Who is in Town's favoured first XI?

WITH a couple of loan signings still probable Blues boss Jim Magilton has what he considers an competitive squad but chief football writer DEREK DAVIS looks at where the new signings will fit in and what is now the manager's favoured starting line-up.

Derek Davis

WITH a couple of loan signings still probable Blues boss Jim Magilton has what he considers an competitive squad but chief football writer DEREK DAVIS looks at where the new signings will fit in and what is now the manager's favoured starting line-up.

NEVER mind the quantity feel the quality.

Jim Magilton's rebuilt squad may not be as big as some in the past, or even his own from last season, but it is arguably the most competitive since George Burley's, between 1999-2002.

Not counting those players out on loan, Magilton has 26 first team players at his disposal, including Jai Reason and Kurt Robinson who have yet to make their debuts.

Joe Royle had 30 listed in his 2005 squad and Magilton had 31 on the final day of last season.

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By wheeling and dealing Magilton has looked to add quality with seven signings while six senior players have left and another four are out on loan.

The idea of having two players genuinely competing for places has opened the manager up to accusations that he doesn't know his best XI, although he will tell you very differently.

Magilton has a clear picture of his favoured side and formation and what permutations he wants to use in certain situations, like playing a team that plays a certain style home or away.

It also means in theory those in possession of the shirt can't afford to get blasé, although Shane Supple must be wondering when he will get a start after costly mistakes from Richard Wright have marred some otherwise good performances.

David Wright has counted the cost of his opening day injury against Preston by knowing even when he does get his ankle fit he has to try and oust German Moritz Volz who is now considered first choice.

At centre half Alex Bruce has lost out first to Tommy Smith, and then Richard Naylor with Gareth McAuley as Magilton's skipper looking an automatic first choice, although questions over some of his performances have been asked.

Ben Thatcher is the undisputed left-back with Pim Balkestein still learning the new position, but watch out for former England youth international Kurt Robinson who is enjoyed an injury-free run and coming on strong as a left-sided player.

Jon Walters made the right side of midfield his own last season in a player of the year showing that had Premier League clubs showing enough interest to make bids.

David Norris, at £2.25m, Magilton biggest buy so far, has played out there but prefers playing in the middle, while Danny Haynes and Jaime Peters, who can also slot in at right back in an emergency, also in contention.

Iván Campo looks comfortable as the holding midfielder and once fully fit should prove to be an outstanding anchor man with Owen Garvan or Tommy Miller slotting in alongside him.

Macedonian Veliche Shumulikoski will probably still get plenty of game time, even if it is in the last 10-15 minutes of games for Campo.

The left side remains Magilton's most problematic area and until he gets in a loan signing for that position, it appears Liam Trotter is the prime candidate, although like the previous holder Alan Quinn, needs to cutting onto his right foot to be effective.

Jon Stead's arrival could cause the most consternation among Blues fans who favour Pablo Counago and Kevin Lisbie as the front man combination.

It could be that to fit in all three Magilton goes to a diamond with Counago playing in the whole behind Stead and Lisbie, with Garvan or Miller on the left side and Walters on the right with Campo sitting.

Jordan Rhodes remains as a back up learning his trade but can sniff out goals that will be useful when chasing games.

Jai Reason will look to learn from the likes of Campo and Miller as he likes to boss games from the middle but may be another who benefits from a loan spell.

So using a 4-4-2 (diamond) formation this is the side I believe Magilton feels is his best side and the one I can see lining up against Reading next week (barring any new loan signings).

Wright

Volz Naylor McAuley Thatcher

Campo

Walters Garvan

Counago

Lisbie Stead

Ins

Gareth McAuley from Leicester City £1.1m

Pim Balkestein from Heerenveen £180,000

Kevin Lisbie from Colchester United £750,000

Ben Thatcher released by Charlton free agent

Iván Campo released by Bolton free agent

Moritz Volz loan from Fulham, fee £250,000

Jon Stead from Sheffield United £1.25m

Outs

Fabian Wilnis released now at Grays

Jason de Vos retired

Sylvain Legwinski released

Sito Castro released

Gavin Williams to Bristol City Up to £350,000

Gary Roberts to Huddersfield £25,000

Alan Lee Crystal Palace £600,000

Billy Clarke loan to Darlington

Dan Harding loan to Southend

Matt Richards loan to Brighton

Ed Upson loan to Stevenage

Chris Casement loan to Hamilton Academical