WHO should partner in-form Ipswich striker Darren Bent?That is the poser facing Town boss Joe Royle in the build-up to Saturday's crucial home clash with Nottingham Forest.

By Mel Henderson

WHO should partner in-form Ipswich striker Darren Bent?

That is the poser facing Town boss Joe Royle in the build-up to Saturday's crucial home clash with Nottingham Forest.

Royle will make his choice from three contenders – Shefki Kuqi, Richard Naylor and Dean Bowditch, who was on target for the reserves in last night's 3-1 away win over Portsmouth.

"We have a good selection of front players," Royle said today. "And don't forget we still have Pablo Counago to come back.

"Injuries and form have obviously played a part in our selections this season, but generally we have rotated the players quite well.

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"It is easier to switch strikers around than, say, central defenders, but I would think we have used almost as many combinations up front than we have at the back."

Despite withdrawing Finnish international Kuqi just 35 minutes into Saturday's 2-1 win at Gillingham, Royle refuses to dismiss the player's chances of facing Forest.

The Town boss added: "I am not saying Shefki won't start at the weekend. We sat down together to watch a video of the Gillingham game and I was able to show him why I made my decision.

"Of course he wasn't pleased and I wouldn't expect him to feel any other way. Shefki is also right when he says everyone played poorly in the first half of that game.

"The reason I took him off was that the front men couldn't get into the game. The ball was being played up there and coming straight back again.

"Darren wasn't playing well either, but he has that knack of scoring a goal. It's not a case of being smart after the event, just because he went on to score the winner, but when you need a goal you don't take off your top scorer.

"One thing you can't say about us this season, no matter how badly we might be playing in a game, is that we're not going to score. The first half at Gillingham was as poor as we've played all season."

Royle was giving nothing away as to who might be alongside 15-goal Bent in Saturday's starting line-up.

But it may have been significant that 17-year-old Bowditch was withdrawn after an hour of his side's deserved win.

Royle admitted: "Dean is definitely in my thoughts. He has had his rest, which was always part of the plan, and I hear he played well last night. Apart from his goal, his general play was sharp."

The Town boss did not attend the game, played at Havant and Waterlooville's Westleigh Park ground, but reports from reserve coach Steve McCall and academy manager Bryan Klug were certainly favourable.

However, with Naylor having impressed as Kuqi's replacement at the Priestfield Stadium, Royle has an open mind as to who should fill the second striking berth.

Meanwhile, Counago has returned from a break in his native Spain and should return to training next week.

Last season's leading marksman has missed the last eight games with a hamstring injury, followed by a slight groin strain.

But he would be a welcome addition to the squad if, as seems even more likely after rivals Millwall were beaten at home by Watford last night, Town book themselves a play-off place.

Midfielder Tommy Miller (hamstring) remains a doubt for the weekend, but both John McGreal (foot) and Drissa Diallo (knee) trained yesterday and will be available against Forest.