is almost a side-issue, but United should welcome back defender Matt Heath after a groin problem, and Stoke will be hoping that Malian striker Mamady Sidbie passes a late fitness test on an ankle injury.

Teddy Sheringham could also take his Layer Road bow this afternoon. The 42-year-old veteran striker has not played since the 2-1 home win over Preston on February 12, due to a foot injury, but he is included in today's squad.

The Potters soared into second spot last weekend, thanks to a precious 2-1 win over promotion rivals Bristol City, and Hull City's 2-0 defeat at Sheffield United.

Tony Pulis' men had looked sure bets for promotion only a few weeks ago, until a lean spell of just one victory in eight games saw them drift out of the top two. But back-to-back wins over Coventry and Bristol City have made them favourites, alongside leaders West Brom, to reach the Premiership without having to endure the lottery of the play-offs.

The U's will finish bottom of the Championship, if they fail to win this afternoon. In fact, if Scunthorpe beat Watford at Vicarage Road, then Geraint Williams' side will definitely finish bottom, regardless of the outcome at Layer Road.

Ironically, the two relegated clubs meet at Glanford Park on the final day of the season next Sunday.

Squads

COLCHESTER UNITED: Gerken, Ifil, Coyne, Heath, White, Duguid, Jackson, Hammond, Elito, Vernon, Lisbie, Platt, Sheringham, Izzet, Balogh, McLeod, Virgo, Cousins, Bankole.

STOKE CITY: Nash, Riggott, Cort, Shawcross, Dickinson, Lawrence, Delap, Whelan, Cresswell, Sidibe, Fuller, Pugh, Wilkinson, Pearson, Ameobi, Matteo, Simosen.

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