Football: City's stock delights Royle

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The Independent Online
IF THERE is a growing belief among Manchester City supporters that their club's fortunes may at last be genuinely on the rise, the words of the Maine Road manager, Joe Royle, will be music to their ears.

City arrive in south London today for what will arguably be the toughest test yet of their leadership of the First Division, when they take on second-placed Charlton at The Valley. But Royle is in confident mood and clearly enjoying life at Maine Road: "This is a great time, a great season for the club," he said. "It is a great time to be around Manchester City at the moment."

Royle hopes to have his Republic of Ireland winger, Mark Kennedy, fit after a hamstring injury, but his captain, Andy Morrison, and forwards Paul Dickov and Lee Peacock are ruled out. Gerard Wiekens stands by to deputise for Morrison. The Irish pair Dean Kiely and Mark Kinsella return for Charlton while their pounds 1m signing from Bolton, Andy Todd, makes his debut.

Third-placed Huddersfield will look to gain ground on the top two at home to West Bromwich Albion. The Huddersfield centre-half, Ken Monkou, will undergo a late fitness test and could step in for the suspended Kevin Gray.

Birmingham City face a difficult trip to Barnsley, where the Welsh international full-back Darren Barnard is expected to return for the Oakwell side. The Birmingham goalkeeper Ian Bennett makes way for Kevin Poole after failing to agree a new contract.

Fulham, in fifth place but reeling from a 3-1 home defeat to Barnsley, visit Blackburn in the battle of the big spenders at Ewood Park. The Rovers keeper Alan Kelly is struggling with a groin problem, but otherwise Rovers have no new injury problems. Fulham welcome back strikers Geoff Horsfield, Paul Peschisolido and Barry Hayles after injury and suspension.

Elsewhere Crystal Palace are without the injured midfielder Jamie Fullarton for their trip to Port Vale, while Portsmouth give a debut to their new pounds 600,000 signing from Bradford, the defender Darren Moore, at home to Crewe.

Tomorrow, Norwich meet Ipswich in the East Anglian derby.