Royle aims for third place

SUNDERLAND'S recent slip-ups have made third place a realistic target for the Blues and Joe Royle is determined his side will sprint through the finishing post.

SUNDERLAND'S recent slip-ups have made third place a realistic target for the Blues and Joe Royle is determined his side will sprint through the finishing post, writes Derek Davis.

Victory over Nottingham Forest on Saturday could secure a play-off place if other results go Town's way but Royle is looking for three more wins in the regular season.

The Ipswich Town manager is no fan of the play-offs and believes the team finishing third should go up by rights, but he will accept promotion via the knock-out phase.

He said: “We never gave up thinking that we could finish third. We were written off after the Millwall game but we have come back again.

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“We keep getting written off, after six games we were the worst team in the club's history then we were going to do it, then after three defeats in a row we were failures again so I can only marvel at the spirit.”

Sunderland have lost their past three games, and with Wigan away on Saturday, their games-in-hand advantage could be lost, along with their goal difference. On top of that if Town can go unbeaten in the next three, away at Sheffield United and at home to Cardiff on the final day, they will have an important psychological edge.

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Royle said: “This is not a time to be faltering. We had our falter which was seven games ago when we lost three in a row.

“I'm pleased we are in good form and we have a chance to win, make it nine out of ten and that is the target. I would love to finish in third place.”

First though, are Forest at home and under Joe Kinnear they have pulled away from the bottom and are enjoying a purple patch themselves with just two defeats in 14 games.

Royle warned: “With what is at stake, this is probably the most important game of the season so far.

“We can cement our place in the play-offs but there is no guarantee.

“People are talking about who we will meet in the play-offs but we have to win this first.

“It is a hard game, they are a decent side and better than their position suggests.

“They have lost just two in 14 under Joe and there would be nothing he would like more than to come here and beat us.”

Forest have a number of good quality players, and Royle believes their eighth-from-bottom league position is misleading.

Top-scoring Andy Reid has been rated at £10m by an optimistic Kinnear, while David Johnson scored on his first start since coming back from a broken leg in their 2-2 draw with Millwall last week.

England under-21 central defender Michael Dawson is said to be a target of several Premiership clubs, while veteran Des Walker is also pushing for a place after coming back from injury.

Royle said: “We know all about David Johnson and he is an obvious danger-man.

“Reid is one of the best players in this division. Marlon King is also beginning to show the sort of form he did at Gillingham.

“We know they have danger but we know equally that we can score goals.

“Our defending in the main has been better recently, apart from the game against West Brom, defending as a team has been better.

“We are in a good run ourselves so we have no need to fear anyone but we will respect them.”

Tommy Miller is rated extremely doubtful with a tight hamstring, which could mean a rare start for Martijn Reuser.

Kelvin Davis will return after missing out at Gillingham with a stomach bug, with the impressive Lewis Price back on the bench.

Town have a choice of forwards with Richard Naylor likely to get the nod ahead of Shefki Kuqi unless Royle opts for the pace and cleverness of Dean Bowditch to partner Darren Bent.

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