Jim: Our toughest test yet

IPSWICH skipper Jim Magilton looked ahead to tonight's visit of high-flying Reading and admitted: “It couldn't be tougher.”But far from fearing the second-placed Royals, who are unbeaten in 21 games, the veteran midfielder added: “It's a game we are all excited about.

By Mel Henderson

IPSWICH skipper Jim Magilton looked ahead to tonight's visit of high-flying Reading and admitted: “It couldn't be tougher.”

But far from fearing the second-placed Royals, who are unbeaten in 21 games, the veteran midfielder added: “It's a game we are all excited about.

“Right now there isn't a better team at this level. They are on a phenomenal run, but hopefully we will rise to the occasion. They could bring out the best in us.”

Magilton, 36, is encouraged by the fact that Town are currently on their best run of the season, although he accepts a modest four-game unbeaten sequence hardly compares to Reading's record.

He said: “We're going into tonight's game on the back of a not-too-bad display at Coventry on Saturday when we probably should have come back with all three points.

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“The first half was like a sparring match and the second was a lot better. We need to turn draws into wins, but at least we're not getting into a losing habit and the Reading game could be coming at the right time for us.

“Not getting beaten in four games has given everyone a lift, as has Gavin Williams' arrival at the club. He showed on Saturday why the manager had been after him.

“It's no secret that we don't have great depth, but Gavin has brought quality and something different to the team. One game, one goal is a pretty good ratio!”

Williams, on loan from West Ham, is a certain starter - unlike Magilton, who acknowledges he is no longer an automatic choice.

He added: “There are a lot of good players wanting to play and it is entirely up to the manager. I just want to be making some sort of contribution.

“I get up every day, train and make myself available. After that it's out of my hands, but the manager knows I want to play every game, even if I know it's not going to happen.”

Kevin Horlock returns from a one-game ban to add to the competition for midfield starting places, although teenager Owen Garvan is still sidelined and on-loan striker Adam Proudlock is still feeling the effects of a jarred knee.

Tonight's game will be the sides' 40th league meeting in 67 years and there has yet to be a goalless draw. Ipswich are without a win in the last five, although four ended all square at 1-1.

Reading, who have not lost since the opening day of the season, will be thinking that three points at Portman Road could be enough to earn them top slot in the Championship.

They go into the game just one point adrift of leaders Sheffield United, who face Wolves at Molineux this evening.

The Royals' tremendous success has resulted in a box office stampede at the Madejski Stadium, with well over 1,000 fans snapping up half-season tickets and giving the club a welcome financial boost.

But there was an unexpected blow for boss Coppell when striker Dave Kitson was bandaged and unable to travel to Suffolk yesterday, following a clash of heads with young defender Peter Castle.

Kitson, who needed 20 stitches, was absent from his side's 3-1 home win over Hull at the weekend while he served a one-game ban. He was aiming to join up with his colleagues after treatment and remained surprisingly upbeat about his chances.

Icelandic star Brynjar Gunnarsson will miss his fourth game because of a groin problem, but even if he had been fit he would not have faced Town because of a family bereavement that has seen him granted compassionate leave.

Reading expect midfielder Steve Sidwell to be fit, despite picking up a foot injury in Saturday's win over the Tigers.

If they avoid defeat tonight the Royals will equal their best-ever unbeaten league run of 19 games, which they set 32 years ago.

They are unbeaten in 21 games in all competitions, a new club record, and have made their best-ever away start to a season, avoiding defeat in nine away games.

SQUADS

IPSWICH: Price, Sito, Wilnis, Naylor, De Vos, McEveley, Williams, Juan, Magilton, Horlock, Currie, Westlake, Richards, Forster, Parkin, Bowditch and Supple.

READING: Hahnemann, Murty, Sonko, Ingimarsson, Shorey, Little, Harper, Sidwell, Convey, Doyle, Lita, Makin, Obinna, Hunt, Oster, Kitson and Stack.

Ref: Paul Melin (Frimley).

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