THE BIG MATCH

Two sides clambering for npower League 1 safety meet on Tuesday night at Victoria Park, where Hartlepool United host Portsmouth.

The Pool are bottom of the table and 12 points adrift of safety but will be buoyant after their recent run of form.

They come into the game undefeated in their last three outings, their strongest run of the season, and in their last fixture they picked up an impressive point in a 1-1 draw away to Swindon Town.

Manager John Hughes was pleased with his team's performance against the Robins but is keen for them to keep their feet on the ground and concentrate on the challenge Pompey will provide.

"All credit to the boys; they have shown spirit, determination and character to come from behind," the 48-year-old told www.hartlepoolunited.co.uk after the encounter at the County Ground.

"All eleven and the substitutes put a really good effort in to keep our run going.

"I'm absolutely delighted for Andy Monkhouse [the goalscorer]; I've left him on the bench and I may not be his favourite person right now but I've told him he has a part to play, they all have.

"We won't get carried away but the point today [Saturday] keeps the momentum going and the confidence high so we'll take that in to Tuesday night now."

The first match of Hartlepool's three-game stretch was a 3-1 win against their opponents on Tuesday, Portsmouth. That result for Pompey, however, was just one defeat in their terrible recent run of losses.

Guy Whittingham's side have lost their last nine consecutive games and are without a win in 19 fixtures in all competitions, which has left them one place and one point above Hartlepool in the standings.

But the manager knows what needs to change on the field to turn the club's fortunes around .

The former Portsmouth and Sheffield Wednesday player told www.portsmouthfc.co.uk: "We've got to make sure we're a lot tighter up there [in Hartlepool].

"The problems we've had during this run haven't been wholesale - there have just been individual errors that have cost us and it hasn't been the same individual week in, week out.

"We defended tremendously well in the first half at Bournemouth on Saturday and we need to show that same resilience - and do it for 90 minutes."

KEEP AN EYE ON

Another side in the relegation places is Bury and they will be looking to strengthen their survival chances as manager Kevin Blackwell welcomes his former employers Sheffield United to Gigg Lane on Tuesday night.

Blackwell guided the Blades to the npower Championship Play-Off Final during his two-year tenure at Bramall Lane but there will be no love lost at the reunion with his Shakers side deep in a relegation scrap.

They are currently in 22nd, five points adrift of safety, but are undefeated in their last four games, securing one win and three draws - Saturday's 2-2 draw with Brentford followed a 2-0 win over title-chasing Doncaster Rovers.

Against the Bees, they went two goals behind but strikes from Tom Soares and Nicky Ajose secured a point, and boss Blackwell is confident his side have the ability to haul themselves out of trouble, starting with three-points against the Blades.

The 54-year-old told the Bury Times: "They [Sheffield United] will be a tough outfit. Everybody knows that was my last job.

"But it doesn't matter if it is my old club or whatever. It's about the survival of Bury in this division and we're going to give it everything we've got.

"I think you saw on Saturday that we now have a team that can compete against anyone in this division.

"We are well organised and they have shown a bit of character. I think if we can keep this team together it is a team that can do something."

Sheffield United are also in desperate need of the points, to improve their faltering form of late and to hang on to a Play-Off place.

They are ahead of seventh-placed Yeovil Town on goal difference only and they were amidst a five-game winless streak in the league until a narrow victory against Shrewsbury Town on Saturday.

Boss Danny Wilson explained to www.sufc.co.uk after the Shrews match: "I thought we were in complete control of the game, until the final few minutes when we conceded a sloppy goal.

"It was a real team performance and we had an excellent work ethic from the first minute to the last."

The Blades have failed to score just once in their eight league fixtures but have not won by more than a solitary goal since Boxing Day.

And Wilson told the Star that he expects his side to play with enjoyment, which should improve their results.

"I don't want them to get into the mindset of grinding out one-nil wins.

"I want them to go out and just enjoy themselves because they've got enough in their lockers to do that."

ELSEWHERE IN THE DIVISION

The two sides level on 51 points with the Blades are also in action on Tuesday night as sixth-placed Brentford host Stevenage and Yeovil Town entertain Preston North End.

Brentford haven't won any of their last four league fixtures, the most recent was the draw with Bury, and will be looking to break the run at Griffin Park.

Their opponents, 14th-placed Stevenage, have fallen away from the promotion pack in recent weeks having lost six of their last eight, but could jump four places and back into contention with a win.

Yeovil are the division's in-form side having registered six successive league victories against several teams in and around the upper echelons of the table. They beat Sheffield United, Milton Keynes Dons, Brentford and then Coventry City to become serious promotion contenders.

Their opponents Preston are experiencing opposite fortunes, with Graham Westley's men sitting 17th, just five points above the drop zone, having mustered only one victory in their last 13 league games.

One place above the Lilywhites is Carlisle United and they travel to Scunthorpe United.

The Cumbrians are unbeaten in their last four games and come into the fixture having overcome Stevenage last time out. A Rory Loy strike and a Lee Miller penalty was enough to secure a 2-1 win but they will be in for a tough game against the Iron, who will be buoyant after hauling themselves out of the bottom four with successive 2-1 wins against Portsmouth and Crawley Town.

Another intriguing npower League 1 fixture sees Milton Keynes Dons travel north to meet Doncaster Rovers at the Keepmoat Stadium.

The Dons are another side that have fallen off the promotion pace recently - their 3-1 loss against Oldham Athletic on Saturday was their third defeat in a row - and that form has seen them plummet to 13th.

Doncaster, meanwhile, are second in the table, level on points with leaders Tranmere Rovers, and could move top with a win but come into the game having lost to Bury and Walsall in their last two games.

Rounding off the midweek schedule is another side that could leapfrog Tranmere at the summit with a win, and that is Bournemouth, who travel to Crewe Alexandra.

The two teams met as recently as last month, when Eddie Howe's men ran out 3-1 winners, that was one of the Cherries' four victories since Walsall ended their 15-game undefeated streak in mid-January.

As for the Alex, they have gone on to win two of their following three subsequent fixtures, the other being a 1-1 draw with Notts County on Saturday.

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