THE BIG MATCH

Sheffield United versus Stevenage is a fixture that is only taking place for the second season but already the two teams have built up quite a connection - and as they sit second and third going into the weekend, Saturday's encounter should be no different.

They are locked on 32 points in the npower League 1 table with the Blades sitting one place higher thanks to their superior goal difference.

Stevenage took four points from the Blades last season, their first ever at League 1 level, only for Danny Wilson's men to gain revenge by pipping the Hertfordshire club in the Play-Off semi-final.

This time around both sides are flying again after 17 matches and another closely-fought encounter is on the cards at Bramall Lane.

Blades defender Harry Maguire is certainly expecting a tough afternoon, telling the Sheffield Star: "This is a massive game for us. Stevenage are a good team and they have changed a little bit since we came up against them [in the Play-Offs] last time.

"I thought we were really unlucky against Milton Keynes [Dons]. We didn't deserve to lose that as far as I could see but we did and so we move on.

"The most important game is always the next one. That's what I think and so do the rest of the lads here, too."

United boss Danny Wilson was named the npower League 1 Manager of the Month for October on Friday, while the Blades' young goalkeeper George Long picked up the player award, and they will want to keep that feel-good factor going.

Stevenage have continued their form of last season, though, to once again be among the League 1 pace-setters, confounding those who doubted whether they would be able to do so.

Heavy defeats to Swindon Town and Preston North End in two of their last three matches have stalled them slightly but, given they didn't lose a league game at all until the middle of October, they remain very well placed.

And boss Gary Smith told www.stevenagefc.com, with a nod towards the previous history between the two clubs: "I don't think the memories of last year's game at Bramall Lane will have an effect on the players as there have been many changes here and there.

"Danny Wilson has been on a fantastic run with that side they are a fantastic group, they know how to get results and have a lot of experience and that is reflected in the fact that last week was their first defeat against MK Dons so they will be looking to get back on track."

KEEP AN EYE ON

This weekend's npower League 1 fixture list kicks off on Friday night with leaders Tranmere Rovers hosting seventh-placed Milton Keynes Dons in front of the Sky Sports cameras.

Tranmere already have a five-point advantage at the summit and will stretch that to eight if they beat the Dons - putting the pressure on the teams below them, who all play on Saturday.

They have reduced ticket prices for this match, leading to boss Ronnie Moore expressing his hopes for a big Prenton Park crowd to get behind his players.

And ahead of the match he described it as "probably our biggest game of the season", Moore told Tranmere Player: "It's another TV game, another chance to show people why we're top of the league, against probably the best footballing side at this level and maybe even above.

"Karl Robinson has got a fantastic side there who move the ball well, so it will be a big tester for us. Let's hope there is a big crowd here, the lads deserve that. Hopefully I think they will see a great game, whoever comes in.

"It will be a footballing game, it won't be long balls and whatever, it will be played in the right way and the right manner and it's a big game for both clubs."

The Dons know that a win at Tranmere will see them shoot up five places and put them second on 32 points, as their goal difference is already superior to Sheffield United and Stevenage, who are already on 32 points in second and third respectively.

Their recent form has seen them win three of their last four League 1 games, including handing Sheffield United a first defeat of the season.

Dons boss Karl Robinson holds Tranmere close to his heart as he hails from the area and his late father-in-law was a season ticket holder at Prenton Park.

"We'll have to be at our best to win," Robinson told the Milton Keynes Citizen, "but Tranmere will also have to be at their best to get anything out of us. So the best team will win the game at the end of the night.

"Whatever happens on the night will not determine where we finish in the league, but it goes to show you that - being three points behind second and still in the FA Cup, and everything else that goes with it - the boys have done remarkably well.

"Our system will be set out to go up there and win, but I also know that Ronnie Moore's system will be set out to beat us as well. It's set to be a very good clash."

ELSEWHERE IN THE DIVISION

Hartlepool United have appointed John Hughes as their first-team coach - and Hughes' first task is to stop the Pools' run of form that has seen them go without a win since September 1st.

Hughes leads the North East outfit for the first time on Saturday as they host Coventry City and look to make inroads into a deficit that sees them six points adrift of the team immediately above them, Shrewsbury Town, and nine adrift of the first club outside of the bottom four.

With perfect timing, that club is Coventry, so Saturday's fixture at Victoria Park represents an important one for both sides.

The Sky Blues had won two successive League 1 games prior to Saturday's 2-1 defeat at home to Scunthorpe United so they will be looking to put that result behind them and start moving forward again.

The victory for Scunthorpe saw them move to within a point of Coventry but on Saturday the fourth-bottom side face a tough-looking test at home to Notts County.

County are fifth at the moment, handily placed in the Play-Off spots, and although their home form has been a bit of an achilles heel of late, Keith Curle's men remain unbeaten on the road all season.

County and Stevenage are two of the teams currently in the Play-Off positions - prior to Friday's fixture between Tranmere Rovers and Milton Keynes Dons - with Crawley Town and Swindon Town making up the four teams at the moment.

Both are at home, too - Crawley facing Walsall, who start the weekend in 19th, while Swindon are up against 11th-placed Yeovil Town, who will close to within a point of the Robins with a win.

At the other end, Bury and Shrewsbury Town are the two other teams currently making up the bottom four.

Bury have been in good form of late with only one defeat in their last six and take that record to 14th-placed Colchester United, while Shrewsbury have not won in five ahead of their home encounter with Crewe Alexandra, who are 13th.

Bournemouth have been in the best League 1 form of late with no defeats in six under the returning Eddie Howe, a run that has lifted them to 12th with a home game against 19th-placed Oldham Athletic to come on Saturday.

Portsmouth, who are 18th, host Play-Off hopefuls Doncaster Rovers, who sit ninth and two points adrift of the top six.

Carlisle United entertain Leyton Orient in a battle between the teams 15th and 16th respectively, while 10th-placed Preston North End are at home to Brentford, who sit eighth, in the division's remaining fixture.

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