THE BIG MATCH

There is no doubting the big game in the npower Championship this week as leaders Southampton welcome second placed West Ham United.

A win for West Ham would put them top but the Saints are on a run of 16 straight wins at St. Mary's so it is a meeting of two teams in great form. A full house is expected but Southampton boss Nigel Adkins told www.saintsfc.co.uk that rather than feeling any pressure he is relishing the challenge at the Saints:

"I am loving every minute of it. I have good people to work for and good people to work with, superb players and staff and superb fans who are very supportive of us. The support we had at Pride Park on Saturday was fantastic and the players have gone over and applauded their efforts after the game because it was a fantastic effort for them to be as vocal as they were against 30,000 home fans.

"It's going to be a packed house at St Mary's on Tuesday night and there will be three points up for grabs. We are top of the league at this moment in time and endeavouring to win every game that we play in. It's no different to any other game, there are three points up for grabs and we are playing at home, it will be a great game for the supporters because we will be going out to win the game.

"We are top of the league at the moment, and I have talked about us making sure we can stay in the race come January, and our desire is to try and win every game of football in order to get this fantastic club back in the Premier League.

"I've been top of League 1 and we went and won it, we went top at the start of January with Scunthorpe and went on to win it. When I was at Bangor we spent two seasons at the top of the league, so it's not a problem for me.

"We are a hardworking side and we finish games very strongly, we pass the ball about well and score goals at home and away, we are good at set plays and good at playing football."

Adam Lallana missed out on Saturday but could return to the starting line-up.

West Ham are unbeaten away from home this season and Manager Sam Allardyce, who celebrates his 57th birthday tomorrow believes that front two John Carew and Sam Baldock are starting to form a partnership which will mean problems for plenty of teams in the division this season. He told www.whufc.com:

"John has been an outstanding player in the Premier League for many years and Sam is trying to make his name coming up the leagues as a prolific goalscorer. You would have thought they had been playing together for years. I listened to John in the dressing room saying 'When I do this I want you to do that, and when I do that, I want you to go there.'

"I was delighted to stand back and just listen to that. The co-Chairmen were good enough to splash the sort of dough they did for Sam, and we've seen why. He not only got two goals but he could have got a lot more. That will give him a huge amount of confidence.

"John was unplayable at times. When you are 6'5" with that amount of ability and strength, he takes some stopping. It was great to see him. Now he has continued with a goal in the last three games, two for us and one for his country, and he is in a goal mood."

Joey O'Brien should be fit for a recall for the Hammers after a hamstring problem while Henri Lansbury could also be involved after being rested against Blackpool. It remains to be seen if Carlton Cole will be fit after a minor ligament issue that cost him his place at the weekend, while Matt Taylor (calf) and James Tomkins (groin) are doubtful after limping off on Saturday. On-loan midfielder David Bentley is unlikely to play again this season after major knee surgery.

KEEP AN EYE ON

Steve Cotterill takes charge of Nottingham Forest for the first time as they welcome unbeaten Middlesbrough. Former Portsmouth boss Cotterill will look for an instant response from his relegation haunted side but told www.nottinghamforest.co.uk that the City Ground fans will play just a big a part as the Manager in turning around the club's fortunes:

"There's no point in thinking that I'm the big saviour - our saviour will be the 20,000 people that watch us every week. If they really back the lads, forgive them for any misgivings that have gone on - including the one over the weekend - and if they give their all we will soon start climbing the league.

"I always have a fantastic relationship with any group of players I work with and I don't anticipate this one being any different. We've just got to get them up and playing and playing back to their potential."

Boro boss Tony Mowbray expects a difficult challenge for his so far unbeaten side. "We've got to be ready to go and compete and see what comes along," Mowbray told www.mfc.co.uk "Any away game in this league is very, very tough."

Mowbray knows that his side need to turn draws into wins with the latest at home to Millwall the fifth home draw of the season:

"You need a second goal in these tight games," said Mowbray. "Millwall came and worked hard and got men behind the ball as they always do and they were a threat from set plays.It was a frustrating day for us and I felt for the team and yet to only win one game from the first six home games is not what's required.

"We had a few chances but it doesn't seem to be going for us at the moment. Somebody told me we've hit the woodwork more than any other team and if a few of those had gone in we'd have a few more points."

Mowbray has confirmed that he is looking to complete a deal to bring former Nigeria international striker Bart Ogbeche in on a short-term contract after he impressed on trial.

ELSEWHERE IN THE DIVISION

Derby County will look to close the gap on the leaders as they visit Reading. Fourth placed Derby will have to do without top scorer Steven Davies who will be out for up to 12 weeks after suffering a fracture above his eye socket. Reading winger Jimmy Kebe could return after a month out injured.

Brighton are back in the Play-Off places but the short trip to Millwall will be a difficult one, especially if Scotland striker Craig Mackail-Smith fails to shake off a niggling back injury. Millwall could have winger Shaun Batt back on the bench after a 16 month lay-off through injury.

Leeds United can go in to the Play-Off positions if they win at home to Coventry City, as can Crystal Palace if they overcome bottom club Bristol City at Selhurst Park.

Doncaster Rovers travel to Blackpool after their first defeat under Dean Saunders. A loss against Leeds on Saturday leaves Rovers in the relegation places as they take on Ian Holloway's side who should welcome Craig Cathcart back after injury.

Barnsley will be without Bobby Hassell and Jay McEveley, who both up injuries at the weekend, as they welcome Burnley while Portsmouth should have Dave Kitson back as they travel to Ipswich Town.

Peterborough United are at home to Cardiff City with an interesting statistic attached the the game. The two sides are the leaders in the shots-on-target count in the Championship.

Meanwhile on Wednesday evening Leicester City welcome Watford.