Kuqi battered but happy

A BATTERED and bruised Shefki Kuqi will miss Finland's friendly international in Cyprus this week after putting his body on the line once more for Ipswich's cause.

By Derek Davis

A BATTERED and bruised Shefki Kuqi will miss Finland's friendly international in Cyprus this week after putting his body on the line once more for Ipswich's cause.

The striker suffered a broken nose in the Blues' 2-0 win at Sheffield United, a fortnight after needing three stitches to a gash alongside his left eye at Reading.

Strike partner Darren Bent is also an injury doubt for England's Under-21 friendly with Holland at Pride Park tomorrow.

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Bent, who celebrated his 21st birthday yesterday, was left with stud marks down his shin and a dead leg in the bruising Bramall Lane encounter and is unlikely to take part in Peter Taylor's training today.

Both players are expected to be fine for Saturday's crucial Championship clash with Leicester City, although Kuqi may have to wear a plaster over the bridge of his swollen nose.

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The burly striker accepted the latest blow as worthwhile after setting up David Unsworth's opener and then settling things for Blues with a second-half goal.

Kuqi said: “I don't care about the injury - we got the three points.”

The wounded striker was also verbally assaulted by home fans for his Sheffield Wednesday connections.

The Owls will gain by £150,000 if Town win promotion as part of the transfer deal and the fact he usually scores against the Blades ensured he was in for a rough ride.

He shrugged it off and said: “It is to be expected after playing for Sheffield Wednesday, but the abuse just geed me up and the more I get the better I play and enjoy my football.”

Kuqi rubbed salt into the wounds by hitting the second goal, in controversial circumstances, with the red half of the city convinced it was offside.

He said: “It wasn't the goal of the season but a goal is a goal and we were happy to get it when we did and take the three points.”

The former Stockport County striker also played a part in Town's opener by setting David Unsworth on his way and believes the former Evertonian will be a big asset for Town.

He said: “David has been terrific in training and he took his goal really well.”

The Kosovan-born forward's bish-bosh approach to the game summed up the team's display, which was not a bad thing.

He said: “Sometimes you need to fight to win and not play pretty football. It is championship form to go away and get three points from a scrappy performance.

“We did not play well, apart from Kelvin, who did exceptionally well for us with some brilliant saves.

“It was not the best game we have played but we know we can play better. We battered Reading a couple of weeks ago and just got a draw, this time we didn't play as well but got the win, so it works that way sometimes.”

Kuqi praised Kelvin Davis and insisted it was not just a one-off from the Blues keeper.

He added: “I don't think people realise sometimes how important Kelvin has been for us, and he was again in this game.

“Kelvin has been terrific for two seasons and did it again for us here.”

Added to the physical pain and the abuse from United fans, Kuqi also got an earful from his manager, along with the rest of the Town attack.

He said: “The manager had few words but we knew we weren't playing well, and not just the forwards.

“We knew at half-time when we were leading 1-0 that we would have to do better.”

He was clearly forgiven after the game by Joe Royle, who said: “Shefki was terrific for us.

“I was angry at half-time. We had not played well and we have come in at half-time ahead virtue of that magnificent goal, but that apart we had not really played.

“We never threatened too often and a lot of that was down to our front players not holding up the ball and we need to do that better away from home.”

n Dean Bowditch will travel to Belgium for the England Under-19s friendly which means he misses Town's reserve clash with Arsenal at Portman Road tonight (7pm kick-off).

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