Trio facing fitness battle

THREE of the Ipswich Town side, who all featured in the goal feast against Crewe, are facing a race against time to be fit for this weekend's FA Cup tie against Sunderland, writes Carl Marston.

THREE of the Ipswich Town side, who all featured in the goal feast against Crewe, are facing a race against time to be fit for this weekend's FA Cup tie against Sunderland, writes Carl Marston.

Play-maker Jim Magilton, midfielder Chris Bart-Williams and defender John McGreal all missed training yesterday. It's too early to say whether all, some or none of the three will be available for the visit of Sunderland, but manager Joe Royle is hoping that the trio will recover in time for this crunch fourth-round tie.

"With several Premiership teams playing each other, this is as good-a-season as any to have a cup run," said Royle last night.

"We won't be treating this match any differently to a league game.

"I wouldn't like to say who is the biggest doubt of the three who missed training. Jim (Magilton) is nursing a dead leg, while Chris (Bart-Williams) has a stiff back and John (McGreal) had to drop out of training with a sore back.

"Richard Naylor also missed training, but that was only as a precaution because of a sore knee," added Royle.

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Magilton was a key man in Town's thrilling 6-4 victory over Crewe on Saturday, a result which lifted the Suffolk club above Preston into fifth slot in Division One. Irishman Magilton's excellent passing helped to unlock Crewe's defence on an afternoon when Tommy Miller (two), Shefki Kuqi (two), Martijn Reuser and Pablo Counago all hit the target.

It was certainly a terrific response to Royle's pre-match plea. He said in the build-up: "We need a little more guile or ingenuity to open up teams and score."

His team delivered on the attacking front, but errors at the back gave cause for concern.

At least Royle can welcome back defender Fabian Wilnis for the Sunderland clash. The Dutchman missed the Crewe fixture due to a one-match suspension, but he is set to return at right-back.

That would release Jermaine Wright to play in midfield, which would be a big plus if either Magilton or Bart-Williams failed to shrug off their respective injuries.

Meanwhile, front runner Darren Bent, who continued to be sidelined with a sore ankle last Saturday, has still not returned to training.

However, there was good news surrounding last week's X-rays on Bent's ankle, which revealed no fracture or any other serious problem. Instead, the 19-year-old will wear a support for the next few days to immobolise the ankle. Bent picked up the injury during Town's FA Cup third round success over Derby County.

Royle is hoping to secure a player on loan later this week, though there were no further developments on this front yesterday. Royle confirmed: "I'm still hoping that we'll sign a new player later in the week.

"I don't want to give anything away about who we're chasing, because it might alert other clubs. It would be difficult to guess whom I'm after anyway. If I did get the new signing this week, he still wouldn't be available for the cup game, because he has to be registered seven days in advance."

Sunderland chairman Bob Murray was in a determined mood yesterday, reacting to reports that a few of the club's star players, including keeper Mart Poom and left-back Julio Arca, could be leaving the Stadium of Light.

Murray insisted: "No player who Mick (manager Mick McCarthy) wants to keep will go in the window. I'm determined to get Sunderland promoted."

Ipswich lost 3-2 at Sunderland in their Division One clash at the end of September, so they will be gunning for revenge this weekend.

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