FOOTBALL: LEAGUE MATCHES OF THE DAY

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THE CHAMPIONSHIP

Brighton v Derby County

DERBY COUNTY fans, after seeing their club beat relegation by a point last season, can scarcely believe the current Championship table. And with the second-best away record in the division, they will turn up at the Withdean Stadium today in buoyant mood.

But their manager George Burley is anxious that supporters do not begin planning their Premiership itineraries just yet. Loath though he is to put a damper on local optimism, he insists Derby can be delighted with their progress even if they miss out on a play-off place.

"I still feel that if we finish in the top half of the table it will have been an exceptional season," Burley said. "No one is going to give up on a chance of promotion but the top six is a long way from where we were a year ago and you have to be realistic."

Derby have won their last four away matches, three against promotion contenders in Wigan, Reading and West Ham, and would be higher even than fifth but for deficiencies in their home form. In the seven-week period that encompasses those results they have lost to Millwall, Cardiff and Sunderland at Pride Park.

"We have been guilty of conceding bad goals at home," he said, although he suspects that the absence since September of Mo Konjic, his most experienced defender, has a lot to do with that.

Konjic's absence has revealed more qualities in Derby's outstanding young midfielder, Tom Huddlestone, whom Burley has used as a stand-in - one reason the manager was so disappointed with the club's decision to accept a pounds 2.m bid from Tottenham to buy the 18-year-old next summer.

"The board know how much I wanted to keep Tom because he has the kind of talent you come across once in 10 years," he said. "At that price he is a real snip.

"But I got used to having to sell a young player every year at Ipswich and with Derby's financial position I knew what to expect when I came here."

Team news

BRIGHTON v DERBY

Brighton suspended: Oatway.

Derby injured: Reich (calf).

Doubtul: Jackson (groin); Vincent (calf); Konjic (knee); Boertien.

BURNLEY v LEEDS

Burnley doubtful: Duff (calf).

LEICESTER v CREWE

Leicester injured: Wilcox (knee); Morris (knee); Nathan Blake (hamstring); Wright (groin).

Crewe injured: Walker (hamstring); Jones (thigh).

Doubtful: Moses (hamstring). MILLWALL v QPR

Millwall injured: Stack; Ifill (ankle).

Doubtful: Marshall; Sweeney (knee).

PRESTON v COVENTRY

Preston injured: Skora (knee).

Coventry injured: Morrell (ankle).

Doubtful: Giddings (ankle).

READING v PLYMOUTH

Reading suspended: Newman.

Injured: Kitson (knee).

Plymouth suspended: Connolly.

Doubtful: Hodges (back); Norris (knee); Milne (knee).

ROTHERHAM v NOTTM FOREST

Rotherham injured: McIntosh (hamstring); Scott (shoulder).

Nottm Forest injured: Louis-Jean (hamstring).

SHEFF UTD v IPSWICH

Sheff Utd: injured: Diallo (hamstring).

WATFORD v GILLINGHAM

Watford injured: Gunnarsson (knee).

Doubtful: Lee (cheekbone); Dyche (groin).

Gillingham doubtful: Sidibe (Achilles).

WIGAN v STOKE

Wigan injured: Frandsen (knee).

Stoke suspended: Russell.

Doubtful: Akinbiyi; Harper (both thigh strain); Halls; Thomas; Brammer; Greenacre.

WEST HAM v CARDIFF

West Ham suspended: Repka.

Injured: Etherington (groin); Gavin Williams (ankle).

Doubtful: Dailly (knee); Lomas (calf).

Cardiff injured: Margetson; Croft; Boland; Parry; Jerome.

LEAGUE ONE

Barnsley v Sheffield Wednesday

BARNSLEY HAVE had three derbies since the turn of the year but, for Paul Hart's side, none comes bigger than this. A crowd of more than 20,000 witnessed Sheffield Wednesday's last visit to Oakwell, 14 months ago, and a similar turn-out is expected today.

Paul Sturrock has driven Wednesday up to fourth place with two defeats in 15, but Barnsley, while further off the promotion pace, have enjoyed their own revival. After four wins in the first 18 games of this season, a run of 12 unbeaten has raised Hart's stock.

"It's going to be a cracking atmosphere," he said. "We have to start turning draws into wins but Wednesday have shown what a few results can achieve."

Craig Rocastle has joined Wednesday on a free transfer from Chelsea, who loaned him to Barnsley last season. The home side will hope that their striker Michael Chopra can add to a tally of 12 goals.

LEAGUE TWO

Macclesfield v Yeovil

AS THE only side to have won at Huish Park this season, Macclesfield have something to live up to in today's return at Moss Rose, which may show whether Yeovil have refocused on their promotion campaign after last week`s Cup heroics at Charlton.

Gary Johnson's team now lead League Two after only three defeats in 16, but Macclesfield still cannot put together a long unbeaten run. Their current sequence of four without defeat is their best since the six-game run that opened the campaign.

Brian Horton's line-up today is likely to include up to six players signed since last October. But the former Manchester City manager says: "I am not going to say that I am looking at the top three. I never set targets. What good does that do? It just creates more pressure."

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