THE BIG MATCH

It has been a turbulent week for Preston North End as they prepare to face Bournemouth - the current leaders of npower League 1.

Preston parted company with boss Graham Westley on Wednesday having won just a solitary League 1 fixture since November 14th - a run that has seen them slide down the table to 17th and just five points above the relegation zone.

Westley's former assistant John Dreyer will be in charge on Saturday, and until the Deepdale board appoints a permanent replacement for Westley.

Ahead of this weekend's match, Dreyer told www.pnefc.net: "I don't see it as a harder game. I just see it as a bigger opportunity.

"The one thing we have in our favour is that whilst there is always expectation in every game - that comes from within and it will come from me - but from the outside looking in, there is not a lot of expectation on this game, based on recent results. Therefore, there is probably less pressure than in previous home games.

"I am not saying we are going to go out there and give up the ghost and hand them the three points; that is definitely not the case, we are going to be going out there fighting, playing our football and trying to win the game.

"On paper it is a tough game, but I just think it is a great opportunity."

In contrast, Bournemouth's situation could not be more stable and they are continuing to march on in Eddie Howe's second spell in charge.

A run of five successive victories has continued their momentum and on Tuesday their 2-1 success at Crewe Alexandra put them top of the table for the first time this season.

That could change on Friday, though, as third-placed Tranmere Rovers - the previous leaders who are two points behind - are in action.

Boss Howe believes there is extra expectation now that they have hit the summit.

He explained to www.afcb.co.uk: "Going to a place like Preston is always tough and when you are at the top, there is extra pressure. I have said to the players, let's relish that pressure.

"We have all been at the other end when you are fighting for your lives and scrapping for everything and that is real pressure. This is the stuff you want to be involved in and the players should be loving every minute of it.

"There are some big clubs in this league and Preston are one of them. Their perception of us could be different, but we will go there and do our business and that is a key point at this stage of the season."

KEEP AN EYE ON

Yeovil Town have been the npower League 1 fliers of late with seven successive victories to thrust themselves right into Play-Off contention ahead of their home match with Scunthorpe United on Saturday.

The Glovers are irresistible at the moment and their run has included wins over Sheffield United, Milton Keynes Dons and Coventry City, three other sides who have promotion ambitions this season.

A win for Yeovil would be enough to move them from seventh into the top six as Brentford, who are immediately above them, have no League 1 fixture due to their FA Cup replay at Chelsea on Sunday, and it would make for a double boost as in-form striker Paddy Madden was named the npower League 1 Player of the Month for January on Friday.

Defender Nathan Ralph, who scored in a midweek victory against Preston, told the Western Gazette: "This is the first time I have been involved in an atmosphere like this. The Yeovil fans are great and this is the first team I have really felt part of since playing football so I am happy.

"Confidence is growing each week and we have always had confidence since the start of the season. With these games recently and getting closer to the Play-Offs, that feeling is getting stronger. A lot of people are talking about Play-Offs but who knows? Champions? Why not? You never know."

Scunthorpe haven't been in bad form themselves of late with four of their nine wins recorded this season coming in the last six games. Those wins and a further draw in that period have seen Brian Laws' side edge up to 18th in the table, five points clear of the relegation zone.

Laws, who returned to Glanford Park in October for a second spell in charge, says his players will be as confident as Yeovil after they also won in midweek, 3-1 at home to Carlisle United.

He told www.scunthorpe-united.co.uk: "Since the turn of the year, we have only lost one game [away at Crewe Alexandra] in a match which we dominated but were defeated by a contentious penalty.

"The players are driven and we will take the confidence from the performances at home into Yeovil.

"I think this is a real test for us. Yeovil are expected to win because they are at home, and will be looking to make it eight wins on the bounce.

"We're also in a winning habit though and will go there trying to win the game. I know we're more than capable of doing it."

ELSEWHERE IN THE DIVISION

The npower League 1 fixture list is spread this weekend over Friday, Saturday and Monday with the matches starting and ending things having the potential to impact greatly at the top of the table.

It all gets underway on Friday night in front of the Sky Sports cameras as third-placed Tranmere Rovers host Shrewsbury Town, who are two places above the relegation zone.

Tranmere have been on top of the table for much of the season but have slipped from their perch and find themselves two points adrift of new incumbents Bournemouth, and one behind second-placed Doncaster Rovers.

A draw would see them go back second on goal difference while a win would be enough to put them back to the summit again before the rest of the weekend's games.

Shrewsbury have a four-point cushion ahead of the bottom four but with one win in their last six games they know that another bad result could let the teams below them get closer.

And with Tranmere playing on Friday and Bournemouth on Saturday, Doncaster must watch how their rivals do before lining up on Sky Sports for Monday night's televised game away to Crawley Town.

Such is the compact nature of the top seven at the moment that Doncaster could find themselves in with a chance of going back top, or they could be down as far as fifth with Tranmere, Sheffield United and Yeovil Town all able to overtake them.

Doncaster's hosts, Crawley, looked for much of the season like they would be in the promotion shake-up too, but they have fallen right off the pace and start the weekend 15th, 12 points adrift of the Play-Off places.

That all leaves five more games to catch up on and of the remaining promotion-chasers, only Sheffield United are in action.

The fifth-placed Blades have - like Brentford just below them - lost only five times this season and with 54 points to their name face a home fixture against Colchester United.

The U's find themselves fifth from bottom and two points clear of the relegation zone after winning three of their last four following a lengthy run of successive defeats.

There is plenty to play for at the bottom with Portsmouth, Hartlepool United and Bury all on the Saturday afternoon hunt for points to aid their respective causes.

Hartlepool are still at the foot with 21 points to their name and a home fixture against 10th-placed Leyton Orient their challenge, while Portsmouth, who are a point further on - the two sides shared a 0-0 draw in midweek - host 16th-placed Carlisle United.

Pompey are 10 points adrift of safety with Bury five ahead and the Shakers are also at home, facing eighth-placed Coventry City, whose manager Mark Robins this week left for the job at Championship side Huddersfield Town.

Saturday's remaining match sees Walsall, in ninth and seven points adrift of the Play-Offs, host Notts County, who are two places and three points further back.

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