THE BIG MATCH

There is no doubting the npower Championship's big match this weekend - third-placed Watford's home encounter with leaders Cardiff City.

The automatic promotion race is really hotting up as the season approaches its final countdown and Watford have put themselves among the contenders with some fine form, especially Tuesday night's 1-0 win at second-placed Hull City.

That result left the Hornets a point behind the Tigers and five clear of fourth-placed Crystal Palace so their sights are firmly set above them as they look to break into the top two.

Head coach Gianfranco Zola told the London Evening Standard: "We won a six-pointer at Hull and now we have to beat the Championship leaders. The promotion chase will go to the wire, no team has secured that prize yet.

"It would be fantastic to achieve promotion with these guys. I am proud to be Watford manager and it would mean so much to everybody at the club and in the town if we go up.

"Cardiff are top and it won't be easy playing them, but we don't fear anybody. In fact, we have had more problems with the smaller teams than the big ones this season. Our dressing room was an amazing place to be after our win at Hull. Everybody was excited, but now we are focused on facing Cardiff."

Cardiff's position at the top of the table has rarely wavered away from being described as "commanding" and they travel to Vicarage Road seven points clear of Hull, with the added potential advantage of a game in hand, too.

It looks like this could finally be their year after three successive Play-Off failures, but they will be taking nothing for granted at this stage, especially as manager Malky Mackay is heading back to the club he played for and bossed.

And defender Andrew Taylor told the South Wales Echo: "We have to focus on what we are doing. It's a big match for us at Watford this Saturday and that's why it's being shown live on Sky TV.

"We go there in a fantastic position. We badly want to win, but that result is not the be-all and end-all. If we win it we will extend our gap ahead of them, while if they beat us we will still be going into our last six matches with a healthy gap and a game in hand."

KEEP AN EYE ON

While it is still all to play for in the battle to get out of the npower Championship, the same can apply for the teams fighting to stay in it.

Bristol City are six points adrift at the foot of the table but above them it really tightens up with just three points separating the next eight teams.

Four clubs are locked together on 47 points, starting with third-bottom Huddersfield Town, whose goal difference is considerably worse than the rest, and two of that group - Sheffield Wednesday and Blackburn Rovers - meet on Saturday.

The Owls are fourth from bottom but would have been further clear had they not conceded a late equaliser in their last match, Tuesday's 1-1 draw at Bristol City.

Manager Dave Jones told www.swfc.co.uk: "The players are working hard. I think every game we play is a big game, we said we had nine cup finals and now we have seven of them to go.

"We're just focused on the next game and we know what we have to do. Everyone is working hard and there is a good atmosphere.

"Blackburn are a side that have come out of the Premier League and they are adapting and it's very hard.

"The club is in a difficult spell and we have got to capitalise on anything we can. Any weakness that there is, we have to take advantage [of]."

Blackburn are at the head of the group of four by virtue of having the best goal difference but have faltered badly after a New Year upturn in fortunes, going without a Championship win since February 9th.

And they suffered a double blow in the week with news that goalkeepers Jake Kean and Paul Robinson were both ruled out for the rest of the season through injury.

Defender Scott Dann told www.rovers.co.uk: "As a team and as a club, it is going to take heart to get us out of the position that we are in.

"The more you do that as a team and as you look after each other, then the more results you are going to get.

"We are where we are in the league and we have to get that into our heads, we need to make sure that come Saturday at Sheffield Wednesday we are ready to go and get the three points that we need.

"If we all pull together then we can get ourselves out of the position that we are in and we need to do that as quickly as possible."

ELSEWHERE IN THE DIVISION

The other big game at the top end of the npower Championship table sees the teams currently sixth and seventh go head-to-head.

Brighton and Hove Albion are the hosts and they find themselves in the top six having re-ignited their hopes with a pretty solid run of form this year that has included a victory over Crystal Palace and a draw at Nottingham Forest - the two teams immediately above them - among their last three games.

Their opponents are Leicester City, with the Foxes in a real slump having won just one of their last 11 games stretching back to the end of January to leave them two points outside the top six.

Nigel Pearson, who took Leicester to the Play-Off semi-finals in his first spell in charge, has been coming under increasing pressure to deliver a serious challenge for the Premier League with his side having looked like automatic promotion contenders earlier in the season.

Above Brighton are Forest in fifth and Palace in fourth with both clubs looking to consolidate their positions with home games on Saturday.

Forest are a point clear and host Blackpool, who are 16th, while Palace are three points further ahead and welcome Barnsley - one of a clutch of teams in the thick of the relegation battle.

Still in second are Hull City, whose advantage has been cut to one point after their defeat at home to Watford on Tuesday night. The Tigers are at home to Middlesbrough, who are ninth and six points outside the top six.

Bolton Wanderers are two points clear of Boro ahead of their home match with Wolverhampton Wanderers, who have hauled themselves up to 18th but remain just a point outside the relegation zone.

At the bottom of the table are Bristol City, six points adrift with six games to go, starting with their visit to 13th-placed Burnley - managed by their former defender Sean Dyche.

And the two teams immediately above the Robins meet in a game that neither participant will dare lose. Huddersfield Town are third from bottom on 47 points, a point clear of Peterborough United, with the pair facing off in Yorkshire as both look to get points on the board with the victors guaranteed to move out of the bottom three, while a draw could see both clubs get above the safety line.

Such is the tightness of the table at the moment that even Birmingham City in 11th are only five points clear of the relegation zone. The Blues are on 52 points and host Millwall, who are 15th and a point behind, while in 12th are managerless Leeds United - also on 52 points - who head to 14th-placed Charlton Athletic, level on points with the Lions.

Sandwiched between them are Burnley, then after Millwall come Blackpool on 50 points, ahead of 17th-placed Ipswich Town only on goal difference with the Tractor Boys heading to Derby County, who are 10th on 54 points - seven clear of the bottom three and seven behind the top six.

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