U's need to blunt potent strike-force

COLCHESTER United will have to blunt a potent strike-force if they are to record their first win over Peterborough in six cup encounters.United might be starting today as warm favourites to break their cup duck against Posh, but the double act of Aaron Mclean and Craig Mackail-Smith will take some stopping.

By Carl Marston

COLCHESTER United will have to blunt a potent strike-force if they are to record their first win over Peterborough in six cup encounters.

United might be starting today as warm favourites to break their cup duck against Posh, but the double act of Aaron Mclean and Craig Mackail-Smith will take some stopping.

Posh are going well in League Two, and look good bets to secure a play-off place, if not an automatic spot, thanks in chief to a glut of goals from the hottest strike-force in the division.

The year 2007 was a dream year for Mackail-Smith, who has age on his side at just 23. Signed from Dagenham & Redbridge during last January's transfer window, he went on to plunder eight goals in just 13 league games during the second half of last season.

He has carried that form over into this campaign, and seven of his 13 goals have come in two FA Cup ties, a remarkable statistic.

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Watford-born Mackail-Smith netted four times in the 5-0 win at non-league Staines Town in the second round, having already celebrated a hat-trick against Wrexham (4-1) in the previous round.

Mclean, meanwhile, tops the League Two goalscoring charts with 16 goals (19 in all competitions). That's one more than Chesterfield's experienced Jack Lester, four more than Mansfield's Michael Boulding and five more than ex-Colchester striker Scott McGleish (11 for Wycombe).

Mclean actually had a trial period with the U's a few seasons ago, before moving onto Grays Athletic. The former Leyton Orient trainee had dropped out of the Football League in 2003, only to reappear when Posh paid £150,000 for his services on a permanent deal from Grays a year ago.

The diminutive front-runner is renowned for his terrific pace, as he proved when bagging a hat-trick in the 7-0 annihilation of Brentford on November 24. Mclean made the most of Bees keeper Simon Brown (former U's stalwart) being sent off in the second minute for a professional foul.

Just as the U's claimed a 2-1 win at Charlton on New Year's Day, so Peterborough also welcomed in 2008 with a 2-1 victory over Shrewsbury, thanks to goals from ex-Tottenham Reserves midfielder Charlie Lee and defender Craig Morgan. Lee celebrates his 21st birthday today.

That was an important win, because Posh had suffered back-to-back away defeats after Christmas, at lowly Mansfield (2-0) on Boxing Day and at Morecambe (3-2) to drop out of the automatic promotion slots. They are currently in fifth spot, just three points behind both second-placed Hereford and third-placed Rotherham, who in turn are a daunting eight points adrift of runaway leaders MK Dons.

Manager Darren Ferguson's hands are tied by several absentees. The trio of Adam Smith, Tom Williams and Liam Hatch are all cup-tied, while Jamie Day is suspended and injuries continue to sideline Danny Crow, Shaun Blackett and Chris Westwood.

Ferguson, though, is relishing the challenge. He said: “Colchester are a Championship club so we will be the underdogs, but we have no fear. We can enjoy our football without the pressure of the league. The pressure is off us.”

He could do worse than ask for some advice from his Dad - Sir Alex Ferguson has won the FA Cup more than any other manager, lifting the trophy five times with Manchester United.

Although Posh have fared well against the U's in previous cup encounters, they have not knocked out a club from the top two divisions, when they have been in the third or four tier themselves, for more than 20 years. The last time was when they defeated Leeds and Carlisle (when both were in the old Second Division) in 1986.

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