THE BIG MATCH
New Year's Day's South Yorkshire derby between fourth-placed Doncaster Rovers and current npower League 1 leaders Sheffield United is sure to excite followers of football at this level.
It is the pick of the games from Saturday's final fixtures of the calendar year, and the matches that will welcome in 2013 on Tuesday.
The Blades are presently two points clear of second-placed Tranmere Rovers, and three better off than their hosts, but Rovers will kick-off the new year with a game in hand so there is plenty to play for on January 1st.
Sheffield United will head into the match after a game with bottom of the table Hartlepool United on Saturday, while Doncaster face a tricky trip to Preston North End prior to this tasty derby encounter.
Both high-flying clubs have a similar record over their last six games, Danny Wilson's side have picked up 11 points, while Doncaster have claimed 13, with both teams having lost just once in that period, and only twice in the league since November 10th.
Games between the two sides have been a lot less frequent than you might expect over the years, although they have been in the same division for four of the last five seasons.
Historically, Sheffield United comfortably have the upper hand having won 10 of the 27 matches between the two teams. 11 of the matches have ended all square, including the most recent meeting between the sides back in September.
A draw, on paper at least, is the most likely result based on previous meetings, especially when you consider four of the last five matches have finished level but you can take nothing for granted in this division; expect a late Christmas cracker to see in the New Year.
KEEP AN EYE ON
Tranmere Rovers are sitting on the coat tails of the Blades, in the second automatic spot, and the bottom three will have a big say in how the top of the table may be shaping up come 4.45pm on New Year's Day.
With the Blades at Hartlepool on Saturday, Tranmere have a home match with 23rd-placed Scunthorpe United at the weekend, followed by a trip to 22nd in the table, Bury, on January 1st.
Rovers' form has been mixed of late, a narrow 1-0 defeat at home to Milton Keynes Dons in mid-November was the only blot on their recent copybook before they took a 5-0 battering at the hands of Swindon Town on December 21st. Prior to that heavy loss, they had drawn four league matches since that defeat by the Dons, but they responded in the right manner on Boxing Day, beating Crewe Alexandra 2-1.
Their impressive start to the campaign meant the points they had bagged have kept them in touch at the top during their six-game winless run.
Despite being at opposite ends of the table, Scunthorpe's form heading into the game at the weekend hasn't been too far removed. In the last two months, the Iron have won three, drawn one and lost four times. Their most recent loss was at the hands of leaders Sheffield United and Brian Laws has challenged his side to bounce back in a positive manner against the Blades' promotion rivals.
Boxing Day's 3-0 defeat saw their goal difference reach minus 19, the second worst in the division and the third poorest in the whole of The Football League. It's something manager Laws wants his players to address, as he explained to www.scunthorpe-united.co.uk.
"It is like losing an extra point given how tight the league is," Laws said. "We are giving away some silly goals and they could be costly in the end, because we are conceding the amount of goals that at some stage will affect us.
"We have to stop that, it isn't going to be easy, we know that but we have to maintain the belief that we can do it.
"I strongly believe that we can and we will, we have enough within the football club to do that."
The Iron have injury doubts over skipper Paul Reid (face) and winger Mark Duffy (knee) but are hopeful the pair will be fit to face Tranmere.
ELSEWHERE IN THE DIVISION
With two games in the space of three days sure to prompt a few changes in the standings in a tight division, there are some interesting encounters to keep an eye out for on Saturday and Tuesday. Most of the acton centres around the Play-Off chasing pack and those at the foot of the table.
Bournemouth, who are presently seventh, will travel to third-placed Brentford just days after hosting eighth-placed Crawley Town.
Notts County are 10th at the moment and they are at home to MK Dons, who are sixth, but first they must make the trip to ninth-placed Stevenage on Saturday.
Only two points separate seventh and 10th spot at present, the same as the gap at the top of the table, who we have already mentioned are predominetly in action against teams at the foot of the table.
Should either slip up, the division's form side Brentford will be waiting in the wings to take advantage. They are third, and like Doncaster, have a game in hand on the top two. They face Shrewsbury Town on Saturday, who are three points off the bottom four in 19th.
Sandwiched between the Shrews and the drop zone is Colchester United and the U's entertain fifth-placed Swindon Town on Saturday, before heading to Crawley on New Year's Day.
Portsmouth are the team in 21st spot and they will be looking to climb out of the relegation zone if the U's don't pick up any points in their next two matches. They are at home to Yeovil Town on Saturday before a difficult trip to Swindon.
Whatever happens over the next couple of games, it is sure to remain pretty tight at the top and the bottom of the table; the second half of the season is shaping up to be a fascinating period and one that will almost certainly go to the wire, if the first stage is anything to go by.
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