First division

Lloyd urges rise in home support
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The Independent Football

Traffic congestion on the M6 is an everyday nightmare for West Midlands folk and they can expect no relief today as the region stages two significant matches. Frustrated motorists will not appreciate the words of the Walsall chairman, Mike Lloyd, who wants to see approach roads to the Bescot Stadium clogged by a bumper turnout when promotion-chasing Norwich City stop by today.

Walsall, usually cast in the role of relegation dodgers at best, have a rare chance to creep into the top half of the table if results go their way over the next few days and Lloyd is asking for a big crowd and lots of noise to remind Colin Lee's team they are playing at home.

The Saddlers have been playing to an average of only 8,300 fans at the Bescot this season, which not only leaves the club short of revenue but also means that teams with large travelling support benefit from a partisan atmosphere more in keeping with their own home games.

That is likely to be the case both for the visit of Norwich and when Nottingham Forest bring their fans across the Midlands on Tuesday, even though wins over Reading and high-flying Wigan have highlighted much potential in Lee's team.

"With visiting fans, we should expect 10,000 every time," Lloyd said. "Every department at this club is starting to look like a real First Division operation but we need First Division crowd figures if we are to continue to compete. And it's not just the revenue. With big away followings, we need big home crowds to ensure our players feel like they are playing at home."

It cannot help to have so many rival attractions on the doorstep, of which West Bromwich Albion's top-of-the-table match against Sunderland today is an obvious example. The Baggies will expect to run out with The Hawthorns practically full to its 28,000 capacity, particularly after their stunning Carling Cup win over Newcastle United at St James' Park in midweek.

The manager, Gary Megson, is worried, however, that the extra-time triumph on Tyneside may have been less than ideal preparation for a vital First Division match. "The big concern is that we haven't had very long to recover," he said. "The lads have got big hearts but they ran their socks off and gave everything they've got.

"But we want to be playing the likes of Newcastle and Manchester United every week rather than in one-off cup matches and the only way we'll do that is by getting ourselves promoted again." Megson was encouraged to see Lee Hughes fire home the winner against Sir Bobby Robson's side but is concerned the striker rediscovers the ability to plunder goals at the rate he used to enjoy before he was sold to Coventry in 2001.

The poor return from Hughes and Scott Dobie, who have managed four goals each compared with Rob Hulse's 10, has not been well received by Albion fans despite their position at the top of the table. If they are hoping for a high-scoring affair today, however, they may be disappointed - Sunderland have scored only two goals in their last five matches despite suffering only one defeat.

The Sunderland manager, Mick McCarthy, had hoped to solve his side's goal shortage by signing the Huddersfield Town striker Jon Stead but had a £1m offer for the 6ft 3in forward turned down this week. Stead has 11 goals from 17 games this season but the Second Division club are prepared to wait until the January transfer window in the hope of attracting a higher bid from the Premiership.

Other notable matches today see second-placed Wigan at home to Crystal Palace in an early kick-off, and the bottom pair Wimbledon and Bradford at the National Hockey Stadium.

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