VIRTUAL ever-present David Smith looks like being suspended for Oxford United's local derby against Swindon Town at the Manor Ground this Saturday.

'Smudger' picked up a fifth booking in the 2-0 win over his old club Norwich on March 28 which, it is believed, will bring him a one-game ban.

However, United are awaiting the paperwork from the Football Association before conceding that the midfielder is definitely ruled out.

Under new regulations this season, players have bookings 'knocked off' after a certain number games, but it's a complex procedure at the best of times.

"It's very, very complicated and an administrative nightmare," said United secretary Mick Brown. "We're waiting to see what we get from the FA."

By the same procedure, Joey Beauchamp and Simon Marsh look set to miss the home game with Tranmere on April 18, but once again, United will seek clarification from the FA before confirming this.

The number of games 27-year-old Smith has missed in his four years at Oxford can be counted on the fingers of two hands. He missed four at the end of his first season with the U's, 1994-5, only one the following season and one last season.

And in the current campaign, the only league match he has missed was the clash with Norwich at Carrow Road in November.

United boss Malcolm Shotton must weigh up who to throw in alongside Martin Gray in midfield but Matt Murphy, who has played up front in recent matches, would appear favourite.

Other options include Paul Powell and Tony Wright, but while 18-year-old Wright seems certain to get the odd end-of-season game, a potentially rugged derby might not be the place for him.

Kevin Francis has returned from his Shell Caribbean Cup commitments with St Kitts-Nevis and can link up with Nicky Banger in attack to release Murphy to midfield.

Francis is set to report back to the Manor tomorrow. He played in the final two St Kitts-Nevis games, a 2-1 defeat by Dominica and 2-1 victory over Guadeloupe, but did not score.

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