Football: Russell steps into the light

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CRAIG RUSSELL makes an emotional return to Sunderland today as Tranmere face up to an injury crisis, with their defensive duo, George Santos and Clint Hill, both suspended and Dave Challinor ruled out with a knee injury.

"It would be fantastic to get the chance to play at the Stadium of Light," said the on-loan Russell. "I grew up supporting Sunderland and will always follow them, and I want to remind people I am still around."

Russell's former team-mate, Michael Bridges, is missing through suspected appendicitis. The Striker Niall Quinn could be fit again following a back injury, but the leading goalscorer Kevin Phillips faces a late fitness test on a knee injury.

Matt Jansen is hoping to celebrate his new six-year contract at Crystal Palace with victory over Oxford United at Selhurst Park, particularly after the 3-1 defeat at League leaders Birmingham City last week.

"Everyone was disappointed with the way we played at Birmingham," Jansen said. "They were a little bit sharper than we were but I am sure we will get it right against Oxford."

The Oxford manager, Malcolm Shotton, decided to play a very different psychological card on his side after they crashed out of the Worthington Cup against Luton, giving the whole first team a run-out in the reserves.

"It was an exercise to get their confidence back and I believe it worked," Shotton said.

The Portsmouth captain, Adrian Whitbread, has urged his team-mates to respond to stinging criticism from their manager, Alan Ball, over the team's defensive frailties.

Angry Ball berated his players for their performance in the 3-2 win over Plymouth Argyle and urged them to lift their standards for their return to League action today against visitors Ipswich.

"We defended well enough against Tranmere last weekend and I don't think there's any need for us to hit the panic button," Whitbread said. "We've found one or two areas where we can improve and we'll be looking to put that into practice this weekend."

Ipswich expect to field an unchanged side from the one which crushed Exeter 5-1 in the Worthington Cup for the game at Fratton Park, where they have not lost since 1966.

The Queens Park Rangers manager, Ray Harford, believes his side can get their season moving at Norwich after picking up just one point and one goal from their opening two league matches against Sunderland and Bristol City.

"We've had an extremely difficult start to the season but team spirit is really high and the players are working very hard," Harford said. "Hopefully all we need is a bit of luck in front of goal. If we get one then a lot more will follow."

Bruce Rioch, the Norwich manager, may give a debut to on-loan Ged Brannan from Manchester City as he returns to the club which sacked him, along with Stewart Houston, last season.

Meanwhile, the Bury manager, Neil Warnock, will be hoping his side can keep up the momentum of four unbeaten matches for Crewe Alexandra's visit to Gigg Lane.

Grimsby will give their record signing, Lee Ashcroft, his home debut for the visit of Huddersfield, while Port Vale can lift themselves off the foot of the table with a win over West Bromwich at Vale Park, and Watford travel to fellow promoted club Bristol City.