Football: Todd hopes to step up promotion challenge

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COLIN TODD, the Bolton manager, believes that victory over third- placed Bradford City at the Reebok Stadium today would be a major incentive for his side in their quest to win promotion back to the Premiership.

The Bantams are just a point ahead of Wanderers and Todd recognises the importance of securing three points from the game against Paul Jewell's side. "It's a very, very good game for us to play at the moment," Todd said. "Bradford are doing very well right now and it's a fantastic opportunity for us to leapfrog them and move into the top three or at the very least go level."

Trevor Francis, the manager of one of the other promotion contenders, Birmingham City, hopes his team will carry on where they left off against Sunderland last week when they take on Sheffield United today.

Francis was delighted with the way his team held firm against Sunderland. "All around the field the way that we played was very, very pleasing," Francis said. "The backing the supporters gave us was fantastic and hopefully we will be able to get the goals to reward them."

The Sunderland manager, Peter Reid, is boosted by the news that his captain, Kevin Ball, will be available for the trip to Tranmere after a foot injury.

Reid now believes that his team have a great chance of entering the Premiership. "It takes something very serious to keep Kevin Ball out of action," Reid said. "I thought he was absolutely outstanding at Birmingham, where he did a real captain's job."

Alan Ball is under no illusions about the size of the task his financially struggling Portsmouth side face at second-placed Ipswich, and he admits that financial worries have affected their recent performances.

"It has been very hard for the players to concentrate on playing when there are so many things going on off the pitch," Ball said. "Ipswich are without doubt a very good side in this division but we have to approach the game with the right attitude and commitment."

Graham Taylor ends an emotional week watching his Watford side entertain Bristol City. Taylor only returned to the club on Tuesday after admitting that he nearly died from a serious throat infection five weeks previously. "I will remain working part-time until I get the all-clear," Taylor said.

Bruce Rioch is still a contented man as Norwich City remain comfortably placed in the play-off positions, ahead of the Carrow Road manager's return to Queen's Park Rangers.

"If you'd asked me back in August I'd have settled for fifth place in the table and 40 points on the board," said Rioch, who was assistant to Stewart Houston at Loftus Road. "The trick now is to keep it going."

Peter Jackson, the Huddersfield manager, is desperate for a little more consistency from his side for the game against Grimsby at the McAlpine Stadium to regain the momentum of their promotion challenge.

"We are playing well one match then losing the next," Jackson said. "We need to put some sort of run together but, having said that, we are only three points off third place."

Barnsley travel to Stockport hoping to forget about last week's 3-1 defeat at home to Swindon, which left their player-manager, John Hendrie, in no doubt who was to blame. "I'm very disappointed with the defence. They have to take some responsibility at times," Hendrie said.

Elsewhere Swindon Town aim to capitalise on that 3-1 win over Barnsley when Wolves visit the County Ground. West Bromwich Albion will try to shake off the disappointment of last week's 2-0 home defeat by Tranmere with a victory over Port Vale.

Oxford United will try to put a run of three defeats behind them when Crystal Palace visit the Manor Ground. Craig Moore should return for Palace after a hamstring injury. However, Attilio Lombardo's comeback is likely to be delayed.

The Football League, meanwhile, has suggested that clubs rearrange their fixtures on 27 March to avoid clashing with England's European Championship qualifying match against Poland. The League fears that attendances will be hit if games kick off at 3pm - the same time as England's televised match at Wembley.

The Football Association and the police turned down requests from the League to move the kick-off of England's game to either 1pm or 6pm. The League has therefore written to all its clubs warning them about the fixture clash. It is now up to the clubs to rearrange their games for the Friday evening, Sunday afternoon or at a different time on the Saturday.