Football: Quinn set to make play-off return

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The Independent Online
SUNDERLAND were left despondent by the events of last week - but midfielder Lee Clark is determined his side will not miss the play-off boat.

Middlesbrough snatched the second automatic promotion place when they beat Oxford United 4-1 and now the Wearsiders must lift themselves for tomorrow's semi-final first-leg against Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.

"We are all geared up to the Premiership and must make certain that we take our second chance and make that final step," Clark said. "It really hit us hard, and we suffered from a painful hangover for a couple of days, but after getting back to training we soon put that behind us as we prepared for this weekend's game. It was a little flat earlier in the week but the lads have worked ever so hard and are determined to give the fans promotion."

Niall Quinn is close to fitness after a hamstring injury but the Sunderland manager, Peter Reid, may rest him for the second leg at the Stadium of Light on Wednesday.

The Sheffield United striker, Dean Saunders, is looking to history repeating itself as the South Yorkshire side aim for the Premiership for the first time since 1994. "Last season the guys were gutted because they lost the final with the last kick of the game at Wembley," Saunders said. "But recently the sixth-placed team is the one that gets promotion."

Sheffield United could be without their striker Graham Stuart after the former Everton man broke two bones in his hand. The United manager, Steve Thompson, will make a late decision on his inclusion.

Ipswich are hoping that they can go one better than last season when they were beaten in the semi-final by Sheffield United, but their manager, George Burley, wants to repeat his 1978 FA Cup final appearance as a player.

"Any supporter too young to have seen the club in the FA Cup at Wembley in 1978 will be anxious for the opportunity to see us back there again," Burley said. "We have two difficult games to negotiate before then, of course, and none of us have forgotten the disappointment of what happened at this stage last season. Hopefully the experience of losing out to Sheffield United on the away goals will stand us in good stead."

The Ipswich captain, Tony Mowbray (groin), central defender Adam Tanner (knee) are missing and striker Richard Naylor begins a three-match suspension.

The Charlton manager, Alan Curbishley, is aiming to prove the bookmakers wrong at Portman Road. Charlton are rated only third favourites to go up, but Curbishley believes his side have a good chance. "Ipswich and ourselves are too evenly matched teams, very similar in size of club and stature and also very similar in style. I feel that both legs are winnable," Curbishley said.

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