Joe's Christmas wish

JOE Royle has set his sights on a top-six place by Christmas.The Blues boss believes Town should already be among the promotion contenders, and indeed they would have been had they not twice thrown away points against Coventry.

By Derek Davis

JOE Royle has set his sights on a top-six place by Christmas.

The Blues boss believes Town should already be among the promotion contenders, and indeed they would have been had they not twice thrown away points against Coventry.

Royle said: “I would love to be going into Christmas with us in the play-offs, or at least on the verge of them, and that is the target for us.

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“We have dropped four points against Coventry when we have been in the lead in both games and if we had not dropped those points we would be in the play-off places.

“For all the problems we have had injury-wise, transition-wise and personnel-wise, to be just four points short of the play-off places is a great feat - but we could have been there.

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“People talk about could-haves and should-haves but the two games against Coventry are ones we should have won.”

Town face a stiff test to get even into the top half of the table tonight when they take on a Reading side that have rumbled to a 21-game unbeaten run.

The Royals have not lost in league or cup games since Plymouth beat them at the Madejski Stadium on the first day of the season.

Royle praised former school-friend and Reading boss Steve Coppell who has guided his team to second place, a point behind Sheffield United and nine ahead of third-placed Watford.

He said: “Stephen is one of my best friends in football and I have a lot of respect and admiration for the job he is doing there.

“I'm delighted for him because he has not had the recognition for the jobs he has done wherever he has been.

“There are a few manager myths in this game with higher profiles and half the record of Stephen. So it is right he is getting recognised at last but I still want to beat him tonight.”

While Town have won one and drawn three of their last four matches, they are up against a side that has conceded just 11 goals this season, the fewest in the top four divisions. But that won't stop Town looking for their fifth home victory of the season.

Royle said: “We are four games unbeaten and we need to have a right go at Reading.

“We have to do a lot better than we did at their place. I was disappointed with us there but perhaps that has been slightly qualified because they have gone on to show that they are the hardest team to beat in this division.

“We are still improving and Saturday in all ways except the cutting edge was one of our best performances of the season.

“We have to find goals and need to be more prolific in front of goal.

“Everywhere else is coming together. We looked balanced, athletic and passed the ball well. We created openings and chances - we now just have to stick them away.”

Although prone to the odd error, the Blues defence has a more solid look about it these days, while the acquisition of loanee Gavin Williams has added to the midfield.

Town also have left-footed, defensively minded, Kevin Horlock available after a one-match ban, although Owen Garvan is still out with an ankle injury.

Adam Proudlock misses out with a knee injury and Royle is decided on all but one of the starting line-up.

A certain starter will be Williams, who is looking to extend his stay at Portman Road.

Royle said: “Gavin gives us balance that we have not had on the right for some time. I was a fan of Jermaine Wright's in that position. I know he was not everyone's favourite among the crowd but we have lacked that balance since he left.

“We have used other people there but Williams had a super debut in that position.

“He tired towards the end but he is a naturally fit boy but we will see how two games in four days hits him.”

Sam Parkin has shown no reaction to a knock he took at the Ricoh Arena and should line-up alongside old Royal Nicky Forster in attack, for a match up that has never ended in a goalless draw.

Despite the freezing weather recently, Town groundstaff are confident the game will go ahead without problem and a predicted temperature of 6.8 degrees Celsius means they will not need to use the protective bubble.

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