U's can handle the pressure

AFTER years of revelling under the banner of “underdogs,” suddenly Colchester United are faced with the prospect of having to justify their new tag as “favourites”.

By Derek Davis

AFTER years of revelling under the banner of “underdogs,” suddenly Colchester United are faced with the prospect of having to justify their new tag as “favourites”.

Since the U's won promotion in 1998, they have continually defied the odds to gradually improve their performances and results. Last year, they finished in the top half of the table for the first time since that promotion party.

Now, instead of enjoying the sensation of springing a surprise on more illustrious opponents, they are regularly finding themselves billed as the pre-match favourites. Such will be the case for today's visit of Milton Keynes Dons.

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The U's coasted to a 3-1 victory at Bournemouth on the south coast last weekend, and in the process soared into second spot behind runaway leaders Luton Town. It is a position they are intent on clinging on to over the coming weeks.

“Perhaps there is a little added pressure for being up near the top, and the favourites for some games, but that's not something that concerns me,” revealed U's manager Phil Parkinson last night.

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“It's nice to be in this position, and I'm sure we can handle any extra pressure. We are delighted to be in second spot after eight games, but we want to stay up there.

“We know that we can't play brilliant football every week. Sometimes, teams won't let you do that. We passed the ball superbly at Bournemouth, but we know that other times we will have to mix it and show other characteristics.

“We didn't pass the ball well in our previous home game against Swindon (1-0 defeat), but even then we had the chances to at least get a draw, which I thought would have been a true reflection of the game.

“We won't be under-estimating Milton Keynes Dons, because I think they are in a false position. In Allan Smart and Izale McLeod, they have one of the best strike-forces in the division.

“McLeod is a player with a lot of pace who I was impressed with while watching him play for Derby Reserves last season,” added Parkinson.

In addition to the result, there was much to enthuse over at Bournemouth last Saturday, not least the razor-sharp strike-force of Craig Fagan and Gareth Williams. The duo were starting their first match together since Williams' loan spell at Layer Road towards the end of last season.

Fagan chalked up his fifth goal of the season with a perfectly-executed lob, having run on to Williams' through ball. Fagan repaid the compliment by delivering the cross for Williams to head home his first goal of the campaign.

Manager Phil Parkinson also has the services of fellow striker Ben May to fall back on, for extra firepower and variety.

Millwall loanee May, unlucky to be dropped, responded by heading home the third against Bournemouth, just 11 minutes after appearing as a substitute.

The Layer Road faithful will also have their first chance of watching new signing Neil Danns in action. Danns, recruited on loan from Blackburn Rovers, caught the eye with a tigerish display in central midfield alongside Kevin Watson.

The injured quartet of Karl Duguid, Kem Izzet, Gavin Johnson and Bobby Bowry remain on the sidelines, and they will be joined by Sam Stockley this afternoon.

Left-back Stockley, who missed only three games throughout the whole of last season, and has been ever-present this campaign, is out with a groin problem.

Parkinson explained: “Sam (Stockley) had a minor operation on his groin over the summer, and it was giving him a problem last weekend. He felt that he needed to rest for a while, when coming in for training on Monday, and we have to look at the bigger picture, because there are a lot of games coming up.

“Sam loves to play in every game, but he should be OK in a week or two. At least I have options in that department,” added Parkinson.

Teenager John White, who enjoyed his first senior start in the 4-1 home win over Doncaster Rovers, could get the nod at left-back today. Other possibilities include defender Pat Baldwin and left-sided specialist Stephen Hunt.


COLCHESTER UNITED: Davison, Halford, White, Brown, Chilvers, Garcia, Watson, Danns, Keith, Williams, Fagan, May, Baldwin, Bowditch, Hunt, Cade and Gerken.

MK DONS: Bevans, Edds, Lewington, Palmer, Ntimban-Zeh, Small, Puncheon, Chorley, Herve, Smart, McLeod, Harding, Williams, Mackie, Martin, Oyedele and Hornuss.

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