Royle: Next three games may shape season

BOSS Joe Royle believes Ipswich's next three games could shape their season.

BOSS Joe Royle believes Ipswich's next three games could shape their season.

The campaign is nearing the halfway point and Town, four points adrift of the play-offs, tackle a demanding schedule with Royle admitting: “We have three big tests in just over a week.

“It's a difficult block of three games and we'll have a far better idea once they are over of where we stand in relation to finishing in the top six.”

Next up for Royle and his players is Saturday's visit to the country's newest stadium, the £113million Ricoh Arena, to face a fourth-bottom Coventry side with just one win from their last seven league outings.

High-flying Reading, unbeaten in 20 league and cup games since the opening day of the season, are at Portman Road next Tuesday.

Then Town visit rapidly-improving Cardiff, now up to fifth in the table, on Monday week - a game that is being screened live on Sky Sports 1.

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But it's strictly one game at a time and, fresh from an enforced two-week break, Royle senses his players are anxious to get going again.

He added: “The break was good, as was going into it on the back of a win over Plymouth, but I can tell from the lads' attitude in training this week that they are looking forward to the Coventry game.

“Everybody's ready to get after the play-off places. We had a double session on Tuesday and it was clear the players are in good shape for the tests that lie ahead.”

Royle, himself refreshed after a few days at his holiday home in Majorca, has virtually a full-strength complement from which to name his travelling squad.

Midfield pair Kevin Horlock and Owen Garvan are the only certain non-starters - the former, who was 33 last weekend, as

he serves a one-game suspension and 17-year-old Garvan as a result of the ankle injury that has already seen him miss four first team games.

There is also a doubt over the fitness of on-loan striker Adam Proudlock after he jarred a knee in Monday's

2-0 reserve defeat by Tottenham at Portman Road.

Saturday's clash gives Ipswich an early opportunity to clock up the win that only narrowly evaded them in last month's reverse fixture when Coventry fought back to earn a point.

Royle said: “We drew 2-2 in a game we should have won. When you are 2-0 up at home you should not squander points, but squander them we did, although we also had a perfectly good winning goal disallowed that night.

“I am a bit surprised that they are where they are in the table. They have good players like Gary McSheffrey, Stephen Hughes and Michael Doyle, while Dele Adebola can be a real handful on his day.

“It will be about us and how we play. There were plenty of encouraging signs before the break and I hope we can pick up where we left off.”

n Dean McDonald meets up with his new Hartlepool United team-mates today after agreeing to spend a month's loan at the League One outfit.

Manager Martin Scott intends using him in his favoured striker role and McDonald is relishing the opportunity.

He said: “I'm going there looking to impress and there would be no better time to get my first league goal.”

McDonald and his

new team-mates go to Gillingham, who are without a manager after the former Hartlepool boss Neale Cooper resigned.

n Ian Westlake may be fit again, but accepts he may not return to the starting line- up for Town against Coventry City on Saturday.

The all-action midfielder came through 90 minutes of reserve football against Spurs on Monday, but with competition for places, knows he will not just walk back into the team.

Matt Richards has

surprised some with his

performances in midfield and with Kevin Horlock, Jim Magilton, Jimmy Juan and Darren Currie all fit, and Adam Proudlock, Dean Bowditch and Jaime Peters all comfortable playing out wide, it will be tough for Westlake to force his way back in.

“It is a big squad now with a lot of good players so the first thing for me is to be in the squad,” said Westlake.