Team news: Saints wait on Lambert
All the team news ahead of the Championship weekend with leaders Southampton sweating over the fitness of their top scorer.
Southampton v Blackpool
Southampton are battling to get top scorer Rickie Lambert fit. The 14-goal striker was sidelined by a hip injury for last week's trip to Doncaster and was badly missed as the leaders crashed to a surprise 1-0 defeat. Fellow forward David Connolly is still missing with a groin injury and the match is also likely to come too soon for midfielder Richard Chaplow, who has a knee problem. Defenders Radhi Jaidi (knee) and Dan Seaborne (head) remain on the sidelines for Saints, who are two points clear at the top of the table despite last week's setback.
Blackpool boss Ian Holloway is without Keith Southern after the midfielder underwent surgery to remove a testicular tumour. The 30-year-old had the procedure last week and is targeting a return to action in six weeks, pending the results of a biopsy. Defender Alex Baptiste misses out once more with the hamstring injury he picked up the defeat at Leicester, but is hopeful of a return against Watford next weekend. Elliot Grandin has resumed light training following foot surgery, however the midfielder is still two to three weeks away from action.
Coventry City v Hull City
Captain Sammy Clingan is a doubt but fellow midfielder Gary Gardner is set to be passed fit. Clingan took a knock to his foot in the first half of last weekend`s 2-1 defeat at Portsmouth but battled through to complete the game. On-loan Gardner was withdrawn in the second half at Fratton Park nursing an ear infection and having undergone a scan on Thursday morning returned to training on Friday. Right-back Cyrus Christie has joined in full training having overcome his calf problem but left-back Chris Hussey, like Clingan, faces a late fitness test on his ankle.
Hull winger Richard Garcia will return to the squad for the first time in eight months. The Australia international had knee surgery in April and has yet to appear for the Tigers since, but is expected to be included among the substitutes. Another long-term absentee, midfielder Seyi Olofinjana, is also close to returning following a long-term knee injury, but will not feature at the weekend.
Millwall v Cardiff City
Millwall will again be without Therry Racon and David Forde. Boss Kenny Jackett may, therefore, stick with the side which held Leeds for an hour last weekend before slipping to a 2-0 defeat. Defender Jordan Stewart is still out with a groin problem and striker Shaun Batt continues to build up his fitness following a cruciate injury.
Manager Malky Mackay is sweating over the fitness of three midfielders. Aron Gunnarsson, Filip Kiss and Stephen McPhail are all injury doubts for the Bluebirds. Gunnarsson (dead leg) and Kiss (ankle) were both withdrawn after sustaining knocks in the Championship victory over Birmingham on Sunday while McPhail tweaked his knee in training before the clash with Blues. Centre-back Anthony Gerrard is definitely out of the contest, however, having picked up a hamstring problem on Sunday and club captain Mark Hudson is in line to return in the middle of defence alongside Ben Turner.
Derby County v Bristol City
Derby manager Nigel Clough will select from the same squad. The Rams had hoped John Brayford would be back in contention after a thigh injury, but the defender is not expected to be risked and midfielder Paul Green looks set to continue at right-back in his absence. Contrary to reports this week, Steven Davies will not make a surprise return to the squad after fracturing his skull against Southampton less than two months ago. He will remain on the sidelines along with fellow forwards Theo Robinson and Nathan Tyson.
Bristol City can welcome Marvin Elliott and Lewin Nyatanga back into their squad. Stephen Pearson will not be taking part for City, meanwhile, under the terms of his loan arrangement from Derby. Yannick Bolasie and Jamal Campbell-Ryce are pushing for a place in McInnes' first XI and are challenging winger Greg Woolford, who escaped a bizarre injury in midweek after he stood on a pin while putting up Christmas decorations.
Reading v West Ham
Reading welcome back skipper Jobi McAnuff. Brynjar Gunnarsson continues to miss out with the calf strain he picked up in a reserve-team fixture, but full-back Joseph Mills is fit once more and will challenge Ian Harte for the left-back slot. Striker Noel Hunt has recovered from a head injury to be available for selection. Otherwise, manager Brian McDermott has no new injury or suspension worries ahead of the clash with Hammers.
