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GARETH McAuley has not kicked a ball in anger since being sent off in the last minute of Ipswich Town's last home match, a 1-1 draw against Nottingham Forest.

Carl Marston

GARETH McAuley has not kicked a ball in anger since being sent off in the last minute of Ipswich Town's last home match, a 1-1 draw against Nottingham Forest.

McAuley was flashed the red card for a professional foul, as punishment for hauling down Forest substitute Dele Adebola, and subsequently served his one-match suspension during last weekend's thrilling 3-3 draw at Doncaster.

But even though his ban is over, centre-half McAuley's return to the team could be scuppered by injury this afternoon.

Newcastle United, flying high in second spot, are bound to pose a big attacking threat, even without the presence of their leading scorer Shola Ameobi, so manager Roy Keane needs all the experience he can draw on, especially in defence.

“Gareth (McAuley) got injured in the warm-up, even before the Nottingham Forest game,” revealed Keane.

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“He hasn't trained and has only been doing light jogging, so he is very, very doubtful. But we will just see how he is (over the next few hours).

“Gareth has not kicked a ball since the Forest game. It's really a calf injury, although he was kicked by one of our own players in the back of the knee during the warm-up,” added Keane.

Tommy Smith replaced McAuley in the heart of defence at Doncaster, playing alongside skipper Alex Bruce. Another possibility would be to recall Dutchman Pim Balkestein.

Connor Wickham remains sidelined by injury, but Keane might consider adding Colin Healy to the squad after his outing for the Reserves against Stevenage Borough in midweek.

Right-back Liam Rosenior missed training to attend a funeral yesterday, but the Reading loanee will be fit and available this afternoon.

Keane continued: “Tommy (Smith) made one or two mistakes at Doncaster, but he has a good chance of being a top player.

“Whether I start with him this weekend remains to be seen.

“I am learning from all the games, but there will be no newcomers in the squad this weekend.

“We have still got a long, long way to go. Newcastle will be a good test for us, to see how far we've come,” added Keane.

Town have already lost to two of last season's relegated teams, in the shape of West Brom (2-0 away) and Middlesbrough (3-1 away), so they will be eager to avoid a hat-trick against Newcastle.

Keane, though, admits that his team are some way adrift of matching this former Premier League trio.

“We are short of the teams that came down, but I'm not worried about that. I'm not worried about the likes of West Brom, confirmed Keane.

“We deservedly lost to both West Brom and Middlesbrough, and Newcastle are a good team with good players. Not many teams in this league have two players (Geremi and Nicky Butt) who are Champions League winners!

“I am always reassessing my hopes for the season, but that happens on a daily basis. It might all change again next week.

“Promotion obviously looks harder, but putting on my positive spin of things, we are only nine points behind the play-offs.”

Town are second-from bottom with just four points, following four draws and four defeats, while sixth-placed Cardiff are sitting on 13.