Different aims for Ipswich and Brighton

Jon Culley
Saturday 22 March 2003 01:00

Fascinating struggles at either end of the table overlap today when Ipswich meet Brighton at Portman Road in what could be a defining match for Joe Royle's chances of claiming a play-off place for the former and for Steve Coppell's hopes of completing a great escape for his team in the scramble to avoid relegation.

Ipswich scored a major success by beating fourth-placed Reading last Tuesday. With Wolves unable to overcome Stoke at Molineux, the result enabled Ipswich to close the gap between themselves and David Jones's team to three points. Wolves, seemingly nervous in front of their own expectant supporters, may be similarly troubled against Gillingham today but Ipswich should not expect Brighton to make it easy for them to take advantage.

Having stayed out of the bottom three by scoring a 1-0 victory over Nottingham Forest last Saturday, Brighton slipped back in with defeat at Sheffield United, a result that allowed Grimsby to move up one place after winning at Rotherham.

However, given the run of 12 consecutive defeats they suffered from August to October, it is a considerable achievement by Coppell to have even sniffed fourth from bottom. Five wins in seven matches preceded the setback in Sheffield, including a 4-1 victory over Wolves.

Against them is a recent record of three consecutive away reverses, while leading scorer Bobby Zamora is likely to be missing with a hamstring injury, although captain Danny Cullip believes there are at least two factors in the Seagulls' favour as they attempt to complete the escape.

"Tactically the manager is very astute, more so than any other manager I've played for," Cullip said. "And we've become used to people doubting us during two successive promotion campaigns."

However, Grimsby are equally buoyant. They have since recorded 1-0 wins over Watford and Rotherham and will have hopes of gaining further rewards at fading Burnley, who have lost three in a row.

Should Brighton and Grimsby lose, Stoke – who have not conceded a goal in four matches – would overtake them by winning at Watford. Defeat at Millwall, while giving the Lions' manager Mark McGhee some relief, might be enough to effectively end Sheffield Wednesday's survival hopes.

Elsewhere, attention will be drawn to how Derby players respond to the suspension of manager John Gregory – hardly the ideal preparation for a visit to Sheffield United after six defeats in eight matches – and on whether Wimbledon, who have crept into contention for a late play-off challenge with a run of one defeat in nine, can maintain their progress at Rotherham.

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