English League 1

Stevenage v Hartlepool preview

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Sun, 31 Mar 2013 17:26:00

Bristol City have no fresh injury worries as they prepare for their huge Championship clash with Sheffield Wednesday at Ashton Gate on Monday.

The Robins are yet to taste defeat on home soil since head coach Sean O'Driscoll took charge but their failure to secure a victory on the road has left them six points adrift of safety with seven games remaining.

The likes of Albert Adomah and Liam Kelly are pushing for recalls while Paul Anderson came through 90 minutes following his return to the starting line-up after injury.

But O'Driscoll is limited when it comes to attacking options with striker Ryan Taylor (shoulder) back in training but not yet available, and fellow forward Jon Stead (groin) still sidelined.

City's latest defeat on their travels, a 3-0 loss at Derby on Friday, means a reverse to the Owls would leave the Robins staring at a return to League One after six seasons on football's second rung.

Sheffield Wednesday, meanwhile, will be without suspended defender Lewis Buxton for the game.

Buxton was sent off in Saturday's derby win over Barnsley for a second yellow card offence and will sit out a one-game ban, so Martin Taylor will come into contention for a recall.

Seyi Olofinjana and fellow midfielder Stuart Holden made their debuts after joining on loan last week from Hull and Bolton respectively, and manager Dave Jones must decide if both are capable of playing two games in four days.

Giles Coke, fit again after a foot injury, replaced Holden in the second half on Saturday, while Rhys McCabe, Kieran Lee, and David Prutton provide Jones with extra options in midfield.

Jermaine Johnson is in contention to start. He returned to the bench following international duty with Jamaica, but fellow winger Michail Antonio (groin) is out for the rest of the season.

The hosts will hope Will Grigg can manage two games in four days as they prepare to entertain their midlands neighbours.

The Northern Ireland international, who has 19 goals to his name this season, was a big doubt for Good Friday's trip to Yeovil but made an earlier than expected to return to start from the off at Huish Park.

Grigg lasted 78 minutes of the goalless draw and Saddlers boss Dean Smith, who is not expected to be have any other injury or suspension concerns, will be hoping he is fresh enough to line up once more against the Sky Blues.

New loan signing Romaine Sawyers appeared for the closing stages against the Glovers and will be aiming for a bigger role on Easter Monday as Walsall strive to stretch their 11-match unbeaten run.

Coventry manager Steven Pressley will be tempted to keep faith with an unchanged XI.

Pressley poured praise on his players after they responded from one of the toughest weeks in the crisis club's history to inflict a 1-0 defeat on league leaders Doncaster on Good Friday.

The victory would have kept City within touching distance of the play-offs were it not for a 10-point deduction for going into administration, imposed by the Football League 24 hours previous.

Pressley made three changes for the clash as fit-again skipper Carl Baker returned in midfield alongside Adam Barton, with Callum Ball taking his place in attack.

Gary McSheffrey and Cody McDonald, both benched, will be hoping for recalls while Steven Jennings will again be assessed having missed out due to injury.

Dundee boss John Brown immediately tried to sign the former Inverness and Ross County striker on a short-term deal after he became one of seven experienced players to lose their jobs with the administration-hit club.

A statement on the Dundee website read: "The signing which took place at Dens Park this afternoon is subject to SFA clearance and special dispensation due to Dunfermline's circumstances."

Partick Thistle signed two of the released Pars players, Jordan McMillan and Andy Dowie, while Dunfermline reported that goalkeeper Paul Gallacher had joined Ross County.

The Tangerines are facing crunch time as they chase a top-six slot with games against Saints tomorrow night at McDiarmid Park before hosting Aberdeen at Tannadice this weekend.

McNamara knows the importance of securing a top-half finish for the Scottish Cup semi-finalists so will not mind if they win ugly on this occasion.

McNamara said: "We always try to play good football.

"But when it gets down to this stage of the season it can be more about the result than the performance at the end of the day.

"I know the players can dig deep to win even if they're not at their best.

"That's a side of their game they've shown since I came in so they may have to do that again.

"St Johnstone are a big, strong side so we will obviously have to match them in that respect.

