THE BIG MATCH

It doesn't get easier for out of form Bristol Rovers on Saturday in npower League 2 as they take on third-placed Cheltenham Town at Whaddon Road.

Rovers come into the game propping up the division and also sitting bottom of the form table having not won in their last seven matches - conceding 18 goals in the process - but if scores go in their favour they could move out of the bottom two and potentially up to 21st with three points.

The Pirates only have one win on the road, which came back in September against Exeter City, and have conceded the most goals in the league - 46 in 23 games - and Ward is aware of the challenge ahead.

"To call us underdogs for this game is just stating the obvious," Ward told football-league.co.uk as he looked ahead to taking on the club which in 2006 he led to promotion from League 2.

"Cheltenham are in a very strong position while we are fighting for our lives, but this is just as big a game for them as it is for us so there will be some tension.

"On a personal note I'll be going back to a club where there are a lot of wonderful people and whose manager [Mark Yates] was my captain when we got promoted and who has done a fantastic job there since he took charge three years ago.

"But this game isn't about me, it's about us trying to get some points to help keep Bristol Rovers in The Football League and we'll be aiming to build on the performance and the result that we got at Aldershot Town on Boxing Day [2-2 draw]."

Cheltenham Town sit at the opposite end of the table having been beaten just once in December - form that has maintained their place in the automatic promotion places, in third, just three points behind leaders Gillingham.

Their only loss was at Rochdale, with a 4-1 scoreline, but the Robins responded well last time out by beating Wycombe Wanderers 4-0.

Cheltenham manager Mark Yates backed his former boss to turn Rovers' fortunes around, telling the Gloucestershire Echo: "John has a job on his hands there, but I am sure he'll be the one to turn it around for them.

"I just hope he doesn't get that result tomorrow."

The two sides have met 15 times since 2001 and neither have dominated the fixtures with six wins apiece with three ending level.

KEEP AN EYE ON

In the first round of npower League 2 fixtures of 2013, there's a match at Underhill which looks set to be a hard-fought basement battle between Barnet and Aldershot Town.

Both sides, depending on Saturday's results, could start the day in the bottom two but three points would see one of the teams take a large leap towards safety.

Consistency is something difficult to come by in League 2 at the minute with only two teams winning their last two games coming into the New Year double-header.

Surprisingly, one of the sides is Barnet. After a poor start to the season, going without a win in their opening 14 games, they have regularly picked up points of late. The Bees have lost just three of their last 12 league games, helping them rise from the foot of the table to 21st.

It was a good Christmas period for Mark Robins and Edgar Davids' men as they overcame promotion-chasing Burton Albion 3-2 in their last home game and defied all the odds to defeat league leaders Gillingham 1-0 on Boxing Day.

The clean sheet at the Priestfield Stadium was one of five in their last 12 league matches, and that has been a key factor in their improved form.

The Shots, meanwhile, are 22nd, level on points with the Bees and just one goal worse off. Similarly to Barnet, Aldershot have experienced an upturn in results, which has given them a boost.

Dean Holdsworth's men started the season by winning just two and losing nine of their opening 13 league games but have gone on to lose only three of the following 11 fixtures.

The Shots and the Bees have met 13 times and the former holds the advantage with six wins to Barnet's five, and Aldershot will take confidence from their recent domination of the meeting.

A 68th-minute Craig Reid goal gave the Shots a 1-0 victory in the reverse fixture earlier in the season, which was their fifth win in the last eight meetings between the two sides.

ELSEWHERE IN THE DIVISION

Before their relegation showdown, Barnet and Aldershot are both up against sides from Devon on Saturday.

The Bees make the long trip down to Exeter City, while the Shots have a home match against 12th-placed Torquay United.

Despite sitting a number of places off the top seven, the Gulls are one of a number of sides who could move into the Play-Offs on Saturday, proving just how tight the division is.

Exeter are one of those teams, while the others are Rochdale, Northampton Town, Chesterfield and Burton Albion.

The Dale sit 13th and meet high-flying Bradford City, Northampton take on leaders Gillingham, Paul Cook's Chesterfield host Morecambe, while Burton Albion entertain Southend United.

Southend and Bradford occupy fourth and fifth respectively going into the New Year double-header, while Rotherham United and Fleetwood Town sit in the other two Play-Off places.

The pair will hope to fend off the chasing pack on Saturday. The Millers are at home to Accrington Stanley and the Cod Army host York City, in a match between the two sides who were promoted from the Blue Square Premier division last term.

The teams in the Play-Offs will also want to hold on to their positions in the first round of fixtures in 2013.

On New Year's Day, fourth-placed Southend host leaders Gillingham, Bradford visit Morecambe, while Rotherham and Fleetwood have tough away matches against Rochdale and Port Vale respectively.

Micky Adams' Vale could already be sitting top at the turn of the year as they are just two points adrift of the Gills at the summit going into Saturday's fixtures. Prior to their match against Fleetwood, the Valiants are away at Dagenham and Redbridge.

Cheltenham Town are also in the mix at the top and following their tie with Bristol Rovers on Saturday, they travel to mid-table Oxford United, who are unbeaten in five, on January 1st.

The bottom of the npower League 2 table could also look very different going into 2013.

Bristol Rovers and AFC Wimbledon currently sit in the relegation zone. As previously covered, the Pirates take on Cheltenham before a vital match against Plymouth on January 1st.

The Wombles, meanwhile, host Oxford on Saturday prior to a trip to Torquay on Tuesday.

With the npower League 2 table as tight as it is, the New Year programme looks to set to be exciting, to say the least.

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