THE BIG MATCH

When the teams sitting top and fourth meet, you can expect a good match and that should be the case on Saturday in npower League 1's game of the day.

Tranmere Rovers are at the summit with their visitors Swindon Town three places further back, as both sides look to keep their ambitions of promotion to the npower Championship burning brightly.

Tranmere can go three points clear of second-placed Doncaster Rovers with a win, though they would then have played two more games than the Yorkshire side, but their focus will solely be on racking up the wins and they are boosted by manager Ronnie Moore signing a new contract.

They did lose the reverse match at Swindon 5-0, however, and Moore told www.tranmererovers.co.uk: "It's not nice when you get beat 5-0 and it could have been eight or nine.

"I want to say to [Paolo] Di Canio that this is us, this is what we're all about, not what he saw three or four weeks ago.

"This is the type of team we are and the way we play. But it's going to be a tough old game. They're in fantastic form and they've got a fantastic manager and brilliant players.

"It's a massive game for our players to show them what we can do, especially on our own patch."

Di Canio's Swindon come into the game in fine form and remain in a good position for a promotion assault.

They are unbeaten since November and know that a point or more would lift them above Brentford into third, and they start the weekend seven points adrift of the top two.

Midfielder Raffaele De Vita told www.swindontownfc.co.uk: "Last Saturday was a very good win and it was great to get the chance to get the match on with so many other games off. We are now catching up with the teams above us and making good ground.

"Saturday's game will be massive because Tranmere will be hurt from the way we beat them back in December. They will be up for it but they are a really good side as they have shown for the majority of this season.

"Confidence has been growing over the past few months and the games are coming thick and fast now. We have to come out of this busy period with as many points as we can before we come back to the County Ground for the Hartlepool United game."

KEEP AN EYE ON

At the other end of the npower League 1 table, the hopes of Portsmouth and Hartlepool United are the same - to somehow get themselves out of trouble.

Portsmouth's off-field troubles continue to rumble on and on the pitch they begin this weekend second from bottom, four points adrift of a place outside the relegation zone and with a game in hand.

Hartlepool, their opponents this weekend, are the only team below them in the table, so a win on Saturday would boost morale.

Caretaker boss Guy Whittingham told the Portsmouth News: "We want to go and win the game for the pure reason that we want to get some momentum going.

"But if we don't, it won't be the be-all and end-all because there are another 19 games after that. Of course it's a key game but so is the next one after that. We know we need a catalyst from somewhere.

"People will be saying 'Hartlepool are bottom of the league' and all that but believe me, they play some good football. Football is one game at a time but you know what can happen when you win one game. Confidence is one of the biggest assets for any team or any footballer. One win can do it."

Hartlepool's situation is different to Pompey's but it is no less challenging as they have still won only twice all season.

Pools remain eight points adrift of Pompey at the bottom of the table, and have 12 to make up if they are to find a way out of the relegation zone.

Their latest outing saw them go down 2-1 at home to Bournemouth on Tuesday night, a seventh successive reverse in front of their own fans.

First-team coach John Hughes told www.hartlepoolunited.co.uk: "These guys need to look each other in the eye, grab each other by the scruff of the neck and say 'today's the day'.

"Trust me, once we've done it once we can go and do it again because the confidence will come and we can build some momentum.

"We've shied away from it and we've talked around relegation - but that's all gone now and we can't make any more excuses, we need to start winning football matches. From now until the end of the season we're in a 19-game league and we're have to believe we can win most of them and finish near the top of it - if we can do that we can stay in League 1.

"Is there an acceptance? There can't be - we have to come out fighting and with all guns blazing and that starts on Saturday."

ELSEWHERE IN THE DIVISION

The npower League 1 fixture list is somewhat truncated this weekend because of the fourth round of the FA Cup but there are still six more matches taking place.

Bournemouth start the weekend sixth in the table, occupying the last of the Play-Off positions, and the Cherries are at home to 13th-placed Crewe Alexandra, knowing that another win would take them on to 49 points and above Sheffield United into fifth.

Depending on the outcome of the Tranmere Rovers versus Swindon Town match they could draw level on points with fourth-placed Swindon but cannot overtake the Robins due to a massively inferior goal difference.

Their opponents Crewe might be in the bottom half of the table but they also know that the Play-Offs aren't too far away after only one defeat in their last five matches.

They start Saturday six points adrift of Bournemouth so if they could pick up the win, they would really be closing in on the teams above them.

Also eyeing the Play-Offs are Coventry City, whose season continues to turn around under Mark Robins with a Johnstone's Paint Trophy Area Final to look forward to next month.

Their first priority will be to build on two successive League 1 victories, including one over leaders Tranmere, and ahead of their visit to Preston North End on Saturday they are eighth - just three points outside the top six.

Preston, meanwhile, are continuing to struggle with inconsistency and find themselves 16th, 11 points clear of the relegation zone and 12 adrift of the Play-Off places.

The battle to stay in League 1 is also intensifying with four of the teams in and around the relegation area all in action on Saturday, along with that Portsmouth versus Hartlepool United fixture.

Third-bottom Bury are on 22 points from their 27 games, one behind Colchester United and three adrift of Scunthorpe United, who occupy the first of the safety spots.

Bury are on the road to Shrewsbury Town, whose position of 18th and seven points clear might look relatively comfortable at this stage but they will be taking nothing for granted in their bid to secure their survival in League 1 having been promoted last season.

Immediately above Bury are Colchester, who have slipped in to the bottom four with a run of nine successive defeats. On Saturday the U's are at home to Walsall, who had a horrendous run themselves earlier in the season but have now stabilised to sit 10th, five points adrift of the Play-Off places.

Scunthorpe sit two points outside the bottom four ahead of their visit to Carlisle United, who are 17th and on 32 points, while Saturday's fixtures are completed with 12th-placed Notts County heading to Leyton Orient in 15th.

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