Royle: This is the big one

THIS is as big as it gets – so far.Joe Royle, the manager of the month for March, has labelled today's vital promotion-chasing clash with Nottingham Forest as the biggest game of the season up to now.

THIS is as big as it gets – so far.

Joe Royle, the manager of the month for March, has labelled today's vital promotion-chasing clash with Nottingham Forest as the biggest game of the season up to now, writes Derek Davis.

Victory would put Town within a point of their play-off rivals, although Forest would still have two games in hand, and if Wolves fail to win at home to Rotherham then the Blues would push into sixth place.

Royle said: "This is as big as it gets. Hopefully we will have bigger games this season but this really is a biggy in terms of getting us closer to the play-offs.

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"With around 29,000, maybe even 30,000, it promises to be a cracking atmosphere and, as I said earlier, our supporters can be that 12th man for us."

Town put pressure on the clubs directly above them with a 3-1 win at Gillingham last week while Wolves and Nottingham Forest did not play due to international commitments.

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There have been a lot of rousing speeches this week but Royle knows his side, unbeaten in their past nine matches, must now deliver.

He will be without Thomas Gaardsoe for the first time in the league since he took over as manager after the Dane failed to recover from a groin strain. He will be a big loss but Richard Naylor, Matt Holland and Chris Makin are all more than capable of shoring up the centre of defence.

Darren Bent is also ruled out with a hamstring injury but Alun Armstrong returns after fracturing a wrist, although in-form Marcus Bent and 16-goal Pablo Counago may get the nod up front.

Holland resumes his starting place in the Town line-up, and the captaincy, after ending a run of 253 consecutive league games due to international duty with the Republic of Ireland.

Forest are likely to go with three up front with 40-goal partnership David Johnson and Marlon Harewood being joined by on-loan Manchester City striker Darren Huckerby, who has notched five goals in six games for Forest.

Highly-rated defender Michael Dawson returned safely from England Under-21 duty against Turkey and could well be joined at the back by former World Cup star Des Walker, who played 90 minutes in the reserves earlier in the week, following his 70 minutes against Ipswich Town's second string last week.

Forest boss Paul Hart is all too aware how Ipswich will see this game as a wonderful opportunity to drag his team back towards them.

He said: "I think Ipswich are the best side we have played here this season because they passed the ball very well.

"They have still got a lot of players who were with them in the Premiership and they are certainly no mugs.

"They are right up there and have recovered very well since Joe took over."

Chris Doig was the only Forest player to come back with an injury problem and his hernia is currently being investigated.

Hart has also been boosted by Walker's full outing in the reserves against Fulham on Wednesday, his first 90 minutes on the way back from a thigh injury.

Ipswich Town: Marshall, Wilnis, Naylor, Holland, Makin, Magilton, Wright, Miller, Counago, M Bent, Richards, Armstrong, Pullen, Reuser, Abidallah and Westlake.

Nottingham Forest: Ward, Louis-Jean, Hjelde, Dawson, Brennan, Scimeca, Williams, Reid, Huckerby, Harewood, Johnson, Roche, Thompson, Jess, Oyen and Walker.

Referee: Howard Webb (Rotherham).

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