Football: Huddersfield claims put to the Bull test

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The Independent Online
AN EARLY test of Premiership pretensions will grace an unlikely venue today when Huddersfield Town, the unexpected pacesetters in the Nationwide First Division, take on the perennial disappointers, Wolverhampton Wanderers.

The McAlpine Stadium was more used to the tension of the scrap to stay clear of the relegation zone last season, when Huddersfield opened up with a run of results as poor as their current run has been good. Last October Peter Jackson took on a side still searching for their first League victory, quickly put them in order and after the Terriers produced a purple patch in March and April that generated four wins and two draws they were safe. That form survived the summer and this morning they stand on top of the division, albeit only on goals scored.

Marcus Stewart, last season's leading scorer and, with Wayne Allison, their top marksman so far this term, picked up a bruised toe during their midweek Worthington Cup draw against Everton. Like the midfielders Ben Thornley and Grant Johnson, who have groin strains, he should be fit to play.

The return of Steve Bull should lift fifth-placed Wolves (three points cover the top seven) as they search for a first win in four League games. Fernando Gomez and Keith Curle also return.

Birmingham City, lying second, could welcome back Peter Ndlovu, the fleet- footed wide man, only two weeks after knee surgery to face Grimsby at St Andrew's. The Mariners try to end a run of four defeats that has dropped them towards the dregs of the division with the Lees, Nogan and Ashcroft, their new signing, forming a fresh strike partnership.

Sunderland will take on Oxford United at home without their leading scorer, Kevin Phillips, who injured an ankle during a midweek Worthington Cup win over Chester. Michael Bridges, the England under-21 international, will start his first league game of the season alongside Danny Dichio in attack in the continued absence of Niall Quinn. Oxford, beset by injury, are hoping that their central defender Phil Gilchrist passes a test on his hamstring.

Bury, another surprise early front-runner, put their new signing, Chris Billy, straight in as they go for a fifth successive home League win, against the bottom club, Tranmere.

Gareth Taylor is doubtful for Sheffield United's match against Norwich City because of a bruised ankle, but Jonathan Hunt, on loan from Derby, could return after sitting out the midweek Worthington Cup victory over Grimsby. The Republic of Ireland striker Keith O'Neill is poised to make his comeback for Norwich after a calf injury.