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Football: Burley and Francis show mutual respect

GEORGE BURLEY, the Ipswich Town manager, believes his League leaders will face their toughest examination yet when they play Birmingham City at Portman Road today.

Trevor Francis' side are third in the First Division and Burley said: "I rate Birmingham very highly. I think they are a very good side, but we're top of the League and the other teams have got to catch us."

Francis returned the compliment: "We will have to give a committed performance, because they are the outstanding team in this league."

Sandwiched in-between Ipswich and Birmingham are second-placed Manchester City, who face Walsall at the Bescot Stadium. The City manager, Joe Royle, is delighted with his side's start, but also cautioned: "I'm pleased with the way things are going, but I'm very aware too that it is a tricky game against Walsall."

Bolton Wanderers had hoped to be among the pace-setters, but they are struggling with just one win. However, their manager, Colin Todd, remains upbeat ahead of the visit of Barnsley: "I'm sure that the tide will turn, but it's up to us to make sure that it does."

Bottom club Crystal Palace hope their midweek draw with Premiership side Leicester City in the Worthington Cup will lift them against Grimsby at Selhurst Park. "It has certainly been a morale-boost for everyone here," Steve Kember, Palace's assistant manager, said.

The Queen's Park Rangers manager, Gerry Francis, hopes his side will one day be able to spend like today's opponents Fulham. The sides meet in a west London derby at Craven Cottage and Francis said: "It's good for football in London and although it might take us a bit longer, we want to do the same thing as them and compete in the transfer market again."

The Cottagers' manager, Paul Bracewell, is excited by the game and he said: "It's a big game and that's what we were aiming for when I first came to the club."

Brian Little, the West Bromwich manager, wants to record his first home win of the season against Blackburn: "We've not won at home yet in the League and it would be a real tonic for us to break our duck in a big game like this."

Competition for places is hotting up at Rovers, to the delight of their manager, Brian Kidd, who said: "We should have plenty to choose from. Competition for places is the key to any successful side."

Norwich City have made a poor start and, ahead of their trip to Huddersfield, their manager, Bruce Rioch said: "We've played a lot of teams in the last few games who have spent a lot of money, and Huddersfield also fall into that category."

Sheffield United's manager, Adrian Heath, has a happy selection poser ahead of Charlton's visit to Bramall Lane, because forwards Paul Devlin, Peter Kachuro, Marcelo and Martin Smith are all available.

"When they're all fit we have got a few players for the positions out wide and down the middle, which gives me a selection dilemma," Heath said.

Andy Petterson will keep goal for Portsmouth at Tranmere after Aaron Flahavan fainted during the Worthington Cup defeat by Blackburn. It is the second time Flahavan has passed out during a match and manager Alan Ball has given him the next few days off.

"He gets an adrenaline rush which causes his blood pressure to drop," Ball said, "but we will give him a couple of days off and then he will play in the reserves on Wednesday."