YORKSHIRE’S bid for either Premier League survival or promotion to the promised land may be on hold this weekend due to the international break, but there is still plenty at stake for the county.
Sheffield United and Doncaster Rovers, leaders of Leagues One and Two respectively for the vast majority of the year so far, are tantalisingly close to sealing successes that have long seemed in the offing.
Darren Ferguson’s Rovers, in action tomorrow at home to Plymouth Argyle in a mouthwatering first v second televised showdown, need just eight points to book a return to the third tier at the first time of asking.
The Blades, meanwhile, are a little further off sealing promotion, but victory today at Oldham Athletic followed by another three points at home to Millwall on Tuesday night would surely mean entering April with the champagne on ice at Bramall Lane.
Bradford City complete the trio of White Rose sides in action this weekend with a televised trip to Scunthorpe United and manager Stuart McCall admits his side would love to make it a hat-trick of successes for the county in the lower leagues.
“There have been tough times for the region down the years with teams trying to avoid relegation,” said McCall, who will be at Bury on a scouting mission for the visit of Fleetwood Town today.
We are doing everything we can to achieve that success, though we have to take it game by game and not get carried away.Bradford City manager, Stuart McCall.
“Everyone focuses on their own club, of course they do. And we certainly are here.
“But you can’t miss how well Yorkshire football is doing at the moment.
“Leeds, Huddersfield and Sheffield Wednesday are all going for promotion in the Championship and Barnsley have had a decent season.
“At our level, Sheffield United look to be going up as champions and Doncaster are flying as well. For the region, it is great and we do want to play our part.
“We are doing everything we can to achieve that success, though we have to take it game by game and not get carried away.”
City are sitting fourth in League One, six points adrift of Bolton Wanderers in second place and six clear of Millwall in seventh.
From the standing start that was made last summer following Phil Parkinson’s exit, along with all his coaching staff, McCall deserves huge credit for steering the Bantams to within touching distance of a second tilt at the League One play-offs.
As impressive as that feat is, however, the stellar seasons being enjoyed by Sheffield United and Doncaster are likely to make Chris Wilder and Ferguson the leading candidates when the managerial gongs are handed out in May.
Both men have turned things around in spectacular fashion since last summer, the Blades having been in something of a stupor before Wilder’s arrival and Rovers newly relegated to the basement division.
Very different tests await the two respective managers this weekend, as the Blades take on relegation-threatened Oldham and Rovers host the only side capable of preventing the title coming to the Keepmoat.
“The main trophy we are after is to win the league,” said Ferguson, ahead of the televised encounter with the Pilgrims. “That is how I look at it and always have done.
“We are fully focused on winning the league if we can and claiming promotion. But we want to win the league.”
As for United, today’s opponents may be deep in relegation trouble, but the scrapping side of the leaders’ character is likely to be needed.
Not only are the Latics much improved since John Sheridan’s arrival in January, but the pudding-like nature of the Boundary Park pitch means most games there descend into a war of attrition.
Just 30 goals have been scored in 19 league games at Oldham this term and the home side’s goals-against column of 16 is bettered by only the Blades (14) and Millwall (13).
The playing surface has undoubtedly been a factor, but Wilder is adamant his players will not be able to use that as an excuse in today’s clash.
“I think teams go there beaten before they even turn up,” said the Blades’ manager. “That is the attitude of a lot of teams that Oldham have turned over.
“I have never complained about anyone’s state of pitch, formation or tactics. These are challenges we have to overcome.
“This is football, we won’t be found wanting in terms of attitude. We would never use the pitch as an excuse. It is an opportunity to get three more points.”
Previews: Pages 2-4