U's stars aiming for promotion
COLCHESTER United's toughest task this month has nothing to do with sustaining their fantastic sequence of victories.
COLCHESTER United's toughest task this month has nothing to do with sustaining their fantastic sequence of victories, writes Carl Marston.
The U's are powering from one win to the next, almost at will, to soar into the top two of League One.
Tuesday night's stirring 3-2 success over visiting Bristol City has seen them rise to second spot, just one point adrift of leaders Southend, and with a game in hand over their Essex rivals.
Instead, it is the off-the-pitch activities that might eventually prove Colchester's downfall this season. It is the question that is on every U's supporters' lips - can they hold onto their stars during January's frenetic transfer dealings?
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Since the transfer window reopened on New Year's Day, several U's players have been linked with other clubs, and a move away from Layer Road. As yet, though, nothing has happened.
There was another bevy of scouts at Tuesday night's match. Although some of those in the main stand were no doubt working purely for Coca-Cola League clubs, who are set to face either Colchester or Bristol City later this month, other scouts had other agendas. Talent spotting!
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Premiership clubs like West Ham, Arsenal and Tottenham were all represented, and there was even a scout from German club Cologne.
The likelihood is that they were each tracking one of Neil Danns, Chris Iwelumo, Greg Halford or Tottenham loanee Mark Yeates - or maybe all of them!
It's no surprise, then, that Colchester's club officials are all holding their breath, and praying for the onset of February and the closure of the transfer window.
At least it's encouraging that all of the U's stars on the wanted list, have expressed no wish to leave Layer Road. They are loving every minute of it, which is not surprising when considered that the club has won 15 of their last 17 fixtures.
At various times during the last fortnight, the players under the spotlight have all insisted that they want to stay at Colchester, and help the club to defy the odds and win promotion to the Championship.
It was the turn of talented midfielder Danns to strengthen his ties with the U's, following the birth of his first son, Jayden, on Monday, and his subsequent brace of goals to sink Bristol City.
“Life couldn't be any better at the moment. A few people doubted that I would play in this match, following the birth of my son, but I always try and give everything for Colchester United,” insisted Danns.
“The only reason I came off near the end was because I was starting to cramp up. I hadn't had much sleep in the last 24 hours, and only arrived at the ground two hours before kick-off, following my five-hour drive down from Liverpool (his home city), but I was always desperate to play.”
Former Blackburn midfielder Danns moved down from Ewood Park during the autumn of 2004, after making just three appearances in the Premiership.
It has proved an inspired free transfer signing by manager Phil Parkinson, not least because Danns has now scored eight goals in his last eight games.
Chris Iwelumo was unlucky not to add to his haul of 14 goals for the season, especially with a late shot that cannoned off the bar against Bristol City.
Yet the big Scotsman had equalled his previous highest goals total for a campaign, with the late second to beat Walsall 2-0 last Saturday, after which he too announced his strong desire to stay at Layer Road.
Iwelumo did not mince his words at the Bescot Stadium. He revealed: “I'm aware that other clubs have talked to the manager.
“But I want to stay at Layer Road. I'm just delighted to be playing every week, which is something I have not always been used to throughout my career. I'm now playing virtually every minute of every match.
“The gaffer has spoken of a few clubs being interested in me, but I want to get in a good, whole season under my belt. I feel that I've made progress as a player since I've been at Colchester,” stressed Iwelumo.
While ex-Stoke and Brighton target man Iwelumo has been attracting interest from Championship clubs, England under-20 international Halford has been linked with the likes of Premiership outfits West Ham, Newcastle and Manchester United in recent weeks.
Halford has always insisted that he too wants to stick with his home club, having finally relished the opportunity to play in one set position - on the right flank - instead of being employed in several different roles.
The versatile Halford had been linked with Premiership clubs even before the transfer window reopened. Speaking at the end of November, following his brace in the 5-0 demolition of Yeovil, Halford announced: “I have no idea whether I will move on, but I'm just happy playing here for Colchester United.
“I have heard all the rumours, but there were rumours last summer and they never came to anything. There's no reason why I can't win promotion with Colchester. We are a small club with a minimal budget, but we have the players around to get promotion into the Championship,” said Halford.
Interestingly, the U's were not even in the top six when he uttered those words. Now they are in the top two! Halford's feelings haven't changed.
Manager Parkinson, meanwhile, is just carrying on with his good work in making this season one of the most memorable in the club's history.
Not only are the U's in the thick of the promotion race, but they are also in the southern area semi-finals of the LDV Vans Trophy (away at Cheltenham next Tuesday), and in the fourth round of the FA Cup (at home to Derby County in an all-ticket clash on Saturday, January 28).
Parkinson does not deny that some of his players are being linked with other clubs. In fact, he looks on it as a compliment.
The U's boss commented: “I just want to keep this squad together. I have a terrific team and a terrific squad.
“However, I think it's great that other clubs are interested in some of my players. The directors' box was packed with scouts again,” said Parkinson, with reference to Walsall last Saturday.
U's chief executive Marie Partner also reiterated the view that the club has no desperate need to sell any of their star players.
Mrs Partner said: “The club will always do their best to keep the squad together, because it is in our interests to do so. If it is working for us, why do we need to break it up? We have a chance of actually achieving something this season.”
Meanwhile, two Colchester fixtures have been rearranged. The home match against Scunthorpe, postponed from December 28 due to a frozen pitch, will now take place on Tuesday, February 7.
And the U's away trip to Doncaster, which was postponed due to the U's progress through to the fourth round of the FA Cup, has been rescheduled for Tuesday, March 21.