Pablo forced to settle for bench duty

PABLO Counago will again be on the bench tonight as Ipswich look to prevent wannabe leaders Stoke from dislodging them at the top of the Coca-Cola Championship.

PABLO Counago will again be on the bench tonight as Ipswich look to prevent wannabe leaders Stoke from dislodging them at the top of the Coca-Cola Championship.

Fans' favourite Counago, 25, played a starring role as a substitute in Sunday's 2-0 home defeat of Millwall when he made one goal, and scored the other, in his side's late breakthrough.

But boss Joe Royle has decided against rewarding the Spanish striker, who remains available on a free transfer, with his first league start of the season.

The Town boss has decided to keep faith with the more powerful and aggressive Shefki Kuqi, although it would not be a major surprise if he introduced Counago at some stage.

Royle will field an unchanged line-up for the fourth game in a row at the Britannia Stadium - kick-off 7.45pm - provided injury doubt Kevin Horlock receives the all-clear.

The experienced midfielder, ever-present since his summer move from West Ham, is Ipswich's only concern as they go in search of a sixth successive league and cup win.

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Royle explained: “Kevin has a jarred ankle and knee, so we'll wait and see how he is. He played with the ankle problem against Millwall on Sunday and picked up another blow on the knee.

“He says he will be OK, but we'll have to be sure. Sometimes it's not the next day, but a couple of days later, that the injury starts to ache.”

Ipswich face a Stoke side boasting a three-game, 100 per cent home record this season.

There is every incentive for both sides, with victory for Town ensuring they will retain top slot in the Coca-Cola Championship.

If, however, Stoke extend their impressive home sequence with a fourth straight win, they will leapfrog Royle's men and, depending on results elsewhere, could even take over as leaders.

Stoke have reduced admission for tonight's game to just £5, which should swell the crowd considerably as they look to recover from Saturday's 3-0 defeat at Preston, their first of the season.

Royle, speaking from a “wet and windy” Stoke today, said: “A big crowd means a big atmosphere and we're happy with that. It will also be a good pitch and we must face the challenge of trying to stay at the top of the table.”

With youngster Scott Barron sidelined due to a niggling groin injury, fellow teenager Scott Mitchell has been added to the 16 players on duty against Millwall at the weekend.

Meanwhile, Stoke boss Tony Pulis is likely to give a debut to new signing Steve Guppy after the veteran left-winger signed a one-month contract yesterday.

Former England cap Guppy, 35, scored once in four appearances for Leeds this season after being released by Leicester at the end of last term.

With left-back Chris Barker recalled from a loan spell by Cardiff, it seems certain that Marcus Hall will switch to his preferred defensive slot to allow Guppy to come in on the left of midfield.


STOKE: De Goey, Halls, Thomas, Taggart, Hall, Russell, Brammer, Clarke, Guppy, Akinbiyi, Noel-Williams, Hill, Henry, Asaba, Greenacre, Simonsen.

IPSWICH: Davis, Diallo, De Vos, Naylor, Wilnis, Miller, Magilton, Horlock, Westlake, Bent, Kuqi, Richards, Dinning, Bowditch, Counago, Mitchell, Price.

Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral).