Football: Nationwide Preview - Oxford show pleasure at being put in the spotlight

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The Independent Online
THE FIRST DIVISION is the stage for football's latest televisual innovation when Oxford United entertain the leaders, Sunderland, at the Manor Ground tonight.

To cater for Sky Sports's pay-per-view audience, the match will kick off at 6.0pm. The Oxford manager, Malcolm Shotton, predicts that the experiment will, inevitably, become a regular feature around the country - and could help smaller clubs like his own.

"I think it will come into the game widely," Shotton said. "From Sunderland's point of view it's a great move. We have only been able to give them around 2,000 tickets and they have been getting over 40,000 fans for their home games, so it's a way for them to see the match.

"It might not happen at the bigger clubs, who can fit 30,000 people in and give the away fans a lot of tickets, but it is certainly an option when you have a small ground like ours."

The Bolton manager, Colin Todd, after a run of 15 games unbeaten which has seen his side climb into second place, is confident his players will not suffer from over-confidence when the bottom club Crewe visit the Reebok Stadium this afternoon.

"People will look at the match and say that it will be a formality for us, but I am sure there will not be any complacency from my players," Todd said. "We will have to be mentally tuned in and we cannot afford to take Crewe lightly. All we can do is concentrate on applying ourselves to the situation in hand and hopefully we will be able to get a result on the day to keep us in the promotion chase."

His Crewe counterpart, Dario Gradi, insists that the trip could act as a great incentive to his struggling side. "I remember when we used to go to much less salubrious places, and I would much rather be going to the Reebok Stadium," he said.

Bradford City's promotion challenge has stuttered, with just one win in the last five games, but their manager Paul Jewell views the statistics differently ahead of today's game against West Bromwich at Valley Parade. "We haven't been beaten in three games is the way I look at it," he said. "People outside of the club try and talk negative, but there are no thoughts of any disaster here."

George Burley is under no illusions about Ipswich's trip to struggling Bristol City. The Town manager reckons the Robins are a better side than their second-bottom league position suggests.

"They are playing better than their results are showing at the moment," Burley said. "They conceded a goal five minutes into injury time against West Bromwich last week and the week before they conceded a penalty in the closing minutes against Sunderland. They are fighting for their lives to avoid relegation and we know that it is going to be a very tough game."

The Birmingham City manager, Trevor Francis, admits he is not relishing his side's trip to fellow play-off hopefuls Grimsby, but he is pleased that the shortest month is now coming to an end. "Many people felt they would fade away but they haven't and they could go the distance this season," he said. "On paper we always knew that February was going to be a tough month. We took a point against Palace, lost to Stockport and then got another point against Bolton and now we have another tough away game."

The veteran goalkeeper Alan Knight returns to the Portsmouth side in the relegation battle against Port Vale at Fratton Park, after Aaron Flahavan was ruled out of the rest of the season with shoulder and facial injuries.

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