Shefki winning fitness battle

IPSWICH top scorer Shefki Kuqi looks like winning his battle to be involved in Saturday's showdown with title rivals Wigan.Boss Joe Royle said today: “The big fella has a great chance.

IPSWICH top scorer Shefki Kuqi looks like winning his battle to be involved in Saturday's showdown with title rivals Wigan.

Boss Joe Royle said today: “The big fella has a great chance. I am confident he will be in the squad but I wouldn't like to say whether he will be able to start or will be on the bench.”

The 15-goal Finnish international has made remarkable progress since suffering a deep gash in his left thigh in Town's last win, when they defeated Leicester 2-1 at Portman Road on February 12.

He was stretchered off just before the break and was expected to be absent for at least a month.


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Ipswich have taken only one point from the three games Kuqi has missed and Royle admitted it would be a huge boost to have him available at the JJB Stadium.

“Basically, he has 48 hours to prove his fitness,” said Royle before going out to train with his players this morning.

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“Shefki has done everything that has been required of him up till now and I am thinking in terms of him being in the squad when we set off tomorrow.”

Kuqi, 28, would give Town a lift at a time when their promotion challenge has stuttered and they have slipped from pole position to third in the Championship.

Royle admitted: “It's been terrific having him back around the place. He's an integral part of the excellent spirit that exists among the players.

“He's certainly got hold of the English humour and is extremely popular with the rest of the lads, plus of course his goalscoring record speaks for itself.”

Kuqi's prospects are improving all the time as he works under the supervision of physio David Williams and fitness coach Simon Thadani.

Royle added: “Everything they do is designed to recreate football match conditions - twisting, turning, change of pace, jumping, landing - and when he passes each test it's another tick in the box.”

But the Town boss is adamant that Kuqi will NOT have the final say on whether he makes the squad for the big game.

He added: “Normally, when a player might be touch and go, you will ask him whether or not he is fit enough and let him decide.

“But not this time. This is slightly different and the medical people will have the last word. We will be guided by what they say.”

Having Kuqi available, even as a substitute, will help to compensate for the absence of the man signed to replace him.

Ex-Town star James Scowcroft, on loan from Leicester for the remainder of the season, misses the Wigan clash because of a one-game ban.

Jason De Vos will also sit out the game against his former club for the same reason.

Royle, meanwhile, insists he is not feeling the pressure as the promotion race hots up - and is doing his best to ensure his players remain stress-free.

He added: "When we beat Wigan at our place it was possibly our best performance of the season, given the standard of the opposition.

“But we always knew that when the return game came round Wigan would be looking for revenge and there's no doubt they are a very good side.

“I saw them beat Leeds 3-0 recently and it was three going on six or seven. They really took them apart and their success this season has not surprised me.

“Their pitch isn't the best but it is no stopping them. We need a win but I would be saying that in any case - not just because we're playing one of our main rivals.

“We have seen with our own situation how things can change around very quickly in this league and with 11 games still to go all the teams will fancy their chances.

“It's a big game on Saturday but they all are now. Whoever wins it, nothing will be decided, but it's our most important game for the simple reason that it's our next one.”

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