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Match Preview - U's Vs Preston North End
Match Preview - U's Vs Preston North End
Monday, 11th Feb 2008 11:55

Graeson looks ahead to Tuesday night's encounter with Preston North End at Layer Road.

Colchester United face their biggest game of the season on Tuesday night when fellow strugglers Preston North End visit Layer Road. United must start picking up wins at home if they are to get off the bottom of the table before May comes around - and by beating their visitors they would keep them in the bottom four.

The U's, despite the well-deserved point they picked up at Burnley, are still bottom of the table by three points but have played a game less than both Scunthorpe and Preston above them. Sheffield Wednesday, the team occupying the last relegation place still have to visit Layer Road but are three points ahead of the U's on the same number of games. Thankfully, the bottom three has not become separated from the rest of the Division just yet so a run of wins would hopefully lift the U's out of trouble.

Preston, now managed by former Everton number two Alan Irvine, are just two points outside the relegation places thanks to a win over Coventry at the weekend. That defeat for the Sky Blues dropped them in to the bottom six and, as a consequence, has today seen Iain Dowie sacked as manager along with the rest of his backroom staff.

Preston have lost more away games in the Division than any other side. Indeed, the U's away record is far better than our visitors who have managed just two wins, two draws and eleven defeats. In those fifteen games, they've scored just thirteen goals and conceded twenty-six. In fairness, their recent win over Coventry was their seventh home success of the season and it is this form that is keeping them just ahead of the bottom three.
Since Boxing Day their form at home has picked up notably.

Over Christmas, Scunthorpe and Cardiff City both won at Deepdale but since then Watford and West Brom (two of the top sides in the Division) have both succumbed in Lancashire. Central defender Sean St Ledger scored the only goal of the game against Coventry on Saturday.

Away from home, they've lost their only two league games since Christmas - though they did record back to back away wins at Burnley and Southampton before the festive season. Leon Cort scored twice for Stoke City in a 3-1 win at The Britannia Stadium while Darryl Russell's 90th minute howitzer for Norwich saw North End return home with nothing.

On Sunday, North End will be in 5th Round FA Cup action against Portsmouth at Deepdale. They saw off Scunthorpe by a single goal at home - just a few days after their league reverse - and in the 4th Round created one of the shocks of the round by demolishing Premiership side Derby County at Pride Park.

Former Carlisle hotshot Karl Hawley scored twice in the first half as North End took a 3-0 lead at the interval and though Robert Earnshaw reduced the arrears ten minutes after the restart, Neil Mellor's last minute penalty saw Preston into the velvet bag for the next round.

The U's will be facing Preston looking for a rare double this season after their comprehensive 3-0 win at Deepdale earlier in the campaign. Kevin Lisbie put the U's in the lead by heading home George Elokobi's cross four minutes before halftime. A Teddy Sheringham penalty and a Mark Yeates free-kick from 30 yards gave the U's all three points.

Preston hold the upper hand in the games between the two sides with ten wins to United seven, while six games have ended in a tie. Last season, both the home games ended 1-0 to the hosts with David Nugent on target for Preston, and Garry Richards - now with Gillingham - scoring his only Colchester United goal after replacing Matt Mills midway through the second half.

United's biggest win against Preston came in April 1986 when Tom English scored a hat-trick with the help of two penalties, and Mike Ferguson grabbed one in a 4-0 romp. North End had just sacked Bryan Kidd as manager as they finished second bottom of Division 4. Five days later, Tom's brother Tony also scored a hat-trick as United thrashed Peterborough 5-0 at Layer Road.

The U's side against Preston was Alec Chamberlain, Rudi Hedman, Ian Phillips, Roger Osborne, Terry Baker, Keith Day, Andy Farrell, Mike Ferguson (Robin Turner), Perry Groves, Tom English, and Tony English. Preston lined-up with Alan Kelly in goal, Bob Atkins (Sent off 85), Mark Jones, Andy McAteer, Simon Gibson (Sent off 27), Mick Martin, Wayne Foster, Terry Gray, John Thomas, Nigel Greenwood and Gary Brazil.

Graeson's Team

Geraint Williams will be sweating on the fitness of U's striker Kevin Lisbie who went off injured during the first half at Turf Moor. Without the former Charlton man, the U's lack pace up front - and if North End select former U's defender Liam Chilvers - then the U's know that the visitors have at least one weakness in their back line.

Williams will also be hoping that new signing Dean Hammond has finally shaken off the calf strain which meant he was unable to play against Burnley at the weekend. I suspect he may have to make do with a place on the bench to start with which might leave Williams having to choose between Guttridge and Watson for a seat in the stands.

If Lisbie isn't fit, I think Williams will give Scott Vernon his full home debut some two seasons after he made his full away debut at Nottingham Forest! The former Blackpool striker looked lively when coming on for Mark Yeates against Sheffield United, linking up play well and providing an effective foil to the more muscular Clive Platt.

Elsewhere, I think we'll see the same starting line-up as at Turf Moor with Gerken in goal, a back four of Ifil, Coyne, Virgo and White who should, by now, be starting to work up an understanding between them. It’s noticeable that these four have now been the starting back line in the last four games - something that was rarely happening in the first half of the season when injuries and suspensions meant the defence seemingly had at least one change per week!

In midfield, I'll stick with Duguid on the right, McLeod on the left, and Jackson partnered alongside Kem Izzet in the heart of the midfield. There is a chance that Hammond might come in alongside Izzet with Jackson moving out to the left, but I think it’s generally agreed that the former Spurs man is more effective in central areas.

That just leaves the strikers with Teddy again on the bench as Platt and Vernon start for the first time together if Kevin Lisbie fails to recover from his injury problem at the weekend.

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Graeson's Prediction

Games under the lights at Layer Road have a special atmosphere and that must inspire the U's to success. There are, including this game, just three floodlit games at Layer Road and if the U's are to remain in The Championship when we move to Cuckoo Farm in July, they must win all three (against Preston, Hull and Sheffield Wednesday).

The Fans must play their part by their constant stream of support of the players. We are playing better, the effort is there, and hopefully, the long-suffering U's faithful will be rewarded with the three points that they have deserved in some home games this season.

I do think the U's have enough to record their first double of the season over Preston with Scott Vernon scoring his first Layer Road goal, and a late one to settle matters from Teddy Sheringham.

U's to win 2-0 with Vernon and Sheringham on the score sheet.

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Photo: Action Images

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