Promotion rivals call in reinforcements

TWO of Ipswich Town's main rivals for a Division One play-off place are making strenuous efforts to boost their squads for the final months of the season.

TWO of Ipswich Town's main rivals for a Division One play-off place are making strenuous efforts to boost their squads for the final months of the season, writes Tony Garnett.

Manchester City's speedy striker Darren Huckerby has agreed to play for Nottingham Forest for the rest of the season, including the play-offs if manager Paul Hart's side finishes in the top six.

Matt Jansen looks set to link up with Gary McAllister's Coventry City squad which has been short of goals in recent weeks. The deal should be tied up today so that Jansen can turn out at Rotherham tomorrow.

This must be frustrating for Ipswich Town manager Joe Royle, currently on a Mediterranean sunshine break, who knows that his hands are tied by financial restrictions.

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Ipswich cannot take a player on loan while under administration although Royle has already voiced confidence in the strength of his current squad. In fact Ipswich have not been in a position to add to their wage bill for some weeks. The last player to arrive on loan to Portman Road was goalkeeper Paul Gerrard from Everton. His stay ended with a dislocated knee.

Jansen, a former England Under-21 striker, still has “just has a couple of final matters to resolve” according to officials at Highfield Road.

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Jansen has struggled for first-team chances at Ewood Park since returning from a motorbike crash last summer which left him in a coma.

But his two-goal FA Cup display in Rovers' 4-1 win at Aston Villa showed he is still a Premiership-class player.

The 25-year-old, who hit 24 goals in Blackburn's 2000-01 promotion campaign, would become the second Rovers forward to play for Coventry this season. Club-mate Craig Hignett played nine times for City, netting twice, between early November and late December.

Meanwhile Richard Shaw has signed a one-year contract extension that will keep him at Highfield Road until July 2004. The 34-year-old defender is Coventry's longest-serving player. Coventry City's first-team squad has been strengthened by the return of midfielder John Eustace after a month's loan at Middlesbrough.

Ipswich Town are scheduled to visit Coventry on April 12 in which could well be a play-off “six-pointer.”

Nottingham Forest manager Paul Hart has confirmed the loan signing of Huckerby will start on February 24. He is another livewire striker who could take Division One by storm. Forest are due at Portman Road on April 5.

The 26-year-old is expected to start training with Forest on Monday. Hart said: “We want to get promotion and having a player of Darren's quality on board will help us try and achieve that aim. He had the chance to join a couple of other clubs but he's a Nottingham lad and desperately wants to play for Forest.”

Huckerby has scored twice for City this season after having his first-team opportunities limited following the arrival of Nicolas Anelka and, more recently, Robbie Fowler.

Forest already have the top scorer in Division One in David Johnson, who has clearly developed a good understanding with Marlon Harewood. It remains to be seen if a Johnson-Huckerby partnership will prove effective.

Ipswich fans will recall how Johnson found it hard to combine with Marcus Stewart. Strike partnerships can take time to blend. The best can transform an ordinary side into champions. Other pairings never really get off the ground.

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