Football: Saunders seeking to close gap at old stomping ground

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The Independent Online
DEAN SAUNDERS returns to Nottingham Forest today for the first time since his free transfer to Sheffield United from the east Midlands club in December. The quest for promotion points will be uppermost in the striker's mind, however, rather than having any points to prove in front of the City Ground crowd.

Saunders said: "They've seen me play over the years. I suppose I am a bit disappointed about the way things turned out there. But I'm just enjoying playing at the moment.

"I see my old team-mates anyway and I'm looking forward to the game. I hadn't played for a month until Saturday and I'm just pleased that my hamstring didn't go.

"But it's such an important game as well that we can't afford to lose. If we win we're nine points behind [the First Division leaders] with two games in hand. It will be a big win for us. And we play Middlesbrough next in the League."

The Blades' goalkeeper, Alan Kelly, is rated doubtful for the trip to Nottingham with bruised ribs. Steve Thompson, the club's new manager, may play Simon Tracey - but Kelly will be fit for the FA Cup semi-final against Newcastle on Sunday. David Holdsworth has a slight throat infection and Traianos Dellas is on stand-by.

United's new signings, Chris Wilder, Ian Hamilton and Paul Devlin, could also be among the starting XI and Roger Nilsen has returned to the squad after recovering from injury.

Forest, meanwhile, have a slight doubt over Thierry Bonalair; Des Lyttle stands by. Andy Johnson is still feeling the effects of a foot injury and will not be risked for the game.

Queen's Park Rangers' assistant manager, John Hollins, is hoping that tonight's opponents, Wolves, will have at least one eye on Sunday's semi- final against Arsenal. The former Chelsea player is hoping his side will gain revenge for defeat at Molineux earlier this season.

"I'd like to think they'll be looking over their shoulders," he said. "But having seen them play against Portsmouth - they certainly weren't looking at anything else and picked up three valuable points. We had a great, open game against Wolves at Molineux where we lost 3-2. So we owe them."

Rangers are still without Gavin Peacock (hamstring) while Wolves' new pounds 50,000 signing from Southampton, Robbie Slater, admits that reaching the play-offs is the team's priority.

Slater said: "It is a very interesting part of the season for Wolves. They are a little bit off the pace in the promotion play-offs and we have got to get back into that. The semi-final is something I think that you have got to look on as a bonus.

"Getting to Wembley in the FA Cup would be great, but that is not going to get you into the Premier League. For a club the size of Wolves that has to be the main aim."

Wolves are waiting for clearance to play another new signing, David Connolly, who joined them on loan from Feyenoord last week. Red-tape forced him to miss out on making his debut against Portsmouth last Sunday. Kevin Muscat has completed a two-match ban and the midfielders Neil Emblen and Simon Osborn are both likely to figure.

The Wolves striker Mixu Paatelainen has turned down a semi-final week move to the Scottish Premier League club Hibernian, who wanted the Finnish international. Paatelainen, however, did not want to go to the Edinburgh club on loan.