THE BIG MATCH

The highlight of this weekend's npower League 1 programme sees two promotion contenders meet at the Goldsands Stadium, where Bournemouth host Swindon Town.

The Robins are in fifth place, three points and two places above Bournemouth, and are on a spectacular run of form having won their last four, scoring 16 goals - they beat Oldham Athletic 2-0, Tranmere Rovers 5-0, Portsmouth 5-0 and, last weekend, beat Carlisle United 4-0.

On-loan Norwich City striker Chris Martin had his stay at the County Ground extended this week and he is aware of the importance behind the game against Eddie Howe's Bournemouth.

"It is a massive game," Martin told STFC Player, "It's the biggest game of the season so far for both teams because obviously it's the next one, which is always the most important.

"The runs that both teams have been on are pretty impressive. It is going to be a tough place to go but we are very good away from home."

Since Eddie Howe's return to the South Coast club, the Cherries have remained unbeaten in their 17 matches. Their scintillating form has lifted them from the lower regions of the division and up to seventh, battling for promotion.

Last time out, they were in FA Cup third round action and they held Wigan Athletic to a 1-1 draw at the DW Stadium.

Defender Simon Francis is confident the team can continue their streak of good performances against a strong Swindon side

The 27-year-old told www.afcb.co.uk: "Swindon are playing well and are flying at the moment so we need to make sure they don't get another result against us on Saturday.

"I know their manager has got them playing with a lot of confidence at the moment, but I'm confident that we can stop them scoring the goals they have in recent weeks, against us.

"Its going to be another important game, if not one of the most important games of the season. Every game seems to be labelled as that at the moment but, for us, every single week we are trying to climb the table.

"Any team in our league can be beaten, especially by us in the form that we are in. We have to make sure that we will be up for it Saturday, but it is one we can definitely win."

KEEP AN EYE ON

Tranmere Rovers have got back to winning ways of late, regaining top spot over the festive period, and they will hope to continue their march for promotion as they host Crawley Town.

Rovers are currently level on 50 points with second-placed Doncaster Rovers but lead the Yorkshire outfit on goal difference, so a win at against Crawley Town at Prenton Park on Saturday will keep them top, unless Doncaster beat Tranmere's winning margin by four goals.

Ronnie Moore's men will be glad to get back to league action after last weekend's 5-0 loss to npower Championship side Derby County in the FA Cup third round, but the Rovers manager is not too concerned about the result and is looking forward to the game this weekend.

The 59-year-old told Tranmere Player: "We brush it under the carpet, it's gone but we've got four tremendous games now with Crawley being the first of those four.

"They're a good side. I had Ritchie [Barker, Crawley manager] as a player at Rotherham United, he always looked like he was going to be a coach or a manager and he's doing a tremendous job there.

"But we can win. We would go 12 points clear of them, that is a lot at this stage, there is no doubt about that.

"It's a massive game but we played well down there and got a good result, although Ritchie thought we got quite lucky, so it will be interesting this Saturday."

It's an important game for Crawley, too, as they could sit in the Play-Offs come full-time.

The Reds come into the fixture sitting eighth on 41 points, one behind Milton Keynes Dons and Bournemouth in sixth and seventh respectively, having won three of their previous five league fixtures.

Ahead of Saturday's match, midfielder Josh Simpson told Reds Player: "They [Tranmere Rovers] have got a good squad and they came to our place and beat us 5-2 [in the reverse fixture on 22nd September]. I think a lot of that was our own mistakes that cost us goals.

"We've worked hard this week and we're looking forward to Saturday. We'll hopefully get all three points and turn that last result around.

"We need to go an a little run and hopefully that starts on Saturday. It's going to be difficult but we're confident and the mood in the camp is high."

ELSEWHERE IN THE DIVISION

If leaders Tranmere slip up at Crawley, second-placed Doncaster Rovers will be ready to take advantage.

Rovers find themselves without a manager, though, after Dean Saunders was appointed as Stale Solbakken's successor at Wolverhampton Wanderers.

It will be interesting to see how the Yorkshire side reacts as they travel to the Lamex Stadium for a tricky fixture against Stevenage.

If Doncaster lose on their trip to Hertfordshire, third-placed Sheffield United could replace them in the automatic promotion places. The Blades drew 2-2 with Rovers last time out and that was the second successive game they have failed to win - losing to bottom of the table Hartlepool United in the match previous.

Danny Wilson's men will want to pick up all three points when they host Gary Johnson's Yeovil Town on Saturday.

As well as the aforementioned Swindon and Sheffield United, Uwe Rosler's Brentford and Karl Robinson's Milton Keynes Dons occupy the Play-Offs.

Both will be in search of wins to keep their promotion hopes alive - the Bees travel to Oldham Athletic, who beat npower Championship side Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup last time out, while the Dons entertain Bury.

Oldham and Bury are two sides who find themselves in trouble at the foot of the table, although the Latics are five points clear of danger. The Shakers are in the relegation zone, though, along with rock bottom Hartlepool United, Portsmouth and Scunthorpe United.

The Pools have an away match at 17th-placed Shrewsbury Town to contend with this weekend, while Portsmouth host Notts County and the Iron have a vital match with Colchester United. The U's sit directly above Scunthorpe, and a win for Brian Laws' men would lift them above Joe Dunne's side.

In fact, a victory for Portsmouth or Bury could also lift them above Colchester, proving just how tight it is at the foot of the npower League 1 table.

The only other game on Saturday in the division sees Leyton Orient and Crewe Alexandra meet at the Matchroom Stadium. The O's will be buoyed by their last-gasp 1-0 Johnstone's Paint Trophy victory over Yeovil in midweek, which came days after they held Hull City to a 1-1 draw in the FA Cup.

As well as the usual Saturday 3pm fixtures, there's also two League 1 matches on Sunday this weekend as Coventry City make the long trip north to play Carlisle United and Preston North End welcome Walsall to Deepdale.

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