Dickinson to give Lions Boxing Day sucker-punch

Brett Huxtable. Picture: Joe Pepler

Walsall v Pompey: referee watch

Finally, just finally, Carl Dickinson may be able to enjoy the gift of playing football again on Boxing Day.

It seems an eternity since the on-loan Stoke left-back was sent off for a reckless tackle on James Hayter in the 3-2 home defeat to Doncaster Rovers back on November 13.

But while in other circumstances he could have been back playing in just over a week as he served a three-match ban, it will have been six weeks without pulling on the shirt when he returns against Millwall after the recent postponements.

With the past two home games called off because of the wintry weather, Dickinson has been every bit frustrated as supporters as he kicks his heels waiting to get back on the pitch.

Blues boss Steve Cotterill is keen to welcome the abrasive defender back to the ranks this weekend – weather permitting – and admits Dickinson has been unfortunate with the length of his ban.

Cotterill said: 'It seems like the longest suspension in history.

'If he had been suspended over Christmas, he would have served it within five days.

'But it's taken him well over a month to get back on the field and it's been tough for him.

'I felt he had just started to find a good run of form before the suspension as well.

'It's good to have him back – he's a character.'

With such a long spell out, Cotterill knows his player could be a touch rusty upon his return to the side.

He smiled: 'If you'd seen him in training, you wouldn't have thought it would be a boost!

'He had a couple of those moments in training.

'But it will be nice to welcome him back.

'I know it was a reckless tackle – but I still think the opposition player got him sent off. It could have been a booking.

'There have been worse tackles that we have been on the back of that haven't been a sending off.'

Dickinson will definitely return to the defence against Millwall, with Greg Halford suspended after collecting five bookings.

That should see Joel Ward switch to right-back – a young player who has impressed Cotterill in an unfamiliar position.

'I think Joel has done well. I'm very pleased with him,' said Cotterill.

'To go in there at left-back, he has shown good maturity because he hasn't had any mugs that he has had to challenge during that period. He's done very well.'

Ward has certainly taken his opportunity with some decent displays, but Cotterill believes there will be a vital stage in his development at the end of the season when the defender will undertake a specific weights programme.

Cotterill added: 'He's a young player coming on. We're not expecting too much, but as I've said before, next summer is a big summer for Joel.

'He needs to be stronger.

'His top half is good but he needs to be stronger in his legs.

'He's not doing too badly for a young man but we need to get his legs strengthened and his power up because that's so important.'