Fingers crossed for Bruce

ALEX Bruce all of a sudden becomes a vital member of Ipswich Town manager Jim Magilton's squad with the Blues boss keeping his fingers crossed the 24-year-old comes through tonight's Republic of Ireland international unscathed.

Elvin King

ALEX Bruce all of a sudden becomes a vital member of Ipswich Town manager Jim Magilton's squad with the Blues boss keeping his fingers crossed the 24-year-old comes through tonight's Republic of Ireland international unscathed.

After sitting out seven matches, Bruce was back in the Town defence for Saturday's 1-0 Coca-Cola Championship defeat at Doncaster Rovers after team captain Gareth McAuley sustained a hamstring injury.

And with McAuley a doubt for Saturday's home league game against Derby County and Moritz Volz serving a one-match suspension, Bruce is set to hold his place.

The Blues' three home league victories this season have all been obtained on the back of clean sheets, and Magilton will want as strong a back line as possible against a Rams side that are rapidly moving up the table.

McAuley has not been ruled out of the Derby fixture, but he is not training and his hamstring tweak will need to be carefully watched as coming back too early could result in a tear - and a lengthy absence.

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Bruce, who expects to leave Portman Road next year as he does not expect to be offered a new contract to the one that expires in June, was not named in Ireland's original starting line-up to face Poland in Dublin tonight.

But this could change with the originally-picked Richard Dunne recalled to England to be with his pregnant wife.

If Bruce does not take Dunne's place he is still expected to play half the game after impressing coach Giovanni Trapattoni in a 'B' game against Nottingham Forest last month.

Ben Thatcher - with just one reserve game behind him since tearing a thigh muscle - and Pim Balkestein will be competing for the left back role if McAuley is ruled out.

Magilton is set to make changes on Saturday as he has a policy of resting midfielder Veliche Shumulikoski after international weeks and the 27-year-old is in the Macedonia team for the friendly in Montenegro.

And both Jon Stead and Pablo Counago will come in line for a place in the front two, while Darren Ambrose is set to make his home debut after his return to Town on loan from Charlton Athletic.

Young defender Tommy Smith is to undergo a minor operation on his broken ankle this week to remove a metal screw. He will then step up his rehabilitation with pool work although it is March before he is expected to be playing again.

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