McDonald's reward

EXCITING talent Dean McDonald has earned a well-deserved call-up to the Blues' first-team squad to face Crewe this afternoon, writes Derek Davis.The former Arsenal youngster has been rewarded for a string of sparkling reserve-team performances, although he will only be on the bench at best.

EXCITING talent Dean McDonald has earned a well-deserved call-up to the Blues' first-team squad to face Crewe this afternoon, writes Derek Davis.

The former Arsenal youngster has been rewarded for a string of sparkling reserve-team performances, although he will only be on the bench at best.

David Unsworth and Fabian Wilnis both trained yesterday and are expected to keep their starting positions, although Matt Richards has been left out of the 17-man squad, even though he is not injured.

Striker James Scowcroft has had an injection to try to help cure a groin problem, but he should be among the 16 on duty today.


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Having experienced relegation himself, Ipswich's former Oldham and Manchester City manager Joe Royle empathises with his opposite number, Dario Gradi, but won't allow sentiment to cloud the issue today.

He said: “Of course, I have sympathy for Dario and Crewe, but he knows you are never relegated on one game but over the 46 you play in a season.

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“Rotherham were relegated because we beat them at Portman Road a few weeks back, but again it was on the strength of their results since August.

“Dario is another manager, like myself, who belongs to the 1,000 club and his record with Crewe is fantastic. Invariably, if they have gone down, they have come back up again.

“When a team hasn't won in a long time, in my view, that makes them dangerous.”

Although Town are facing Crewe and Brighton, who are both fighting relegation, while Wigan are up against play-off hopefuls Preston and Reading, the Blues' boss believes Paul Jewell's side are still in pole position, as they are two points in front and have a goal difference of plus 17.

Royle: “We're now down to a two-game season. I'd rather be in Wigan's position - they only need four points to make sure of going straight up while we need six.

“But they will know they cannot afford to slip up. If they do, we must make sure we are in a position to take full advantage.

“I have heard people trying to make a case for us being in a better position now than we were before the weekend games.”

Tommy Miller will be playing his 100th league game for the Blues this afternoon and is desperate to get off the 13-goal mark, which he is currently stuck on.

Another scorer who needs a goal to reach a landmark is outstanding England Under- 21 international Darren Bent, who is looking for his 20th goal of the season.

Bent is currently neck-and-neck with Richard Naylor for the EADT Player of the Year award, sponsored by Powergen. His strike partner Shefki Kuqi will pick up his Supporters' Player of the Year award on Monday night at the annual fans' get-together, which will also unveil the winner of the Dale Roberts' prize for the top Academy star.

Kuqi, Naylor and PFA Championship keeper of the year Kelvin Davis are all in the running for the Players' Player of the Year, which will be announced on Tuesday night, along with Boxholders' Player of the Year.

The teams will be playing on the best surface in the Championship, made official this week when Alan Ferguson was named Groundsman of the Year once more.

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