LEE CLARK is hoping last week’s road trip pays dividends when Town tackle Colchester at the Galpharm tonight.
Town’s manager made the 480-mile round journey to Essex a week ago to see the U’s take on Stockport.
He jokingly described it as “a three-day camel ride”, but there was a serious point to the exercise, with Town taking on Stockport last Saturday.
Clark explained: “It was a long way, but a perfect chance to check on both sides, and I got some useful information from the match (which Colchester won 1-0).
“We worked on a gameplan which came close to getting a win at Stockport (only a last-gasp own goal by Nathan Clarke prevented Town taking all three points) and we’ve got another for tonight.
“We were all disappointed not to win, and just like at Northampton, where we conceded a stoppage-time equaliser, it felt more like a defeat.
“But we still took a point off a good side who are above us in the table, and I’ve told the players this is a platform from which to kick on.”
Successive home games – Millwall visit on Saturday – present 10th-placed Town with the chance to do that.
And Clark will be keen to further boost a fine home record of 17 points from the 21 available in his seven Galpharm games at the helm so far.
But the Geordie will be mindful of Colchester’s solid away record as he prepares to pit his wits against Scottish boss Paul Lambert.
The U’s can claim seven wins in league matches on the road – at Swindon, Tranmere, Stockport, Northampton, Leeds, Brighton and Carlisle.
And like Clark, former Borussia Dortmund, Celtic and Scotland star Lambert, who replaced Geraint Williams as manager in October, believes his 12th-placed team can yet make the play-offs – despite the frustration of Saturday’s 1-1 home draw with Hartlepool.
In comments which echoed those of Clark after Town’s Stockport stalemate, Lambert, whose side led through Scott Vernon only for Michael Nelson to level with a header in the 70th minute, said: “It was so disappointing to lose the goal the way we did, considering the way we had been defending.
“We had been throwing our bodies in which was great and I thought we played really well.
“But a set-piece is a big part of the game and everybody knows what they are doing in those situations.
“There is no doubt about it that the delivery sometimes beats you.
“But if there is time to go and win it, you should try and do so.”
Lambert held former Barnsley defender Paul Reid responsible, adding: “I thought Reidy had a terrific game with some of the blocks he made but at that vital time, they got a header in.
“Set-pieces are a big part of the game and if you can’t get to grips with them, it’s going to cost you.”
One glance at the Colchester statistics show Mark Keates is a key player, and a man Town must get to grips with.
The 24-year-old Tottenham old boy, who impressed when Town drew 0-0 at Colchester early on this season, is his club’s top scorer with 10.
And he is also top appearance maker with 40, top goalmaker with nine assists, and with 111, has had more shots at goal than any of his teammates!
Other main men in Lambert’s squad include versatile Kem Izzet, now in his eighth season at the club, former Chelsea defender Pat Baldwin and ex-Leeds player Alan Maybury.
Colchester have two loan players in West Ham goalkeeper Jimmy Walker and Wolves winger Lewis Gobern.
And manager Lambert could also hand a start to his own ‘Stevie G’ – former Cheltenham striker Steven Gillespie.
The club’s £400,000 record buy has had an injury-plagued season, restricting him to four goals, but has come off the bench in the last two games after recovering from a calf problem, and could now step up to the XI.
Meanwhile Gillespie’s fellow frontman Clive Platt was an August transfer target of then-Town manager Stan Ternent.