PNE opponents in fight for survival

Loan signing Bongani Khumalo had a spell at PNE during Phil Brown's spell as boss
Loan signing Bongani Khumalo had a spell at PNE during Phil Brown's spell as boss
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Colchester United will be hoping it is they who will be in the mood to party come 2pm on Sunday afternoon.

The U’s welcome Preston to the Weston Homes Community Stadium on the final day of the season knowing that their League One status hangs by a thread.

An away victory will ensure promotion for the visitors and their 3,000 travelling supporters, while at the same time condemn the home side to relegation.

However, a win – or even a draw – for Tony Humes’ men could still save them from the dreaded drop – and scupper North End’s automatic promotion ambitions.

The U’s currently lie third from bottom in the table – one point behind fourth-bottom Crawley Town and Notts County, who are just one place above the trap door.

Defeats for those two teams and a win for Colchester will see the Essex-based outfit climb out of the bottom four.

Indeed a draw for the U’s, coupled with a heavy defeat for County and a loss for Crawley, could still see them safe.

There is also the prospect of either Crewe or Coventry falling into the relegation zone depending on results elsewhere.

A run of four wins and three draws in their last nine games has handed Colchester a fighting chance of preserving their League One status.

Two goals from Gavin Massey and Chris Porter in the last six minutes helped them to a 3-2 away win at Fleetwood Town on Saturday.

And they followed that up with a draw at home against promotion-chasing Swindon Town – a team Preston comfortably swept aside 3-0 at Deepdale at the weekend – in midweek.

That result and performance against the Robins drew particular praise from Humes and he still believes his team can avoid the drop.

“I thought the players were outstanding on Tuesday in terms of how we went about it and the quality we showed,” he said.

“We created opportunities – we just didn’t finish Swindon off.

“But the work rate and the effort was outstanding.

“We now have to prepare for Sunday and approach it in the same way.

“It’s going to be a different sort of game.

“Preston are not as football-orientated as Swindon are.

“They are a little bit more direct and more physical, so it’s something we have got to stand up to.

“But if we have got the confidence to go and play like we did on Tuesday, then we have got a chance.

“Can we beat Preston? Of course we can.

“They have not won every game this season – they’re not invincible.

“I am sure they will be nervy. They have to win the game to make sure they stay in the top two.

“They have got MK Dons breathing down their necks, so you don’t know how pressure affects other teams.

“It’s not over yet. We go into the final game of the season, the stadium is going to be full and if the players produce a performance like they did against Swindon, they can look back and say they gave it everything.”

After spending a couple of seasons in the Championship in the mid-2000s, the U’s are in danger of falling into the bottom rung of English football for the first time since the 1997/98 season.

Their South African defender Bongali Khumalo will be tasked with trying to prevent free-scoring PNE striker Joe Garner from adding to his 26 goals this season.

The 28-year-old is known to Preston fans, having spent a period on loan at North End under previous boss Phil Brown in 2011.

He has played nine games for Colchester this season after joining on loan in March.