EASTER arrived with a health warning for followers of Barnsley, Doncaster Rovers and York City last season – and expect stress levels to be just as sky-high this time around.
If not moreso.
It’s the stage of the season when heart rates intensify, finger-nails are bitten down to the quick and clocks are checked with all the fastidiousness of an Olympic time-keeper.
A time when tears can be shed in anguish or delight, moreso this season with the late falling of Easter meaning that seasonal fates could unravel over the holiday weekend.
Fans of Reds, Rovers and the Minstermen will have already strapped themselves in ahead of Easter double-headers which have assumed critical importance – with the programme also a seminal one for Halifax Town.
Huddersfield Town also have urgent business to attend to if they are to prevent their mini-drama potentially lurching into a full-blown crisis, while for Rotherham United, there are also some live issues in the in-tray.
Namely play-off positioning and probably more importantly, regathering momentum after frustrating derbies against Sheffield United and Bradford City.
In comparison, supporters of Leeds United, Bradford and both Sheffield clubs can rest a touch easier and think of summer sun.
For Barnsley, negotiating an anxious April is almost becoming as much part of the club’s fabric as stalwart Norman Rimmington.
Yet it remains to be seen if the Reds faithful are still whistling a defiant Great Escape ditty ahead of their trip to Middlesbrough in their penultimate match of the season on Saturday week.
The Reds have been embroiled in some treacherous relegation waters since returning to the second tier in 2005/06, but arguably none as wild and stormy as their current predicament.
But if the Oakwell outfit could cherry-pick one side to face on home soil on Easter Saturday, you sense Leeds United would not be far off the top of their list.
Strictly speaking, it’s nothing to do Brian McDermott’s side having won just once on the road since mid-December, but everything to do with Leeds’ last three humiliating visits to Oakwell, a house of pain for the visitors.
Barnsley have won their last four home matches against their neighbours from up the M1, but none has assumed as much seismic importance as Saturday’s instalment, which has a strong whiff of win-or-bust about it.
The Reds’ Easter home fixture last season also yielded a famous result in a 2-0 success at home to Leicester, this coming two days after a derby loss at Hillsborough.
After taking on Leeds, the Reds face the toughest of trips to Derby on Easter Monday, with the high-flying Rams able to inflict a potential double headache uponSouth Yorkshire this Easter.
Before welcoming Barnsley, Steve McClaren’s side call in at another relegation-threatened side in Doncaster tomorrow evening, no doubt praying that second-placed Burnley will have slipped up in their televised tea-time Lancashire derby at lowly Blackpool to hand them the perfect incentive in the quest to accompany Leicester to the top-flight before kick-off at the Keepmoat.
In contrast, you can bank on a Clarets’ win going down rather well with Rovers and Barnsley.
Also at Huddersfield, who are looking over their shoulders after a grim nine-match winless streak at the worst possible time, mindful that a form side in Brighton arrive at Town tomorrow – before Monday’s long trip to a desperate host in Yeovil, who will have noted Town’s descent.
After Barnsley’s monumental assignment in South East London against Charlton on Tuesday, so Doncaster have a similarly huge ninety minutes not too far away at Millwall on Monday.
It’s a game that Ian Holloway probably circled in big red ink a few weeks ago when his side were almost flat out on the canvas, challenging himself and his side to be within striking distance of Rovers by April 21.
It’s all a far cry from last Easter when Rovers were preoccupied with promotion matters, having made amends from their loss at Coventry City to beat Swindon Town on Easter Monday, thanks to a goal from defender Jamie McCombe.
The quirks of fixture fate have also thrown up another choice Easter cracker, with York’s trip to Oxford United the stand-out Easter clash in League Two along with the Devon derby between Exeter and Torquay and Portsmouth’s clash at Northampton.
Easter last year was a time for resurrection in York’s quest for safety with a vital 2-0 victory over Plymouth following a hard-fought draw at Bristol Rovers.
The Minstermen’s current brief is at the other end of the table, with City able to leapfrog Oxford – who famously beat them in the Conference play-off final in 2010 – into the play-off pack with victory at the Kassam Stadium tomorrow before hosting Bury.
Just as York were successful through the Conference play-offs in 2012, so Neil Aspin’s FC Halifax Town are seeking to follow their lead in their bid to bring back league football to Calderdale for the first time since 2002
Macclesfield come to the Shay on Saturday before Neil Aspin’s side visit Southport on Monday, two games which while offering respite on paper after crunch matches against Grimsby, Barnet and Braintree, Luton and Alfreton possess a hazard warning.
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Doncaster v Derby (7.30pm): Having accounted for the likes of QPR, Leicester and Wigan at the Keepmoat Stadium, victory over another high-flier in the Rams would be timely in the extreme for Rovers after three successive losses to Birmingham, Botlon and Ipswich.
Wolves v Rotherham (3pm): After two games without a goal and win, Molineux represents the perfect place for the Millers to hit back, with spoiling the promotion party and upsetting the odds something that will be right up Steve Evans’ street in front of a bumper Molineux crowd.
Oxford v York (3pm): After last weekend’s costly last-gasp home draw to Accrington for the second year in succession, York are seeking redress. They can leapfrog the seventh-placed U’s into the play-offs if they triumph.
Barnsley v Leeds (3pm): Last year’s Oakwell win was the catalyst for the Reds’ Great Escape.Another victory would assume even more importance for the hosts, seeking their fifth straight home win over Leeds.
Millwall v Doncaster (3pm): Rovers’ away-days so far this term have yielded just two victories – at Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds – and how a first win on the road outside Yorkshire this term would arrive at the perfect moment.
Yeovil v Huddersfield (3pm): Town can not only do themselves a favour, but also Rovers and Barnsley in the process, if they sink the Glovers, beaten 5-1 in Huddersfield. Survival not revenge will be the hosts’ sole concern.