Ward not frightened of highly-rated Saints

COLCHESTER United manager John Ward evened out his usual praise for the opposition with some fighting talk of his own ahead of today’s hotly-anticipated visit of Southampton.

The U’s could move to within a point of the Saints and the play-off places today were they to record a fifth successive victory at The Weston Homes Community Stadium.

And while Ward was quick to stress his modestly assembled squad were the underdogs against one of the division’s highest spenders, there was an undeniable undertone of positivity from the 59-year-old at this week’s pre-match press conference.

“We’ve produced some really strong performances here and we’ll need that again on Saturday as we’re playing what I consider the best team in the league,” said Ward, whose side had to dig deep for a goalless draw at St Mary’s back in September.

“I think they’ve got some real flair players, they’ve got goalscorers, strong guys at the back and they are still my favourites for promotion.

“They’ve got a lad on their bench they say is worth ten million pounds (Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain) so that in itself is indicative of the strength of their club. It’s a great football club that needs to be at a higher level.

“I don’t think that’s a frightener for us though, that’s an incentive for our players and supporters to stand up and be counted at the weekend.”

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Southampton suffered a shock 1-0 defeat at relegation-battling Walsall on Tuesday night and, in truth, their away form hasn’t been that of a promotion-chasing side in recent weeks. Since thrashing Oldham 6-0 at Boundary Park at the start of the year they have taken just five points from an available 15 on their travels.

Today they face a Colchester side that has won eight of their last 12 home games, losing just once in that period, and who come into this afternoon’s match off the back of a 1-0 midweek win at Bristol Rovers.

“They lost their game on Tuesday and that proves they can lose a game,” said Ward.

“We’re aware of the wounded animal aspect of it and we’ve got massive respect for them, as I said I think they’re one of the best two teams in the division, but we’ve got confidence.

“There’s a buoyancy about us at the moment and (Southampton manager) Nigel (Adkins) will give us the respect that we deserve at home. In the same way I’ve got respect for his team I know he’ll be thinking the same about us.

“I’m looking for my team not to raise their game but maintain their game. I think we’ve played alright over the last three games, so if we just add to it slightly in the final third then I’m sure we can give Southampton some problems.”

Colchester have no fresh injury concerns following Tuesday night’s win, although Ward will have to decide whether the likes of John White, David Perkins and David Mooney – all dropped in midweek so that the more powerful trio of Lee Beevers, Anthony Wordsworth and Andy Bond could play – would be more suited to today’s game.

The Saints will be without midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin after he injured his knee in midweek, while teen star Oxlade-Chamberlain is likely to be on the bench again as he recovers from a hamstring problem.

Both sides have midfielders facing their former clubs. Colchester’s Lloyd James spent 15 years at the Saints before getting released last summer, while Southampton skipper Dean Hammond was a popular player at the U’s between 2007 and 2009.

Southampton also have further East Anglian links with keeper Kelvin Davis and left-back Dan Harding both former Ipswich Town players and Lee Barnard having played for Southend.

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