Football: Nationwide League - Phillips fit to return for Sunderland

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The Independent Online
SUNDERLAND'S Premiership promotion campaign should be given a timely boost when their exciting striker Kevin Phillips returns after a long absence through injury to face Queen's Park Rangers.

Phillips, who has been out since September with a toe injury, is under consideration for the trip to Loftus Road, where Sunderland will be seeking only their second victory ever without the services of an array of attackers.

Their manager, Peter Reid, will select his team without being able to call on Daniele Dichio, who is suspended, and the injured Michael Gray, Allan Johnston and Nicky Summerbee.

Although Sunderland are eight points clear at the top of the First Division, they cannot afford to ease up with Ipswich and Birmingham chasing them hard for the automatic promotion places. Second-placed Ipswich will unveil their new wing-back Fabian Wilnis at the home game with Grimsby, while Birmingham are at home to struggling Port Vale. The First Division's manager of the month, Paul Jewell, takes his Bradford side to Stockport.

Watford's assistant manager, Kenny Jackett, is wary that last week's 5-2 FA Cup defeat at Tottenham could work against the Hornets when Portsmouth, giantkillers in the third round but struggling in the League, visit Vicarage Road.

Oxford United's manager, Malcolm Shotton, is aiming to get his side's feet back on the ground after the thrill of being paired with Chelsea in the FA Cup fourth round for the relegation six-pointer against Bristol City at the Manor Ground.

Norwich City have put their FA Cup defeat by Sheffield Wednesday behind them and their manager, Bruce Rioch, is confident his side can bounce back at the bottom club, Crewe.

Again, West Brom's inconsistency frustrated their fans when they fell 1-0 at Bournemouth in the FA Cup, leaving their manager, Denis Smith, wondering if his side can maintain form to challenge for a play-off place. Smith wants his side to get back on track when Barnsley visit The Hawthorns.

Sheffield United's player-manager, Steve Bruce, has received a boost to his side's play-off chances with the return of David Holdsworth to face Swindon after four months out with knee ligament damage.