U's can now target play-off glory

SAFE in the knowledge that they cannot be relegated, Colchester United can now turn their thoughts towards play-off glory.And it's not as unlikely as it sounds.

By Carl Marston

SAFE in the knowledge that they cannot be relegated, Colchester United can now turn their thoughts towards play-off glory.

And it's not as unlikely as it sounds. The U's will rise to fifth in the Championship table if they can end the fine recent run of visitors West Brom at Layer Road tonight.

Manager Geraint Williams is not thinking about the play-offs. The Welshman follows the principle of just targeting the next game - hence his desire for the U's to leap from 51 to 54 points with a victory over the Baggies. He looks no further ahead.

But U's supporters, and no doubt the players themselves, will be interested in knowing what it takes to finish in the top six of the Championship.

Looking back over the last 10 years, to find the points haul of the sixth-placed teams, reveals some eye-catching statistics.

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You don't need to accumulate 80 or so points to reach the play-offs. Instead, the last team in the top six has always finished with between 71 and 76 points.

Ten years ago, Crystal Palace sneaked into the old Division One play-off zone with 71 points. However, that was more of an exception than a norm. On average, 74 or 75 points would give you an excellent chance of extending your season by at least another couple of weeks.

Palace were again the club to sit in sixth position at the end of last term, with 75 points. So let's take that as a benchmark.

United are currently on 51 points, which means that they would need another 24 points. That equates to eight victories from their last 14 fixtures.

And they are certainly capable of achieving such a feat. As an indicator, the U's amassed 27 points from their previous 14 league fixtures. They have everything to win, and nothing to lose.

Obviously, some tough games lie ahead, not least awkward Friday night trips to leaders Derby and in-form Southampton, to say nothing of tonight's visit of promotion-chasing West Brom. But it's no longer just a pipe-dream. It could genuinely be achieved.

Williams, naturally, prefers to keep things low-key. The U's boss is set to name an unchanged starting line-up for the third game running.

“It's a battle of two in-form teams. We are the two highest scorers in the division, so I suppose it will be 0-0!” quipped Williams last night.

“It's another big game, but I'm not looking too far ahead. I just see it as a chance for us to go from 51 to 54 points.

“West Brom are going well, but then we all go on runs. I remember people getting concerned that we didn't win any of our first three (league) games of 2007,” added Williams.

The U's have certainly benefited from a lack of injuries and suspensions this season. Only long-term injury victim Marino Keith, who has not played since May, 2005, due to Achilles tendon problems, remains on the sidelines.

Target-man Chris Iwelumo did not appear for the second-half of last Saturday's excellent 3-0 away win at Barnsley, after taking a blow to the mouth, but he should be fit this evening.

Williams continued: “Chris's mouth was a bit sore. He took a nasty blow, which loosened a couple of his front-teeth, and there was a lot of bleeding.

“But it's had time to settle down, and he has trained and is feeling OK. Hopefully, the teeth will stay where they are and not drop out. It will probably require a trip to the dentist.

“Richard (Garcia) came on as a substitute for 45 minutes, which was ideal for him after missing a couple of games with a thigh strain. Richard had been out for a while.

“He's a very important player for us. Whenever he's been fit, he has tended to be an ever-present, but there is strong competition for places at the moment.

“We have been fortunate with injuries this season. That's in part been down to a lot of hard work from Donough Holohan (sports scientist and fitness coach), and the treatment provided by Tony Flynn (physio),” added Williams.

U's keeper Aidan Davison, who has not started a game since the end of November, is currently struggling with a virus, although he is hoping to be fit enough to be on the bench tonight. If not then Mark Cousins will deputise.

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