Wembley can wait for U's star

CAPTAIN marvel Dean Hammond is eying up a possible showdown with his former club Brighton, in the mad rush to reach Wembley.

Carl Marston

Wembley can wait as Hammond looks to propel U's

By Carl Marston

CAPTAIN marvel Dean Hammond is eying up a possible showdown with his former club Brighton, in the mad rush to reach Wembley.

But that's some way down the line for Colchester United's instrumental skipper. First he wants to help propel the U's into the top half of League One.

Hammond returns to the U's starting line-up this afternoon, for the visit of mid-table Walsall, after serving a one-match suspension last weekend.

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The 25-year-old's influence in central midfield was certainly missed in the 1-0 home defeat at the hands of Leyton Orient, which ended United's FA Cup interest at the first hurdle.

There is still the Johnstone's Paint Trophy to look forward to, with the U's just two steps away from Wembley. They will take on Luton Town in the southern area semi-final at Kenilworth Road on December 16, with the winners playing either Shrewsbury or Brighton in the two-legged area final.

Hammond enthused: ““I've never been to Wembley before, so it would be great to get there, especially if we have to face my old club Brighton along the way.”

For the moment, though, Hammond is focusing on maintaining his and the team's progress in the league under new manager Paul Lambert.

“It's been a big change since the new gaffer came in, and I'm loving being the skipper,” revealed Hammond.

“Things are shaping up well. I'm enjoying the captaincy and I'm enjoying playing under the manager. Now we want to continue to progress. I want to improve as a player myself.

“I don't think we should just be aiming for the top half of the table. We should be pushing for promotion.

“We believe that we are a Championship team. That's why the league is our priority. We are playing on the front foot. It's high energy stuff.

“I think we are more attacking as a team now. We always had it in us, but it just needed someone to bring it out of us,” added Hammond.

Hastings-born Hammond, who moved from Brighton to the U's in a £250,000 package in January, has taken time to settle in a much-changed squad.

He joined when United were rock bottom of the Championship, and staring relegation full in the face, and has seen several other players move on in the intervening period - such as Kevin Lisbie, Kevin McLeod and Karl Duguid.

But new boss Lambert has put his faith in Hammond, by making him skipper - he also filled that role at Brighton - and his performances have benefited. He also scored his first goal in a Colchester shirt in the 5-0 home win over Carlisle, which was the U's last home league fixture.

An accumulation of five bookings caused him to miss the Cup game against Leyton Orient, but he should be back in the centre of the park today.

“Last week's Cup defeat to Leyton Orient was disappointing, but these things happen now and then,” continued Hammond.

“I always enjoy playing in midfield alongside Kem (Izzet). He works very hard and we both like to be on the ball.

“We tend to bounce off each other well. I can play in a variety of positions. I can sit in front of the back four, or can play in an attacking role. At the moment, the gaffer wants me to play a bit deeper, which I'm happy with,” added Hammond.

Manager Lambert said: “We missed Dean (Hammond) a lot last week. He's so influential, and has been terrific for us since I've been here.

“He's a massive player for me, both now and for the coming months. He will come straight back into the squad.”

The U's will continue to be without the injured trio of Steve Gillespie (hamstring problem), Paul Reid (broken foot) and Matt Lockwood (tendonitis in his knee) against the Saddlers.

Aston Villa loanee Sam Williams is set to partner Clive Platt up front again, in the absence of Gillespie, with Matt Heath and Pat Baldwin resuming their partnership in the heart of defence.

Lee Hills is poised to make his debut at left-back, following his one-month loan move from Crystal Palace.

Squads

COLCHESTER UNITED: Cousins or Gerken, White, Baldwin, Heath, Hills, Yeates, Hammond, Izzet, Jackson, Williams, Platt, Vernon, Perkins, Coyne, Ifil, Wasiu, Wordsworth, Elito.

WALSALL: Ince, Taundry, Roberts, Gerrard, Palmer, Deeney, Hughes, Mattis, Zaaboub, Ricketts, Bradley, Nicholls, Gilmartin, Boertien, Weston, Reich.

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