A thrilling night in store

DON'T blink, don't leave early for your half-time cuppa and definitely don't try to beat the traffic as the clock ticks towards 90 minutes, writes Derek Davis.

DON'T blink, don't leave early for your half-time cuppa and definitely don't try to beat the traffic as the clock ticks towards 90 minutes, writes Derek Davis.

Tonight promises to be an evening packed with goals, excitement and nerve-shredding drama.

There will be cheers aplenty and tears too, as one team floats to Cardiff at the end of the month, while the other trudges to the Welsh capital some time next season.

With two attacking sides, and a pair of vulnerable defences, goals are virtually guaranteed at Portman Road and Blues boss Joe Royle knows their best form of defence is attack.

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He said: "We only play one way and going for goals got us back in the tie last Saturday. We had the better of the second half and only spoke about winning the game. So we are ready.

"It is a close call between two sides after two draws and a win for them, which they will see as an advantage. All we can do is go on and win the game.

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"We would have been happier with the draw than they would have been, so if there is a slight psychological edge, it will be with us."

What Royle would like from his team is a good start, after gifting the Hammers the lead in their last four meetings.

Marlon Harewood has twice taken advantage of defensive mishaps to put West Ham in front this season, on Saturday and on New Year's Day when Kelvin Davis made a rare misjudgement. Malky Mackay put his team in front at Upton Park early in the season and Matthew Etherington gave West Ham the vital start in last year's play-offs.

Royle said: "We certainly don't want the same sort of start as we have had in the past two games, when they have got off to a flyer. It would be nice if we got the first goal for a change.

"There were special circumstances at New Year when the goalkeeper had been up half the night and Kelvin was caught half asleep.

"He certainly wasn't half asleep on Saturday and made a fantastic save. We could have gone 3-1 down – that was a vital save for us."

The Blues will look to make home advantage count, especially when they have been so good in front of their own fans, winning 17 and drawing three. The only slips came against the Hammers and then in the calamitous week when they slipped up against Watford and QPR to consecutive defeats within four days.

Royle said: "That West Ham game and a couple of blips in one week apart, we have been good at home.

"We want a noisy cauldron because we have seen in the past how that works for us. It is our 48th league game if you like and probably the most important.

"We will try and get it down and pass the ball. There will be a great atmosphere in front of a full house.

"It will be a great night and we will try and win the game."

Unfortunately for Town one goal avenue may be blocked off, with Pablo Counago a big doubt after dropping out of training early with a groin strain.

The Spaniard, who scored the final goal in the 5-1 win over Crewe almost three weeks ago, will face a fitness test this morning.

If he doesn't make it Royle will choose between the slightly more experienced Jimmy Juan, who played the last minute of Monaco's Champions' League defeat by Liverpool, or the unpredictably exciting Dean McDonald who has yet to make a first-team debut.

Dean Bowditch will keep his place on the bench to add to the Blues firepower.

Fabian Wilnis has recovered from a knee injury he picked up in the first leg and will start on the right with Matt Richards going to left-back.

Darren Currie should also start and, if Kevin Horlock loses out, tonight's starting XI will be the one that finished on Saturday and the same team that started in the 2-0 New Year's Day loss.

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