Fuller Starts Against PNE
Monday, 13th Mar 2006 14:12
Ricardo Fuller will make his second start for the Blues when they face his former club Preston at Deepdale in Tuesday's crucial play-off six-pointer. The Jamaican could play alongside Alan Lee for the first time, although the Irishman is not yet a confirmed starter.
Fuller, who scored 31 goals in 63 games for the Lilywhites between June 2002 and August 2004 before joining Portsmouth for £500,000, returns from a one-match ban for reaching five bookings and comes up against his best friend, Preston central defender Claude Davis, in competitive action for the first time.
Lee came through Saturday's game generally unscathed, although tired and feeling the hamstring injury which had kept him out of action for three weeks.
Boss Joe Royle says no new injuries emerged after Saturday's draw with Millwall: "Straight after the game there were no obvious problems. Alan Lee was suffering from fatigue and his hamstring was a bit tight, but at least he got through the game. It's not gone again and it was quite normal for rehab of a hamstring.
"We'll have to wait and see. He would be the only slight doubt as to whether he'll start or whether we use him as a sub later on in the game. I'm hopeful he'll be OK."
Fuller's addition to the squad is the only change with Dean McDonald dropping out to take part in this evening's reserve game at Watford.
Royle says Tuesday's match has taken on even more importance since it was postponed last weekend: "I think this game probably means more to both teams now than it did a week ago, with them dropping out of the top six and us dropping points at home on Saturday.
"The home draw in isolation wouldn't have been the worst result had it been the start of the season but it's just that we are desperately playing catch-up and things are tight. But we haven't given up and I notice that our friendly rivals up the road haven't given up and they're a point behind us. That's the nature of the play-offs, love them or hate them."
The Blues are unlikely to make any changes at the back, but if Lee starts alongside Fuller, Darren Currie could drop back into the midfield in place of either Ian Westlake or Matt Richards.
Strike trio Sam Parkin (broken ankle), Adam Proudlock (knee surgery) and Nicky Forster (knee surgery) remain on the sidelines with the former Swindon man the only one expected to return to action this season. Midfielder Gavin Williams is also out for the remainder of 2005/06 having also undergone a knee operation.
Defender Jay McEveley is back in training after his medial knee ligament operation but needs reserve games before he can be considered for the first team.
Tuesday's game is also in doubt with snow over the weekend and again forecast for tonight and tomorrow. No inspection had been set as of Thursday morning but, with Preston's pitch cover not amongst the more effective, there is a chance the match could be postponed for a second time.
James Black from the Rivals Preston site, Who's That Jumping Off The Pier, told TWTD: "It's 50/50 at the moment. Some forecasts are saying that we should just get some rain this evening, in which case the game should be on, others are saying we could be in for more snow."
North End have few injury problems, although young goalkeeper Andy Lonergan is out with a long-term knee injury, midfielder Adam Nowland has a broken leg and defender Brian O'Neil is recovering from a wrist operation. The suspensions which would have seen several senior players miss the game when it was originally scheduled have now been served.
Central defender Chris Lucketti finally joined Sheffield United on loan until the end of the season last week after a protracted on-off transfer saga.
Manager Billy Davies says his side need to take a greater percentage of their chances: "We have to hit the target more but it's just one of those situations we have to deal with, take collective responsibility for it, not only defending as a full team but being clinical and ruthless as a team.
"We are rock solid at the moment and with some important home games coming up we need to get our shooting boots on.
"These next couple of games are very important and we have to be ruthless and take the points."
Tuesday's referee is Eddie Ilderton from Tyne and Wear who has shown 68 yellow and three red cards in 28 games this season. His last Town match was the 1-1 draw at Sheffield United in April 2004.
Squad: Supple, Price, Wilnis, Barron, Sito, Naylor, De Vos, Garvan, Juan, Currie, Richards, Westlake, Magilton, Lee, Fuller, Haynes.
Photo: Action Images
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