U's can keep improving

IS there any limit to how long Colchester United can keep improving? Skipper Karl Duguid thinks not.Since the days of Steve Wignall in the mid-1990s, the U's have tended to improve from one season to the next.

By Carl Marston

IS there any limit to how long Colchester United can keep improving? Skipper Karl Duguid thinks not.

Since the days of Steve Wignall in the mid-1990s, the U's have tended to improve from one season to the next. There have been two promotions during this golden era, and several exciting cup runs.

However, United now face their biggest test yet - to improve on their fantastic 10th spot in the Championship last season, which was the Essex club's highest-ever finish in the Football League.

The odds are against them, but club stalwart Duguid is thinking big again, starting with today's opening day clash at pre-season promotion favourites Sheffield United.

“As a footballer, you're always looking to improve. We've set a high benchmark for ourselves, by finishing 10th last season, but we will be trying to improve on that,” insisted Duguid.

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“Looking back, we have always seemed to improve, little by little, each season. That's the way to do it, rather than improve too quickly and then fall away.

“Most pundits will predict us to finish in the bottom three, like they do every year. They look at our resources and dismiss us as relegation fodder, but it's what happens on the pitch that matters, not how much money is at a club.

“Sheffield United away is a tough start to the season. They have spent a lot of money, but we don't fear the big spenders in the division, even those supported by parachute money from the Premier League,” added Duguid.

It will be a new-look Colchester team on display at Bramall Lane. There could be as many as six players making their debut, in the shape of Clive Platt, Kevin Lisbie, Luke Guttridge, Matt Connolly, Danny Granville and Teddy Sheringham.

In fact, there are just four survivors from the U's last visit to Sheffield United, for an FA Cup third round tie in January, 2006. Duguid is one of this quartet, alongside winger Mark Yeates and defenders Pat Baldwin and John White.

Duguid continued: “Half the team will be new, but we're full of confidence. It was a good performance against Bolton in last weekend's friendly, even though we were down to 10 men for most of the match.

“We were happy with our display. The new lads have settled in well and we're all clicking. As a footballer, you're used to playing with new team-mates all the time.

“We were conscious that our away form wasn't the best last season, and that's something we have talked about. If we had been just 5% better away from home, then we would have been in the play-offs!

“The first game of the season is always difficult. We had Birmingham City away last season, and we played well that day, despite losing (2-1). We were unlucky that day,” added Duguid.

Club record signing Platt faces a three-match suspension for his red-card offence against Bolton Wanderers in last weekend's pre-season friendly. His appeal against the ban failed, but he is still available to make his debut at Sheffield.

Platt's ban will start the following weekend, for the home match against Barnsley, which means he will also be able to play at Shrewsbury Town in Tuesday night's Carling Cup tie.

Ex-Charlton front-runner Lisbie, who played alongside Platt in most of the pre-season fixtures, faces a fitness test on a sore ankle, while former England striker Sheringham is set to be on the bench after managing just 20 minutes' action in pre-season following a calf problem.

Other new boys Granville (left-back) and Connolly (centre-half) could well start, although Hungarian international defender Bela Balogh is a definite absentee due to a broken nose. Fellow summer signing Guttridge is also pushing for a place in midfield.


SHEFFIELD UNITED: Kenny, Bromby, Morgan, Lucketti, Naysmith, Gillespie, Tonge, Montgomery, Hendrie, Beattie, Sharp, Stead, Webber, Leigertwood, A Quinn, Carney, Kilgallon, Fathi, Horsfield, Geary and Bennett.

COLCHESTER UNITED: Gerken, Duguid, Baldwin, Connolly, Granville, Yeates, Izzet, Jackson, McLeod, Platt, Lisbie, Guttridge, Sheringham, Guy, Elokobi, White and Cousins.