Royle's backing for Naylor

RICHARD Naylor was today given a massive vote of confidence.Ipswich Town's longest-serving player will definitely start Saturday's First Division match against second-placed Sheffield United after serving a one-match suspension in the 2-2 draw at Derby nine days ago.

By Elvin King

RICHARD Naylor was today given a massive vote of confidence.

Ipswich Town's longest-serving player will definitely start Saturday's First Division match against second-placed Sheffield United after serving a one-match suspension in the 2-2 draw at Derby nine days ago.

Naylor, 26, was at fault for two goals when Gillingham won 4-3 at Portman Road in Town's last home fixture – but

manager Joe Royle has no doubts about putting him back in the team against the Blades.

Royle said today: "Richard has been a big bonus to us this season. He has adapted from a striker to become a key defender for us and he will be back in the starting line-up on Saturday.

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"He has played well and been one of our successes, and Richard will play a key part as we go into a game that we must win.

"Two draws and a defeat over our last three matches has seen a bit of a gap open up, and it is vitally important that we do not let it stretch any further. This will be our biggest game since we took on West Ham at the end of August."

With Chris Bart-Williams back in contention after also serving a one-match ban, Royle admits he will have selection problems for the weekend.

"They are the sort of problems I like," he said. "Just a few weeks ago we had four academy boys on the substitutes' bench. With Alan Mahon set to play in the reserves tomorrow we will have competition for places up front in midfield and in defence."

Leading scorer Pablo Counago, who has spent time in Spain over the last few days, will miss the Sheffield United match because of a hamstring strain, but Royle has Darren Bent and in-form Alun Armstrong and Dean Bowditch to consider.

Bent suffered a knee ligament problem in training on Friday, but lasted the session and Royle said the England Under-21 international, who scored on his return to the side after injury at Derby, will be looked at today.

Bart-Williams today signed a one-month extension to his loan deal from Charlton, so he will stay for a full three months at Portman Road. Along with Mahon and Shefki Kuqi he will be on Town's books at least until after the Christmas holiday games.

"We have no intention of losing against Sheffield United," added Royle. "And we started training in earnest for the game today after our weekend off."

"On Wednesday we will have an idea of what our line-up will be and will be working on the finer points."

Goalkeeper Andy Marshall signed a 28-day loan deal to play for Wolverhampton Wanderers today and Ipswich have also agreed that the former Norwich City player can play in the FA Cup for the Midlands Premiership side.

Marshall's deal could well be extended beyond the

one-month initial agreement.

Town Reserves are at home to Portsmouth at Portman Road tomorrow.

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