Supporters key to big Essex derby

NEW supporters could be won and lost this afternoon, a fact that is appreciated by Colchester United skipper Dean Hammond.

Carl Marston

Hammond wants to keep fans coming back

By Carl Marston

NEW supporters could be won and lost this afternoon, a fact that is appreciated by Colchester United skipper Dean Hammond.

A near-capacity crowd is expected for the visit of Essex rivals Southend United, which means that many U's fans will be paying their first ever visit to the new Weston Homes Community Stadium.

The current highest gate for a U's home match is the 6,290 that watched the 1-0 home win over Leyton Orient on December 28. That landmark will easily be eclipsed today.

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“We want to put on a good performance for the crowd, because we want these fans to keep coming back,” insisted Hammond.

“The crowd can play a big part in this game. The lads will be looking for inspiration, and the fans can make a big difference.

“You tend to get a lot more adrenalin when the fans really get behind you and make a noise. It's a big game, and we're looking for revenge after conceding a late equaliser (3-3 draw) at Southend. We owe them one.

“However, as the skipper I will be treating this local derby like any other game. We had been on a fantastic run (one defeat in 12 games) before losing our last couple of matches.

“It's up to us to bounce back to keep our season going,” added Hammond.

Jean Francois Christophe's last gasp equaliser, in the fifth minute of injury-time, denied the U's a deserved victory at Roots Hall on November 1.

United came storming back in that topsy-turvy fixture, cancelling out early goals from Peter Clarke and Francis Laurent to go 3-2 up through Johnnie Jackson, Mark Yeates and Anthony Wordsworth.

Hammond not only reckons that the U's should have won that day, but he also believes that they are now a “better team” - the thriller at Roots Hall was only manager Paul Lambert's fourth match in charge.

“I think we are a better team than a few months ago. We are stronger all-round,” continued Hammond.

“It was an exciting 3-3 draw at Southend. In fact, it was quite a weird game, because we were shell-shocked after going 2-0 down very quickly (after 13 minutes). Then we got it all together, because we had nothing to lose, although we couldn't quite hold on.

“Now this is our local derby, on our patch. The gaffer has since drilled the winning mentality into us, so we are a stronger team.

“I expect it to be a bit feisty early on, but it should settle down.”

The U's are 10 points adrift of the play-off zone, following Tuesday night's round of matches. There are 16 games left, so there is still time to mount a late dash for the top six.

Hammond certainly hasn't given up hope. “The league is still wide open,” he said.

“There are still plenty of teams pushing for promotion, and we are one of them. Getting into the play-offs is still the target, as it's always been.”

Hammond's no-nonsense performances in central midfield have been a prime reason for the U's rise out of the relegation dogfight, and into the top half of the table, over the last couple of months.

The ex-Brighton favourite has been ever-present in the league since Lambert's appointment in mid-October. In fact, he has started every league game since the 4-3 win at Tranmere Rovers on September 26, which was Kit Symons' first game in charge as caretaker.

Although Hammond is focusing on leading the U's up the table during the last three months of the campaign, he is also keeping one eye on his old club Brighton.

The 25-year-old moved to the U's from the Seagulls for �250,000 just over a year ago, on transfer deadline day (January 31, 2008).

Brighton were denied a trip to Wembley when losing a penalty shoot-out to Luton Town in the southern area final of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy this week. They are also in the relegation zone.

“I saw that they lost out on penalties, which was a shame, but I'm still backing them to stay up. They have a lot of good players,” confirmed Hammond.


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

SOUTHEND UNITED: Mildenhall, Sankofa, Dervite, Clarke, Barrett, Francis, McCormack, Christophe, Moussa, Freedman, Robinson, Barnard, Betsy, Joyce, Scannell, Herd, O'Keefe.