THE BIG MATCH

John Ward's second stint as Bristol Rovers boss starts this weekend with an npower League 2 game against Rotherham United at the Memorial Stadium, with the Pirates looking for a win that could see them rise out of the relegation places.

Rovers come into this weekend's fixture sitting 23rd - a point behind AFC Wimbledon, and safety - having taken just four points from their last 10 league outings, form that resulted in Mark McGhee losing his job.

The decision-makers at the club acted quickly and appointed 61-year-old Ward, who was manager at the club between 1993 and 1996, within a couple of days.

Despite their current position, Rovers defender Garry Kenneth has not altered his pre-season ambitions of a promotion push.

"I came here looking to push for promotion this season and nothing has changed in that respect," he told the Bristol Post.

"I know we are second from bottom of the table, but there are still a lot of games to go and I am certainly not going to be content with finishing out of the relegation zone.

"Some might say that finishing mid-table would represent a good season after the start we have had. But that's not how I see it.

"We all need to be as positive as possible. Rotherham may come here thinking it's going to be easy to roll us over, but I can assure our fans that will not be the case.

"We have the players to go on a run and restore the confidence that has been lost. I have no doubt about that and it would be great to start against Rotherham this weekend."

Although Bristol Rovers have the upper hand in recent meetings between the two, having done the double over Rotherham last season - including a 5-2 win at the Memorial Ground, the Millers are in a much stronger position than their opponents.

Steve Evans' men are pushing for an automatic promotion position - they are currently fourth and only two points behind Cheltenham Town who occupy an automatic promotion spot - and come into the game having won four of their last six League 2 fixtures.

Rotherham caused an upset in the FA Cup in midweek, knocking out npower League 1 promotion contenders Notts County 3-0, but manager Evans is not overlooking the Pirates.

He told the Star: "They were third favourites for promotion so it shows what a difficult division this is.

"We know what often happens when a new manager comes in. People get a lift, and my players will be made aware of what we can expect. Their crowd is noisy and they'll get behind them.

"But the boys are buzzing and we are ready for it."

KEEP AN EYE ON

Boxing Day's main match in npower League 2 sees top host bottom as Barnet face Gillingham at the Priestfield Stadium.

The Gills are five points ahead of second-placed Port Vale going to the festive period having lost just three of their 22 league games but have experienced a difficult spell of late.

They have managed just three wins from nine games since the start of November and only one in their last five outings but they will be aiming to turn around their relatively poor streak.

Martin Allen's side have sat top of the table for most of the season and he believes his players must step up in the face of increased interest, telling www.gillinghamfootballclub.com: "The players have to get used to it - it's a different feeling being top of the league and everyone is talking about it all the time.

"We are getting national coverage, numerous interviews with national media about being top of the league.

"Me included it's different and it is new but you have to cope with it because everyone who is playing us is taking on the best team in the league, that's how it is and fair play to all of the players."

Allen will be familiar to Barnet fans having managed the Bees on three separate occasions, the most recent of which was last season when he saved them from relegation.

Barnet come into the game with relegation being a major concern yet again - they have won just three games this season and have only found the net five times on their travels.

The most recent victory was seven games ago at home to Torquay United and since then they have drawn three and lost three.

Historically, it is difficult to split the two sides as Gillingham have won on six occasions, while Barnet have five wins to their name, with four ties ending level.

The last three meetings between the teams have ended with the same score line - 3-1 - twice in the Gills' favour.

ELSEWHERE IN THE DIVISION

Before Gillingham contemplate their match with Barnet, they have a trip to York City on Saturday. While the Gills top the division, Gary Mills' Minstermen sit 14th. They are just four points off the Play-Offs, however, so a win against the front-runners would take them within touching distance of the top seven.

Currently sitting between York and the Play-Off places, though, is Northampton Town, Dagenham and Redbridge, Torquay United, Chesterfield, Burton Albion and Fleetwood Town.

They will all be hoping to enhance their league standing over the festive period, starting with Saturday's round of matches.

Northampton, in 13th, host Aldershot Town, John Still's Dagenham visit Morecambe, Torquay meet Devon rivals Exeter City for the first time since May 2008, and Fleetwood are on the road to Oxford United.

Burton and Chesterfield, meanwhile, begin their Christmas schedule with Friday night fixtures away from home. The Brewers are at Barnet, while the Spireites take on Southend United, a side firmly in the promotion mix, currently sitting sixth.

The other Friday night clash sees third-placed Cheltenham Town visit Spotland to take on mid-table Rochdale.

The remaining fixtures in Saturday's schedule see Wycombe Wanderers, who will be hoping to extend their good run - they have won four of their last five - against Bradford City, who are fifth, three points off the automatic promotion places, and second-placed Port Vale entertain AFC Wimbledon.

With the npower League 2 as tight as it is, the make-up of the division could change significantly before the Boxing Day programme.

The aforementioned top-against-bottom clash is likely to be an interesting one, while there's also another Devon derby to look forward to as Torquay visit Plymouth Argyle.

The Pilgrims are in a battle at the foot of the division, with only Aldershot and AFC Wimbledon between themselves and the relegation zone. The Wombles host Northampton on Boxing Day, while the Shots have a relegation showdown against Bristol Rovers, who currently sit in the bottom two.

At the other end of the division, Port Vale and Cheltenham Town will be hoping to maintain their automatic promotion places but they face tricky fixtures against Rotherham United and Wycombe Wanderers respectively.

Rotherham are currently in the Play-Offs alongside Bradford City, Southend United and Exeter City. On the 26th, the Bantams take on Accrington Stanley, Southend travel to Dagenham and the Grecians host Oxford United.

The chasing pack are also all in action, hoping to sneak a place in the top seven. Fleetwood, currently just a point off Exeter, entertain Morecambe, Burton are up against Rochdale, and Paul Cook's Chesterfield host York City, who are also chasing the Play-Offs.

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