Football: Grimsby want happy return

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ALAN BUCKLEY wants his Grimsby side to make up for lost time and try to get themselves back in contention for a play-off place against the First Division leaders, Sunderland, at Blundell Park today.

Grimsby's last three fixtures have all fallen victim to the weather and Buckley said: "We've got three games and, in some cases, four games in hand over clubs and if we were to win just two of those, we would be in a play-off spot. But we know winning games and talking about winning games are two different things."

Peter Reid, the Sunderland manager, hands a debut to the goalkeeper Andy Marriott in place of Thomas Sorensen, who suffered concussion against Bradford on Tuesday.

The West Midlands rivals Birmingham and West Bromwich Albion, both of whom are in the play-off places, meet at St Andrews with Lee Hughes - the country's leading scorer with 31 goals - out through suspension.

"We've sneaked into the top six and this will be a big game for us as Birmingham are a very good side," Malcolm Crosby, the West Brom assistant manager, said. "We want to stay in the play-off places for at least the next couple of weeks and if we can do that, then anything can happen. We still think that we can be there at the end of the season."

Away at relegation rivals Port Vale, Gary Megson, the Stockport manager, is looking for his side to repeat the fighting spirit they showed in Tuesday's 2-1 defeat of Swindon when they played with 10 men for more than an hour after Sean Connelly was sent off. "For us to get a result was tremendous. I was delighted with the effort and commitment," Megson said. "It's all about getting results and we will just have to try and get some more results now so that it doesn't become any more of a problem later on."

Steve Bruce, the Sheffield United manager, believes his team have done well to be challenging for promotion. The Blades are three points away from a play-off spot despite having to sell players to keep the club financially secure and Bruce, whose side visit Tranmere tomorrow, said: "We're one of several clubs who are all playing for sixth place.

"I know that supporters' expectations were higher at the start of the season but with the transfer situation here and the injuries we've had, I'm pleased to be where we are."