Bent back to boost Town

COLCHESTER United came within a whisker of beating Coventry City on away soil last weekend, so there's no reason why Ipswich Town cannot consolidate their promotion bid in the Midlands this afternoon, writes Carl Marston.

COLCHESTER United came within a whisker of beating Coventry City on away soil last weekend, so there's no reason why Ipswich Town cannot consolidate their promotion bid in the Midlands this afternoon, writes Carl Marston.

The Sky Blues, who will be heading into East Anglia for an FA Cup fourth-round replay at Layer Road on Tuesday night, were saved by the woodwork against the U's in a 1-1 draw last Saturday. Scott McGleish's shot thudded against a post.

Town were bowing out of the cup, at the hands of Sunderland, on the same day. The 2-1 defeat ended their dreams of cup glory, and was also a financial blow, but in the long term it could be a blessing in disguise, with regards to promotion back to the Premier League.

Despite John McGreal's absence with a calf strain, Town's squad has a stronger look to it, benefiting from the return of Darren Bent, Georges Santos and Chris Bart-Williams.

Front-runner Bent (left) has not played since suffering an ankle injury against Derby County in the third round of the FA Cup, at the beginning of the year.

That was four weeks ago, but Bent is already pushing for an immediate return to the side. Manager Joe Royle certainly has no qualms about including the 19-year-old in his squad, after just a few days' training.

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"Darren is back and he's flying," revealed Royle last night.

"He's feeling fresh after his enforced break. For some players it takes them time to get going again, after an injury, but that's not the case with Darren.

"I think he's benefited from the rest. It's freshened up his mind, and he can't wait to play again," added Royle.

By contrast, the unfortunate McGreal, following a year's struggle with injuries, is back on the treatment table again.

The 31-year-old former Tranmere centre-half strained his calf in training during the week, and will not feature at Coventry this afternoon.

McGreal had started eight of Town's last nine games, following his long-awaited comeback.

Royle continued: "John's calf stiffened up on Tuesday. We thought that he'd be OK, but it was a problem when he trained again on Thursday.

"John is very rusty, after his long lay-off. But it's only a slight calf strain."

McGreal's absence will mean a recall for either Drissa Diallo or Georges Santos at the heart of defence.

Santos missed the Sunderland defeat, due to an ankle injury, and although he has come through training unscathed this week, Diallo looks certain to get the nod to partner Richard Naylor this afternoon.

Guinea international Diallo has fully recovered from the knee ligament damage that sidelined him from mid-September. He was an unused substitute against Sunderland.

Midfielder Bart-Williams, another non-starter against the Black Cats due to a sore back, also returns to the squad, although at best he will have to make do with a place on the bench.

"Chris (Bart-Williams) is a lot better this week, but he's still not fully fit," admitted Royle.

"He's well enough to train, and the back is still a little sore. At least it strengthens my options in midfield."

Colchester outplayed the Sky Blues in the first half last weekend. They took the lead via a Dele Adebola own goal on the half-hour mark, and there was a good deal of luck attached to City's equaliser from Julian Joachim – the ball hit him on the chest and ballooned into the net.

However, Eric Black's side took the initiative in the second period. McGleish hit the woodwork for United, but then so did substitute Stephen Warnock for City.

Royle said: "Coventry are a good side, and I'm slightly surprised at where they are in the league.

"When Gary McAllister left, the club did not just lose a good manager but also a top player."

City are 15th in the table, nine points clear of the relegation zone but 10 points adrift of the play-offs.

Town, by contrast, are handily-placed in fifth spot.

"We've been on a good run to get up to where we are, but we have to do better to get into the top two," concluded Royle.

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