Derby duo set sights on Blades ahead of promotion showdown

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THE three Yorkshire managers hoping to prevail in the League One promotion race agree that Easter will be important but not decisive this season.

Charlton Athletic lead the way in the third tier and are six points clear of the field but with Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield Town all harbouring serious hopes of claiming a place in the top two the race seems destined to go down to the wire.

Danny Wilson’s Blades have the advantage going into the final half-dozen games thanks to a two-point advantage over the Owls, who, in turn, are three points ahead of Town.

The undoubted game of the day in not only Yorkshire but in the third tier today is Huddersfield’s lunchtime encounter with Wednesday and Terriers manager Simon Grayson knows victory for his side in front of the Sky cameras would be a massive boost for his side’s hopes of claiming second place.

He said: “The result against Wednesday won’t determine the rest of the season but it will be quite significant.

“We can’t afford to lose as that would mean Sheffield Wednesday being six points ahead with five games to go.

“Easter will go a long way towards deciding what could happen with the rest of the season.”

A bumper crowd is expected at the Galpharm today as Town go in search of a win that would be enough to leapfrog Wednesday in the table on goal difference and, Grayson hopes, put doubt in the minds of the Blades players ahead of their home encounter with Bournemouth.

He said: “If we win at lunchtime, hopefully that can put pressure on the others. There is pressure on the teams above us anyway because it is theirs to lose.

“We can’t get automatic promotion if they win all their games. But if we win ours and they slip up then we have a chance.”

Jordan Rhodes will today be looking to add to his 36-goal tally, a club record, against a club who employ his father Andy as goalkeeping coach.

The deadly striker notched his fifth hat-trick of the season in the midweek win over Leyton Orient, though only after referee James Limmington confirmed the first goal was scored by Rhodes and not, as reported, by O’s defender Jimmy Smith.

Grayson said: “Jordan claimed the ball and got the lads to sign it. So, his mind was made up on Tuesday night.

“But it is nice for him to get the hat-trick officially. I knew all about him from before I came to the club. I didn’t get to watch him too much in the flesh, there was no point because he was out of my price range (at Leeds).

“But Jordan is certainly a player who catches the eye. He makes everything seem so natural and he is a fantastic kid who wants to get better.”

Wednesday make the short trip to West Yorkshire in fine form with the five games since Dave Jones succeeded Gary Megson having yielded 13 points.

After today’s derby, the Owls host Oldham Athletic on Monday – meaning two wins will be enough to leapfrog Steel City rivals United, who do not play their second game of the Easter break until Tuesday when they travel to Rochdale.

Asked if playing the next two games before the Blades kick-off could be an advantage or hindrance, Jones – League One manager of the month for March – said: “All we can do is win football matches, it is up to the other teams to do what they do.

“I can ask as many questions of everybody but my focus is with these players, what they can do, what they’re trying to achieve.

“Whether winning football matches puts pressure on others? Fine. You can apply a little bit of pressure but then Danny (Wilson) would be upset with his players if they didn’t respond anyway, regardless of what our result will be.”

On the promotion race, Jones added: “I think it comes clearer every game you play. It won’t be decided on Saturday or Monday, but it will go a long way as every result does.

“We are really down to the last bit now and we have got to keep our foot to the floor.”

United, meanwhile, host Bournemouth today at 3pm and manager Wilson admits to relishing this time of year as the promotion and relegation battles step up a gear.

The Blades chief said: “It is coming to a great part of the season and I believe it is a shoot-out now between the top four teams for the two automatic promotion places.

“I am happy with that. People talk about pressure but we shall relish the challenge and embrace it. I am excited about going into the final six games of the season.

“Easter will be a pivotal time but it won’t decide anything. All it will mean is that we shall either be closer to our ambition of going straight back into the Championship or we will be further away.

“After these two games, there will still be 12 points for us to play for. I have said all along it will go down to the wire and I still believe that will be the case.

“At this stage of the season, it is intense for the teams who are challenging, not only at the top of the table but also fighting for survival at the bottom.

“That is not a worry for me. Easter is a chance for teams to get points on the board very quickly but I have said all along that our most important game of the season is the next one and our next one is at home to Bournemouth. If we win it, we can look forward to the game on Tuesday with that little bit of extra zest.”

United go into today’s game on the back of a six-game unbeaten run and Wilson added: “There is a steely determination about the players here. We will not be satisfied with the play-offs, we want more than that and we know that despite being very consistent all season we have not done anything yet. We are very focused and we know exactly what we have got to do. Having said that, the rest of the top four will also think they have got a great chance of going up automatically.

“We certainly feel we have.”

richard.sutcliffe@ypn.co.uk