Sheffield United came from behind to defeat Bournemouth in their last appearance and will be looking for further success when they welcome Brighton to Bramall Lane on Saturday. The Blades have undoubtedly been one of the teams of the season following promotion last year and amazingly find themselves in sixth place in the Premier League at present. They are just two points off a top-four position and with the potential for fifth place to earn a European spot now, are only one point behind that berth.
Their good form has been built on tremendous teamwork whilst the goals have been shared and goalkeeper Dean Henderson has emerged as a strong candidate to make the England squad for this summer’s European championships.
Albion are one of a number of clubs looking anxiously over their shoulders, as the relegations trapdoor looms large, and have just a three-point cushion from safety. They are without a PL win in their last six outings and were also knocked out of the FA Cup by Championship side Sheffield Wednesday.
They were beaten 1-0 on home soil against United back in late December and I expect the Yorkshire men to complete the double in front of their own enthusiastic faithful.
Another player making a late bid for England duties is Southampton forward Danny Ings, and he has played an influential role for the Saints, netting eighteen goals in all competitions.
With fifteen top-flight strikes, he is only two behind Jamie Vardy at Leicester and has high hopes of lifting the golden boot award. He was on target again last weekend but Southampton fell to a surprise 2-1 home reverse against Burnley which prevented them confirming a top-half position.
They remain at St Mary’s to entertain lowly Aston Villa and look to have a solid chance of making amends. The visitors have been badly affected with injuries and in shipping 50 goals are now just a point from the bottom three and desperate for a win. They were beaten 3-2 at Villa Park last Sunday when Spurs grabbed an injury-time winner and with a tricky fixture list ahead, it will be tough to secure PL survival. They won’t have any joy here and look primed for the drop.
With Rotherham held at home by Wimbledon last weekend, Coventry took the chance to join them at the top of League One following a cosy 2-0 win at Southend. The Sky Blues are certainly defying all the critics who forecast that the nomadic club would find it difficult sharing St Andrews, home of Birmingham City. With the pressure seemingly off they have enjoyed a fantastic season and have only tasted defeat three times in the League.
This weekend nineteen hundred travelling City fans will converge on Rochdale hoping to witness a fifth straight success which would leave them nicely placed, before three tough fixtures against Rotherham, Sunderland and Ipswich that follow.
Matt Godden has led the line admirably and netted ten times but with only 26 conceded, they have been difficult to break down. Dale will be thankful that only three clubs will get relegated this season following the demise of Bury; otherwise, they would have faced a battle to stay afloat. With a ten-point cushion they should be confident despite a tough-looking final third of their campaign ahead of them. They come into this fixture with just one win in six and are too reliant on Ian Henderson for firepower, with thirteen goals netted from the journeyman.
Coventry can turn Spotland into a sea of blue and white and fans should be travelling back down the M6 celebrating maximum points.
Sunderland are now beginning to show why they were clear favourites for the title back in August, with Phil Parkinson overseeing a massive upturn in fortunes during the last two months. The Black Cats were struggling to even make a playoff charge at the turn of the year but a narrow 1-0 win at Oxford last weekend meant seven wins from their last nine, catapulting them into fifth and just three points off the summit.
Chris Maguire and Lynden Gooch provide the goal threat and with crowds improving and fans getting excited, this could well be the year Sunderland return to the second tier.
Visitors to the Stadium of Light Bristol Rovers are enduring a torrid second half to their campaign, with the loss of manager Graham Coughlan to Mansfield in late December beginning a run that has seen them slip away from the playoffs.
Ben Garner took over the reins and finally celebrated victory over Blackpool last time out after a run of eleven matches without a win. The club look poised to finish mid-table and in a strong section can look to rebuild during the summer. A lack of funds has undermined their hopes to progress and despite a passionate fanbase, these are worrying times in the West Country.
A rampant Sunderland look unstoppable at present and it’s hard to see anything but a home win here.
Rotherham enjoyed a great spell over Christmas and New Year and with a potent strike force, they took over the leadership. The gap has been cut and the Millers will have been furious to allow Wimbledon a share of the spoils in injury time last Saturday.
Freddie Ladapo was an excellent recruit in the summer from Plymouth and with 11 goals, the dangerous marksman has justified the record transfer fee paid by the South Yorkshire club. We have constantly highlighted how tight League One is this season and currently only six points separate the top eight, with any of that group capable of going up as Champions.
Rotherham face a tricky match away at Accrington where many bigger named clubs have come unstruck recently. The tight ground and awkward playing surface make attractive football difficult and Stanley always make life hard for visiting clubs. They came from behind three times against Lincoln at the Wham Stadium to record an incredible 4-3 success and cement their mid-table spot.
The hosts are likely to be outnumbered by the visitors’ strong travelling support and although they will have to be prepared to dig deep, I feel Rotherham carry far too much class and can create enough chances to ensure they continue at the top for at least another week.