THE BIG MATCH

Two npower Championship promotion hopefuls kick-off this weekend's Football League action as Leicester City host Middlesbrough at the King Power Stadium on Friday evening.

It's a key game at the summit of the division as a win for either would lift them up to second and into an automatic promotion spot ahead of Saturday's schedule.

The Foxes are third - level on 47 points with Crystal Palace in fourth and fifth-placed Boro - and come into the fixture on the back of a four-game winning streak.

Their record on home soil has been impressive this term, too, with Nigel Pearson's men winning nine and losing only two of their 13 games at the King Power Stadium so far.

Pearson is looking for that trend of results to continue against a disciplined Boro side.

The 49-year-old told www.lcfc.com: "Middlesbrough are having a really good season, Tony [Mowbray - Middlesbrough manager] is very thorough with his preparation and they will be a difficult nut to crack.

"It's a game both sides will be trying to win because there are incentives [an automatic promotion spot]. But our focus is on getting our own performance right because we know, if we do that, we've got a good chance of winning."

The Foxes haven't struggled for goals of late, either, having found the net 13 times in their four successive victories.

Chris Wood has notched six goals in his first three appearances in a Leicester shirt but Pearson has emphasized the quality shown throughout his side.

"We're continuing to put some good performances together and Chris is a very important part of the squad, but I think it's wrong to individualise the praise.

"For any player to perform well, he needs his team mates to perform as well."

Middlesbrough, meanwhile, come into the fixture off the back of two successive defeats having lost 3-1 to Derby County before going down 2-1 against Watford last time out.

Boro have struggled on the road this season, notching up just five wins and a draw - the poorest record of the teams in a Play-Off position - and in the reverse fixture against the Foxes, they lost 2-1.

Mowbray's men will be up against it on their trip to the Midlands, but goalkeeper Jason Steele is relishing the match.

The 22-year-old told the Evening Gazette: "I remember saying to my friends that Leicester were one of the best teams we've played against this season.

"They came to our place and won and now we're looking for revenge."

KEEP AN EYE ON

Saturday's early kick-off sees Nottingham Forest make the short trip to take on Derby County at Pride Park in an all-East Midlands affair.

Forest are three points and three places below the Play-Offs and will go into the fixture buoyant after securing their first three-point haul with Alex McLeish at the helm in their last match.

It was a Greg Halford header and an 83rd-minute winner from Elliot Ward that gave Nottingham Forest the win, over Peterborough United, which their first victory in four games.

Midfielder Chris Cohen is aware of the importance of the fixture against the Rams, with precious league points up for grabs as well as the all-important bragging rights.

The 25-year-old told Forest Player: "When it comes to Nottingham Forest versus Derby, especially the ones I have played in away from home, it usually goes the way of whichever side is prepared to roll up their sleeves and do the horrible stuff. We all need to be right at it from the first whistle.

"It's a big game for both teams. If we win we go six points clear of Derby but, more importantly, closer to the Play-Offs. At the same time it'd be nice to give our supporters the bragging rights by pulling further away from them in the table."

Derby County come into the fixture having won just one of their last five games.

Despite their poor recent run of results, the Rams are still only three points adrift of Forest and a win will see them rise to ninth before the majority of Championship fixtures get underway.

They will take confidence from their recent record against their rivals, too - they have won the last three meetings and conceded just once.

Ahead of the match, goalkeeper Adam Legzdins told Rams Player: "It is a fierce rivalry and since I have been here we have won the last three games against them.

"You cannot ignore the rivalry between the two sides and the animosity surrounding the fixture; it is something that you take out onto the pitch, because you are representing the football club and the 30,000 supporters that are there.

"But we need to take it out on the pitch in the right manner; by winning tackles, being up for it - all the good things. Going over the top and getting caught up in it, is when you perform badly and give the other team an edge."

ELSEWHERE IN THE DIVISION

Table toppers Cardiff City will be hoping to stretch their eight-point lead at the summit of the npower Championship table on Saturday when they visit Blackpool.

Malky Mackay's men have won four of their last five and will want to continue that momentum against the Tangerines, who are without a win in five and remain without a permanent manager following the departure of Michael Appleton.

Appleton left Bloomfield Road to join Blackburn Rovers, and they entertain Charlton Athletic. The two sides come into the game at Ewood Park sitting side-by-side in the divisional standings, locked on 36 points.

There was a change of manager at the foot of the division at Bristol City appointed Sean O'Driscoll as head coach following Derek McInnes' exit. The 55-year-old will be eager to get three points under his belt immediately, with an away trip to Leeds United on the cards this weekend.

Barnsley sit directly above Bristol City at the bottom, two points ahead, and they also have a new permanent manager in charge, in the form of David Flitcroft. The Tykes were 2-0 winners against Leeds under Flitcroft's supervision last time out and that was enough to give him the job permanently. He will want to continue the upturn in results against Ipswich Town at Portman Road.

Peterborough United occupy the other spot in the bottom three and they host second-placed Hull City. Posh could move out of the relegation zone, although they would need Sheffield Wednesday to lose at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers, and would need to overcome a goal deficit.

20th-placed Birmingham City will be keen to overcome any fear of being dragged into the relegation battle as they host Play-Off chasing Brighton and Hove Albion.

Brighton are eighth, three points off the top six, sandwiched between Millwall and Nottingham Forest.

The Lions are up against Burnley, who are only two points behind in 10th, and a victory for Kenny Jackett's men could be enough to move them up to sixth, providing Watford fail to pick up any points at home to Huddersfield Town.

Forest would also need the Hornets to lose if they are to move into the Play-Offs, although it's highly unlikely as they would need to beat Derby and overcome a 10-goal swing.

The remaining match in the npower Championship sees Dougie Freedman return to Crystal Palace for the first time since departing to become Bolton Wanderers boss.

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