"It's going to be a very hard game but we'll be ready for it and hopefully come away with a positive result."

United's last outing ended in a 1-1 draw with city rivals Dundee before the international weekend.

And McNamara reckons they've benefited from the free weekend and are raring to go again in their pursuit of a top-six slot.

He added: "The lads are buzzing to get going again.

"We worked hard when we were in last week and then had a little bit of time off.

"The players have come back fresh and are really looking forward to this match with St Johnstone.

"It's a big one and we're under no illusions about that.

"We will be looking to win both games before the split so we know what we have to try and do in that regard.

"I think the players are capable of that as they've shown on their day.

"There are no easy games in the SPL but hopefully this one can being out the best in us on Monday night."

United will give winger Gary Mackay-Steven every chance of making it as he battles to shrug off a hamstring injury.

John Rankin is suspended though and striker John Russell is still missing through his knee injury.

St Johnstone need just a point against Dundee United to book their top six place on Monday night but midfielder Liam Craig is determined to finish the season with a bang.

Fifth-placed Saints would put themselves out of reach of all of the bottom six including United by avoiding defeat in the Tayside derby at McDiarmid Park.

Consecutive top-six finishes would represent an excellent achievement for Steve Lomas' side, especially given that they would ensure finishes above clubs with the biggest spending power outside the Old Firm such as Hearts, Hibernian and Aberdeen.

But Craig is not content with that alone. St Johnstone set up a Europa League clash with Eskisehirspor last year by finishing fifth but they ended the season in unspectacular fashion and Craig wants to leave the club on a high before he joins Hibernian.

The 26-year-old said: "When you look at it, you wouldn't have expected that top six to be there with two games to go before the split.

"But this year has been tight and we're delighted to put ourselves in a position to make the top six again, especially after the start we made.

"We always knew we had the quality in the team and over the season so far, it has proved right.

"But when you look back to last season, we didn't win any of the last seven games, which by our standards isn't good enough.

"There are seven games left now and we don't want to stumble into the top six - we want to get there with two wins and give ourselves a chance of climbing the table.

"We want to make sure we go in there positive and make a better account of ourselves."Victory in the televised clash would move St Johnstone into fourth, three points behind Inverness and a guaranteed European spot.

"After we got a wee taste of it last year, we are determined to get back there," Craig said.

"For a lot of the boys it was their first experience. It was a great trip to Turkey, albeit the result wasn't what we wanted it was a great experience.

"It was something we wanted to build on this year and we have put ourselves in a position to do it again, so it is up to us to finish it off."

Graham Westley takes charge of his first game back in charge of Stevenage on Easter Monday.

Westley has returned to Boro, who he guided to back-to-back promotions before leaving for Preston, to replace Gary Smith who was sacked last week.

He will be without Miguel Comminges, who is suspended after his red card in Friday's 1-1 draw against Crawley.

With Lee Hills a doubt with a hamstring problem, David Gray is set to fill in at left-back.

Midfielder Gavin Mahon is struggling with a knock but new signings Alex Smith and Roarie Deacon could be added to the squad.

Defender Smith joined on loan from Fulham on Thursday and forward Deacon was a free agent after leaving Sunderland, but neither signed in time to face the Red Devils.

The visitors will be without suspended midfielder Simon Walton and three other players could miss out through injury.

Walton was shown a straight red card in Friday's home defeat to MK Dons for his challenge on Patrick Bamford and will start a three-game ban.

Pools manager John Hughes could also be without fellow midfielder Ritchie Humphreys again after he missed out against the Dons due to a calf strain.

Defender Evan Horwood and midfielder Antony Sweeney are also doubtful after they both sustained hamstring strains during Friday's setback.

Teenager Jack Baldwin made a surprise return to action on Friday following knee ligament damage and played the full 90 minutes, so he too could be struggling to last a second full game in the space of four days.

Charlie Wyke, on loan from Middlesbrough, overcame a heel problem in time to start against the Dons and although fellow striker James Poole missed out due to a knock, he could return to contention to boost Hughes' attacking options following Thursday's departure of Steve Howard to Sheffield Wednesday on loan.

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