Clarke on standby for Blues

IPSWICH'S initial battle plan for tomorrow's visit to title rivals Wigan centres on the fitness of top scorer Shefki Kuqi.But there is sufficient doubt over the 15-goal striker's fitness for manager Joe Royle to place youngster Billy Clarke on standby.

IPSWICH'S initial battle plan for tomorrow's visit to title rivals Wigan centres on the fitness of top scorer Shefki Kuqi.

But there is sufficient doubt over the 15-goal striker's fitness for manager Joe Royle to place youngster Billy Clarke on standby.

Royle confirmed this morning: “One of three things will happen - Shefki will play, he will be on the bench or he won't even travel with us.

“He did some football work yesterday, for the first time since he was injured three weeks ago and he was rusty.

“That was to be expected since it was his first real session, and now it's a question of deciding whether he is going to be involved at Wigan.”

A decision was to be made ahead of the Town squad departing at lunchtime for a charter flight to Blackpool, with Clarke ready to travel if required.

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The Cork-born striker, who was in action for the Republic of Ireland Under-19s recently, signed his first professional contract in December when he turned 17.

If he is involved he will follow in the footsteps of fellow academy graduates Darryl Knights and Owen Garvan, who both stepped up to the senior squad this season.

Royle will take just 16 players to the north west. Wigan are top on goal difference but may have been replaced by the time tomorrow's kick-off comes round.

Second-top Sunderland, the third team with 66 points in the bag, are at Burnley in front of the Sky Sports cameras this evening.

“I want to see us play well,” said Royle, whose team have taken just one point from three games since Kuqi was sidelined.

“I was disappointed at times in the performance against QPR last week but we always go out to win the game and that will be the case again tomorrow.”

Wigan are looking to complete a £350,000 deal for Cardiff midfielder Graham Kavanagh in time for him to make his debut against Town.

They have also agreed a £200,000 fee for Reading striker Nicky Forster, but he is unlikely to arrive before next week.

West Ham are also keen on Forster, but the Royals are apparently reluctant to do a deal with ex-boss Alan Pardew, who moved to Upton Park last season.

Wigan are feeling the effects of a flu bug that saw six senior stars miss training yesterday and one of them, ex-Ipswich loanee Alan Mahon, has also missed the last two games with a cyst on his knee.

Both Mahon and Scottish winger Gary Teale are rated doubtful, but high-scoring strike pair Nathan Ellington and Jason Roberts, along with midfielder Jimmy Bullard, are expected to make it.

Like Ipswich, the Latics have been beaten just seven times this season, having launched into the campaign with a 17-game unbeaten run.

Last week's 2-1 defeat at relegation-threatened Gillingham, when they struck the woodwork three times in 11 minutes, ended a sequence of three straight wins.

This is a milestone period for the Latics as they celebrate the tenth anniversary of JJB Sports' multi-millionaire owner Dave Whelan taking control of the club.

A measure of how far they have progressed in the past decade is that his first game in charge was a 4-0 home defeat by Mansfield, a Third Division fixture watched by just 1,884 fans.

That was at their former home, Springfield Park, but they now have one of the best grounds outside the Premiership.

Whelan, a former Blackburn Rovers defender, has already lavished £40 million on the club and if they advance into the Premiership he will continue to aim high.

The Latics are keen to follow Bolton's example of top-flight consolidation and Whelan said: “If we do go up, the next target will be European football.”

SQUADS

WIGAN: Filan, Eaden, Jackson, Breckin, Baines, Teale, Bullard, Whalley,Kavanagh, McCulloch, Roberts, Ellington, Wright, Jarrett, McMillan, Graham and Walsh.

IPSWICH: Davis, Wilnis, Naylor, Unsworth, Karbassiyoon, Miller, Magilton, Westlake, Currie, Bent, Kuqi, Bowditch, Horlock, Richards, Counago, Clarke and Price.

Referee: Graham Laws (Whitley Bay).

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