Predict Ability: Colchester and Cardiff no joke as they enjoy magical mystery tour
Like the 2012 Olympic bid and the Wembley Stadium fiasco, Colchester United`s inclusion among the Championship elite in August was perceived by those outside Essex to be a joke of very bad taste.
Few were willing to wager that one of the League`s smallest fish would survive in a division of such murky and shark-infested waters. Had a mystic advised you to gamble on the U`s making the top ten by December, you might well have reached into their mind`s eye to flip a wonky table back up the right way.
From the land of ancient stereotypes, the one that Colchester are here just to make up the numbers has long gone. The same applies to Cardiff, since Saturday`s opposition have occupied the upper reaches of the table since the 46-game marathon of a season began last summer. This weekend offers a clash between two teams who would be promoted already if the football point-scoring system also took into account excitement and entertainment.
Unpredictability is certainly one of the sport`s more endearing features, and it illuminates this fixture in South Wales. Both sides are yet to dine at table of Premiership kings, but have already seen evidence of what a bad bout of financial sickness can do to those who are too greedy when trying to reach the promise land.
The Championship is strewn with former Premiership teams, most of whom pine for parachute payments and live an economic lie. Leeds United (22nd ), Crystal Palace (19th ) and Leicester City (14th), to name but a few, can vouch for the fact that money will not buy them love, or desperately needed points.
The beauty of Colchester`s relative success so far is that it has not come at a price, even if that is because there has been virtually no money to spend. Besides, borrowing keen trainees like Ritchie Jones and Hogan Ephraim is proving an efficient way to add both depth and desire to what is still a shallow squad.
This year`s honeymoon period is far from over, as the forthcoming FA Cup 3rd round draw is sure to strike up yet more romance, this time in the world`s oldest knockout completion. As last season`s David and Goliath encounter with Chelsea revealed though, it is not the destination, but the journey that seems most important.
To ignore this truth would allow for complacency, which is why Geraint Williams sticks firmly to the old 'one game at a time` motto. Cardiff, however, seem to have been losing sight of it already, which might account for a small dip in form. When their manager, Dave Jones talked (in October) about playing "the last 10 games a title-winning season" at the Millennium Stadium, it became a clear case of counting the chickens before they had hatched.
Colchester should not fall into that trap. They won`t be allowed to, because of their worryingly stark away form, which acts as an inconvenient reality-check every other weekend. Not that people in East Anglia are complaining about it, because the main objective of the season is still to avoid the drop (21st or higher), even if it is temping to aim for a better position.