The Easter period is always a tense time for fans, managers and players as they aim to boost their promotion chances, maintain their mid-table credentials or survive the dreaded drop.
For sides just outside the play-offs it is make-or-break time. Blackpool are four points off sixth placed Leicester going into the weekend,and the Tangarines travel to Scunthorpe followed by a huge clash against their nearest rivals Doncaster. Indeed, Doncaster host Plymouth before that massive game on Monday. That fixture will decide if both sides have a realistic chance of making it into the top six.
As far as Middlesbrough are concerned, if they are to mount a challenge then it really has to start now with two wins over relegation threatened Crystal Palace and relegation certainties Plymouth. Leicester are vulnerable and will need to pick a couple of decent results to build their confidence again.
Nottingham Forest can certainly resign themselves to a play-off spot after their seventh away Championship on the spin against Newcastle. It’s been an excellent season for Forest, but they’ve come up short in the race for the automatic spots and if they want to win the play-offs then they are going to have to find a bit of form sooner rather than later to remove some of the negativity. A couple of good results this weekend should help build confidence ahead of the two-legged play-offs. With all the decent strikers they have they really need to be more ruthless in front of goal.
At the bottom, Crystal Palace’s midweek win at Watford was a massive result for the club. It puts them back within striking distance of Watford and Sheffield Wednesday directly above them and one win may well take them out of the relegation zone.
A while ago Peterborough thought they were dead and buried, they relaxed and all of a sudden won a couple of games. Just when the carrot of safety was dangled in front of their eyes it has been quickly whipped away by a couple of defeats and a difficult season is going to end in relegation. But, with a good, young squad and a potentially great manager in Gary Johnson, if reports are to be believed, there’s no need for doom and gloom going into next season. At least two or three of their players could play in the higher echelons of the Championship so it will be important for the club to hang onto those players.
Without question, the standout fixture of the weekend is Cardiff’s game against Swansea which is crucial for cementing a play-off place but more importantly for the fans, bragging rights in South Wales. Falling during the holiday period, the place should be absolutely rocking, that’s why local derbies are brilliant,always fast and furious so what a monumental battle it should be.
Cardiff looked to have cemented their play-off place with their win against Crystal Palace last Saturday and a midweek win against Leicester surely confirmed it. Those back-to-back results were important after a season where they have been both sublime and ridiculous and financially they can’t afford a repeat of the catastrophic end to the season that they suffered last year.
We all know about the bitter rivalry they share but as football teams they are contrasting too. The Bluebirds are very attack-minded and score a hatful of goals while the Swans’ main strength lies at the other end of the pitch with a solid defence that leaks very few goals. The fact that they are still in the play-off picture despite scoring a miserable 15 goals at home all season shows as excellent Swansea have been at keeping clean sheets.
In the dug-outs we’ll see two different characters too. Dave Jones’ rarely shows any emotion during a game. The players’ know what he expects of them so therefore he let’s them get on with the job in hand. I like the blend of players that he has moulded together and they don’t have any obvious weaknesses.
With Paulo Sousa, I expect to see and hear him bellowing at his players for the full 90 minutes because that’s the guy he is. He’s very animated but that only comes from his passion for the game. Although I was suprised that Swansea appointed him as manager, I have to admit it has turned out to be an excellent choice. He has maintained the wonderful footballing style used by his predecessor Roberto Martinez aswell as tightening up the defence nicely. Their only problem is scoring goals.
Welsh football would love a top flight club and given the respective strengths I wouldn’t be suprised if they had one in August.