West Ham look set to be without Matt Taylor. The midfielder, only recently back after a month out with torn muscles in both calves, limped off against Burnley last week with another calf problem. Defender Winston Reid remains on the sidelines with a shoulder injury and striker Sam Baldock is missing due to a hamstring problem. But the Hammers have been boosted by the news Henri Lansbury and Gary O'Neil are on the mend. On-loan Arsenal midfielder Lansbury has been out since August with a knee problem while winger O'Neil has yet to feature this season due to a serious ankle injury but both stepped up their fitness bids by playing for the reserves this week.
Nottingham Forest v Crystal Palace
Forest manager Steve Cotterill could name an unchanged side. Midfielder Andy Reid is available again after serving a one-match suspension. Dexter Blackstock is a step nearer to a return from a long-term knee injury after the striker played 76 minutes for the reserves in midweek.
Jonathan Parr and Dekel Keinan have added to Crystal Palace's injury problems. Left-back Dean Moxey (knee) and winger Sean Scannell (thigh) were already sidelined with the injuries they picked up during last week's famous Carling Cup win at Manchester United and face another couple of weeks out. Jonathan Williams (broken leg), Alex Marrow (ankle) and Lee Hills (knee) make up Palace's crowded treatment room as their hectic schedule - the Forest trip will be their fourth game in 10 days - catches up with them.
Leicester City v Peterborough United
Leicester captain Matt Mills is suspended. Republic of Ireland international Sean St Ledger is likely to replace Mills and partner Sol Bamba at the heart of the City defence, although Aleksandar Tunchev is also an option for manager Nigel Pearson. Tunchev has been out with a groin injury since returning from a loan spell at Crystal Palace - the Bulgarian's first sustained period of first-team football since making his comeback from a long-term knee injury in the spring. He has trained successfully for a week and having featured in a reserve-team match, could challenge St Ledger for a starting role.
Peterborough have problems at left-back. Tom Kennedy is ineligible as he is on loan from the Foxes, while Mark Little will be out until mid-January having undergone surgery on a groin injury this week. Craig Alcock, who has spent much of the season on the left-hand side of the defence, is likely to stay at right-back after midfielder Tommy Rowe was outstanding in the final half-hour against Barnsley last weekend when he switched to left-back. Rowe will probably remain in the position, although manager Darren Ferguson also has youngsters Nathan Ralph and Kgosi Ntlhe as options.
Burnley v Portsmouth
Strike duo Martin Paterson and Charlie Austin are back in contention. Both came through a behind-closed-doors friendly against Crewe in midweek, with Paterson opening the scoring and Austin completing 90 minutes. It is unlikely that either will be able to dislodge top-scorer Jay Rodriguez or earn a start ahead of on-loan Wolves striker Sam Vokes, who boasts goals in each of the last two matches.
Portsmouth skipper Liam Lawrence could return. The Republic of Ireland international has been sidelined for a month with an ankle injury but is back in training and, despite suffering a minor setback late last week, hopes to be in contention. Fellow midfielder Hayden Mullins is expected to be fit despite coming off against Coventry last weekend as a precaution with an ankle knock. Striker Luke Varney came on for Mullins against the Sky Blues after making a speedy recovery from a hamstring problem and he could now reclaim his spot alongside Dave Kitson in attack. Veteran defender Hermann Hreidarsson is fit again after a recent Achilles problem and pushing for a return to the squad.
Birmingham City v Doncaster Rovers
Birmingham welcome Curtis Davies back into contention. The centre-back missed Wednesday`s 2-1 loss at Hull as he served a one-match suspension for the red card received in last Sunday`s 1-0 reverse at Cardiff. Midfielder Jordon Mutch is back in training having recovered from his broken ankle but it remains to be seen when Hughton will deem him ready for action. Defender Liam Ridgewell, however, has not yet rejoined his team-mates at Wast Hills as he continues his recovery from a thigh complaint.
