Easter derbies will add spice to play-offs race

Bradford City and Doncaster Rovers, represented here by Andrew Davies and Nathan Tyson respectively, meet again on Good Friday (Picture: Bruce Rollinson).
Bradford City and Doncaster Rovers, represented here by Andrew Davies and Nathan Tyson respectively, meet again on Good Friday (Picture: Bruce Rollinson).
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EVEN before a quite remarkable nine days which saw a trio of Yorkshire’s League One sides suddenly discover the winning habit to devastating effect, Easter always had the potential to be an important time.

Now, though, the holiday period could well prove pivotal to the hopes of the county being able to celebrate a promotion or two from the third tier come the end of the season.

The fun will begin with Doncaster Rovers taking on Bradford City at the Keepmoat on Good Friday night.

Less than 24 hours later, Sheffield United, who like Rovers and City have won three in a row going into this weekend’s round of fixtures, will travel to Barnsley before the Blades then host Doncaster on Easter Tuesday.

As if this was not enough for those who cherish derby football with plenty resting on the result, the Blades are also due to host Bradford on Saturday April 18. This fixture, however, will have to be moved if Phil Parkinson’s men are involved in the FA Cup semi-final.

Plenty, therefore, to savour as three of our clubs prepare to do battle in a promotion race for the first time in more than a decade.

“The promotion picture is shaping up,” said Parkinson, fresh from guiding his Bantams side into the last eight of the 
FA Cup.

“Two or three wins at this stage can make an awful lot of difference.

“Just look at Doncaster Rovers. A couple of weeks ago, no one seemed to be talking about them as being part of the play-off picture, but they are now after a great run.

“From our point of view, though, we can’t look too closely at others. We have just got to keep our own run going. If we do that, everything else can look after itself.”

Doncaster have, indeed, been the big movers of late. At Christmas, Paul Dickov’s men were 16th in the table and just six points clear of the bottom four.

Even ahead of travelling to Crawley on February 10, they were still in the bottom half of the table.

Now, however, after a three-game winning run which begun with the 5-0 thrashing of Crawley, Rovers occupy a play-off place.

It is a remarkable turnaround in fortunes and one Dickov, whose preparations had to be ripped up in pre-season when a planned takeover by John Ryan collapsed, wants to see continue.

He said: “The challenge is to stay in there (the top six) now. In recent weeks, we have been on the periphery of it.

“I have said all along it doesn’t matter whether you are in the top six or within touching distance of it, it means nothing at the moment.

“What we have got is a team, and a squad, playing with a lot of belief, confidence and togetherness.”

Rovers will need those qualities in abundance if they are to stay the pace. So, too, Bradford and the Blades in a division where Doncaster in sixth are separated from Crewe Alexandra in 18th by just seven points.

The small margin for error is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that had Crewe scored a stoppage time winner on Tuesday at the Keepmoat rather than conceding one then the Railwaymen would be just a point behind Rovers.

With that in mind, those Easter derby fixtures plus Bradford’s trip to Bramall Lane may well decide whether or not the White Rose will be blooming come the end of the League One season.

Mark Lawn, Bradford’s joint chairman, certainly believes the presence of not only his own club in the play-off picture but also the Blades and Rovers makes the task that bit harder for all of them.

“Fans do enjoy derby games and if you can get one over a rival in a promotion race then all the better,” said the lifelong Bantams fan. “But I always believe it can make things harder when there are a few teams from Yorkshire involved.

“Derby games are the sort where form goes out the window and we have seen that over and over again down the years. Teams can sometimes try that bit harder against a local rival and that can make a difference.

“Certainly, there will be an extra edge to when we take on each other if all three teams are still in the promotion race.”

The most keenly-fought promotion race between neighbours in recent years was, of course, the Steel City head-to-head that saw Wednesday prevail in 2012.

Going further back, Doncaster, Hull City and Huddersfield Town all won promotion from the basement division in 2004.

“There have been a few times we have been up against Yorkshire clubs in a promotion race,” said Lawn. “I remember us and Sheffield United in the old Fourth Division days.

“We both went up (in 1981-82) and there were some great games. It was the same when we used to face Doncaster. I remember Stuart McCall and Ian Snodin having some real battles in midfield.

“That is what I mean when I say it can be harder when there are a few local rivals involved.”