Johnson poised to return

Middlesbrough top scorer Adam Johnson could return for tonight’s visit of Blackpool as Gordon Strachan’s side attempts to mount an automatic promotion challenge.

England Under-21 star Johnson missed the 5-1 demolition of QPR at the weekend due to a family illness but was back in training yesterday and will make the decision on whether to feature in the Coca-Championship contest at the Riverside.

“We’re relieved now things are getting better for the family,” Strachan told www.mfc.co.uk. “We said ’Come back when you’re ready’. We’ll ask him how he feels and it is totally up to him.”

Strachan celebrated his first win in charge at the weekend and immediately challenged Boro’s players to target catching fellow relegated clubs Newcastle and West Brom, who are the top two.

Blackpool striker Ben Burgess and midfielder Billy Clarke are both out after picking up knee injuries, which will mean a start for former Boro player Jason Euell.

West Brom can narrow Newcastle’s lead to one point with victory over Cardiff.

But Roberto Di Matteo’s Baggies will be without striker Luke Moore and winger Jerome Thomas at The Hawthorns.

Former Aston Villa forward Moore incurred a thigh problem in the 2-2 draw at Derby on Saturday while recent acquisition Thomas has not shaken off a hamstring injury.

West Brom, seeking a return to the Barclays Premier League at the first attempt, have cracked 17 goals in their last five outings.

An extension of such free-scoring form will offer them an opportunity to jump onto the coat-tails of Newcastle, who do not play until tomorrow night.

However, Cardiff addressed their recent slump of one point in four matches with a weekend success against Preston which hauled them back into the top six.

The Bluebirds have concerns of their own, however, with Jay Bothroyd suspended and the division’s joint-leading scorer Michael Chopra (stomach upset) and Joe Ledley (groin) both doubtful.

Sought-after midfielder Ledley has a long-standing hip complaint but this appears to be a fresh concern.

Cardiff manager Dave Jones said: “Joe, if you put him on a scale of one to three and three being the worst, Joe’s a stage one.

“And Joe, or any other player at this football club, wouldn’t play if they had an injury. If there’s anything wrong with any player, no matter how small, if they can’t play and they can’t do their job then they come under the auspices of the medical team.”

One team who appear in increasingly good health are Roy Keane’s Ipswich, undefeated in eight league games and with the chance to move out of the Championship’s drop zone with victory over bottom club Peterborough at Portman Road.

Their current unbeaten run is bettered by third-placed Nottingham Forest, whose 11-match sequence is the best in the division.

Forest will put their unblemished away record on the line against Sheffield United, whose own health has been buoyed by three consecutive wins.

United’s rivals Sheffield Wednesday have the chance to arrest their slide, which has taken them to one place above the drop zone, with a South Yorkshire derby at Doncaster.

Leicester will attempt to enhance their promotion credentials with a home game against Bristol City.

Second-bottom Plymouth face seventh-placed Swansea at the Liberty Stadium while encounters between Preston and Derby and Reading and Crystal Palace complete tonight’s programme.

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