Date:Friday March 2 2007
The credentials of Colchester`s metamorphic rise from the English football`s back-leagues will be examined in front of the Sky cameras tonight against Derby, where promoter George Williams has already tagged them, "victims of their own success."
Sorry, but United`s evolution from plucky challenger to Championship tough nut this season lends itself to the prize-fighting comparisons of Boxing, even if the odds of them recording triumph in the 7:45 bout at Pride Park seem slim.
When Derby last traded blows with Colchester, in front of punters at Layer Road in August, the result pendulum swung the right way. United emerged from a 90 minute mud-fight of scuffling and skill to win 4-3, with vigilante striker Jamie Cureton bagging a hat-trick and a first home win of the campaign.
It led to a fourteen-game unbeaten run on home soil, although those from Britain`s oldest recorded town would probably agree that the subsequent streak echoed more the Marvel comic series than a 12-rounder in the ring.
For, despite clinical statistics, Colchester`s silky football has not always been dictated on their own terms - they`ve got one of the worst away records in the division, having won only three on the road.
Form - neither Derby nor United have won in their last three matches - might become irrelevant during this tie against the Rams, though, as the Essex boys look to provide a battering.
Part of the charm about this fixture will be the off-field clashes, where former Derby players Geraint Williams and Mick Hartford return to the midlands, as U`s manager and assistant respectively. The boss, just known affectionately as George in these parts, was Player of the Year for County during his first season there in 1985-6.
On the battle-field of play, 24-year old striker Craig Fagan will line-up against Colchester, the club for whom he scored 24 times in 84 games. The sod`s law alert is high, as he is yet to open his goal-scoring account for Derby, since arriving in January.
Understandably, too much anticipation and hunger could adversely backfire, which is why Williams has been banging on about success as a negative of late. As he put it last week in his Burnley programme notes: "Talking a good game is one thing, playing it is another."
If results fail to match fervent expectation, pessimism threatens to do what Plymouth did to United in their last away game and win, 3 - 0.
Still, United are an enthralling side, appealing to the spirit of any neutral on two main counts. That old British fascination of championing the underdog is appeased, while society`s modern need for the next sensation - an obsession with finding tomorrow`s news - sees Colchester pasted on the billboard that forms our nation`s collective sporting physique.
As evidence, Colchester appeared on Channel Five`s Football Night this morning - albeit at the ungodly hour of twelve o`clock - and were also the subject of a BBC Sport report in February, which hailed them as the biggest success in the League.
Even the former No. 10 spin-doctor, Alistair Campbell, was forced to admit- having watched his beloved Burnley draw 0-0 in the stands last Saturday - that even he could not have imagined such a web of footballing intrigue.
This happy predicament, spiralling from within the head of every Colchester fan, and now materialising in their laps, asks: are the U`s a mega-team in the making, or merely a provincial side with ideas above their station?
For now, since the journalistic job-description nearly always compels an answer, I`ll leave that as a delicious rhetorical question. Leave it in the hope that tonight`s game provides an indisputably resounding judgement, and not simply supply another disposable opinion from the bandwagon of the media`s travelling circus.
Date:Friday March 2 2007
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