Play-off sympathy from Royle

BLUES boss Joe Royle has sympathy for Sunderland in the way they failed to get promoted last season but he is in no mood to give them anything at the Stadium of Light tomorrow, writes Derek Davis.

BLUES boss Joe Royle has sympathy for Sunderland in the way they failed to get promoted last season but he is in no mood to give them anything at the Stadium of Light tomorrow, writes Derek Davis.

Royle is not a fan of the play-off system and believes the team that finishes third, as Sunderland did last season, should go up automatically.

To compound their misery, Sunderland went out to a disputed equaliser and a goal scored by a player who Royle believes should have been sent off earlier.

So, he feels for manager Mick McCarthy, who he has a healthy respect for.

He said: "Mick has done a very good job there. Like all the clubs that have been relegated recently, there has been a financial fall-out and, while Mick has one or two players still from that time, they have had to shed a lot of players too and they are still up there.

"They will be up there at the end of the season. They were unlucky not to make it last season.

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"They finished third and then to lose the way they did, to a goal that should not have been allowed, in the play-off semi-finals was very hard on them."

The Blues have not enjoyed the best of luck against the Black Cats, losing 3-2 in a fiery game last season, and have not won at Sunderland since 1989.

Royle said: "We lost a tight game there last year and they are on a good run themselves.

"Apart from the game against Millwall, where the word 'mugged' comes to mind, they are doing very well.

"Mick was an uncompromising centre-half but his sides get the ball down and play football, which suits us.

"I'm always wary of old players coming back to haunt you, so we will be wary of Marcus Stewart, and Julio Arca is a very good player for them."

Suffolk-born teenager Darryl Knights has been included in the 17-man squad travelling to Sunderland to gain a taste of the first-team experience.

Knights will be on the bench if Tommy Miller fails to pass fit after injuring an elbow, but the Academy striker will not play.

If Miller doesn't pass a Sunday fitness test, then Royle has the option of playing Matt Richards on the left side of midfield and pushing Ian Westlake across, or going with three men up front.

That would probably mean Dean Bowditch, who played a half for England Under-19s against France at Barnsley on Thursday, joining Shefki Kuqi and Darren Bent up front.

Pablo Counago, who is still determined to do his bit for Town despite an offer to go elsewhere, is unlikely to force his way into the manager's thinking.

Shane Supple is the back-up keeper to Kelvin Davis, with Lewis Price at Cambridge United for a month's loan.

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