Lamine Diatta will not be able to make his Doncaster debut at Birmingham following delays over paperwork. Skipper George Friend is pushing for a starting place having appeared from the bench in the victory over Southampton last weekend following a foot injury. Adam Lockwood is available once more having served a three-game ban for his dismissal at Barnsley last month. El-Hadji Diouf started cycling on Monday following his hamstring injury but is unlikely to return to first-team action until after Christmas.
Watford v Leeds United
Lloyd Doyley could come back into the reckoning for Watford. It remains to be seen whether Sean Dyche will include Doyley in his matchday 16 so soon, with the Hornets boss unlikely to change a winning XI after last weekend`s 2-1 success at Ipswich. Leading scorer Marvin Sordell returned from an ankle complaint to start at Portman Road, netting the equaliser from the penalty spot, and should again be included in Dyche`s line-up. Long-term absentees Martin Taylor (dislocated collarbone) and midfielder Stephen McGinn (knee) remain sidelined.
Leeds skipper Jonny Howson is expected to miss out at Watford, while midfield partner Michael Brown is doubtful. Howson sustained a knee injury in the home win over Millwall last weekend and is to consult a specialist to determine the severity of the damage. Brown was also forced out of the action against the Lions due to an ankle injury and faces a late fitness test. Midfield trio Lloyd Sam, Mika Vayrynen and Ramon Nunez will be hoping to step into the starting line-up if either, or both, fail to make it.
Middlesbrough v Brighton and Hove Albion
Midfielder Malaury Martin could earn his first start for Middlesbrough after his injury-time winner against Bristol City last weekend. Martin came off the bench to score a stunning free-kick in the dying moments of the 1-0 win, and could be named in Tony Mowbray's starting XI for the first time since his summer move from Blackpool. The Frenchman's inclusion, possibly for Julio Arca, could be the only change as manager Tony Mowbray looks to build on his side`s first win in five matches. Scotland midfielder Kevin Thomson (hamstring) played for the reserves on Monday but is unlikely to be risked. Barry Robson (thigh) and Rhys Williams (ankle) remain doubtful.
Brighton look set to be without regular full-backs Inigo Calderon and Marcos Painter. Spanish right-back Calderon missed last week's win over Nottingham Forest through suspension but he is still sidelined by a knee injury. Left-back Painter is struggling with a hamstring problem so boss Gus Poyet is set to stick with his fellow South Americans Mauricio Taricco and Gonzalo Jara Reyes in the full-back spots. Winger Ryan Harley (groin) and forward Will Hoskins (knee) will be handed fitness checks after missing out against Forest, but Will Buckley is pushing for a start after climbing off the bench to hit Albion's late winner. Defender Tommy Elphick (Achilles) and midfielder Gary Dicker (broken leg) are still out.
Barnsley v Ipswich Town
Barnsley defender Jay McEveley remains an injury concern. McEveley missed the midweek win over Crystal Palace after sustaining a thigh injury in the victory at Peterborough last weekend and winger David Perkins was employed as a full-back in his absence. Striker Danny Haynes replaced Nile Ranger, on loan from Newcastle, early in the second half against Palace and is pushing for a return to the starting line-up, while midfielder Scott Wiseman also staked his claim for a recall after replacing Danny Drinkwater at half-time.
Skipper Grant Leadbitter remains a doubt. The midfielder has missed Town`s last two losses, against Burnley and Watford, having suffered a groin injury in the 3-2 home reverse to Reading towards the end of November. Centre-back Ivar Ingimarsson definitely misses out having sustained a broken nose in training. The Tractor Boys were boosted by the return of goalkeeper David Stockdale (shoulder) and centre-back Ibrahima Sonko (hamstring) against Watford last weekend and both will again be available at Oakwell. Keeper Richard Wright (shoulder) will be assessed with Arran Lee-Barrett ready to provide back-up to Stockdale.