Five weekend fixtures to look forward to

Gary Hooper  and the Owls produced one of the stories of the weekend last week, can they repeat the trick this Saturday?
Gary Hooper and the Owls produced one of the stories of the weekend last week, can they repeat the trick this Saturday?
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LET’S face it, the less said about last weekend’s Yorkshire football action, the better...Just when everyone was feeling a little bit more chirpier after the end of comfortably the most loathed month on the calendar in January, then another dose of the blues arrives.

For the record, last Saturday saw the Broad Acres’ West Yorkshire contingent of Leeds United, Huddersfield Town and Bradford City all lose.

Pain in the east and north riding saw Middlesbrough, Hull and York City suffer defeats, while in South Yorkshire, there were tough losses for Rotherham United and Sheffield United - although at least the gloom was partially lifted by wins for Sheffield Wednesday and a resurgent Barnsley.

So onto this weekend, it must get better surely, with the action headlined by a big South Yorkshire derby between Doncaster Rovers and the Blades. Another White Rose engagement sees Leeds host faltering Boro, but we have to wait for Monday for that one.

Here’s five weekend crackers.

1: Doncaster Rovers v Sheffield United. Three points would simply be massive for both.

The smart money is on a tense occasion at the Keepmoat, with both sides not exactly cracking any pots heading into it.

Rovers are five games without a win on home soil - in a worrying rewind to previous seasons - and need to stop a potential rot occurring, with the club are heading into the game on the back of a five-match winless streak in all competitions. With players coming back to fitness and the ‘edge’ of a big derby crowd, perhaps the game is not too bad a thing for Darren Ferguson’s side - although the Scot must watch developments from the stands, having been handed a one-match touchline ban.

For the Blades, the stakes are just as high, if not higher. Their campaign has been the embodiment of stop-start, with Unitedites getting seriously restless at another deeply agonising season, lest we forget it’s their fifth at this level.

The Blades got a big derby win over Bradford at Christmas and desperately need another to get themselves going again in front of a travelling contingent who will not be sparing if things don’t go well at the Keepmoat.

A bad defeat would increase the pressure on Nigel Adkins, currently the longest serving manager in South Yorkshire, despite only arriving at the club in June.

2: Blackburn Rovers v Hull City. The Tigers need to press on regardless.

Hull’s best result of the past week arrived on Tuesday when automatic promotion rivals Middlesbrough had to settle for a point in their game with struggling MK Dons, which assuaged matters slightly after last weekend’s narrow loss at fellow high-fliers Burnley.

The Tigers, by and large, have been the epitome of consistency this season and have lost back to back league games just once - in December when they tumbled to Leeds and Rotherham.

That sort of consistency smacks of bonafide promotion contenders and they need to get back on the horse after that Turf Moor loss just down the road at Ewood Park - to put them in the perfect place ahead of Tuesday’s home game with Brighton.

Steve Bruce’s men have proved up for the challenge on previous occasions this term, let’s hope they cut the mustard again.

3: Sheffield Wednesday v Brentford. More of the same, please.

The Owls’ home transformation this season has been epic, with Carlos Carvalhal’s men unbeaten since way back on August 29. It is proving the bedrock of their promotion push.

Their remaining home games read Brentford, QPR, Rotherham, Charlton, Blackburn, Ipswich, MK Dons, Cardiff. With all due respect to those teams, collectively it does not look the most exacting run and presents a huge opportunity for some points gathering to put heavy-duty pressure on the top three.

On the back of a huge win amid adversity at Birmingham, the Owls also have the perfect platform to kick on in the run home, with anything still yet possible with spirits likely to be sky-high. It is the sort of expectation Owls players should crave and relish. Starting against Brentford.

4: Rotherham United v Birmingham City. Can the Millers repair some of the damage following two desperate losses.

Sixteen matches to go and 48 points to play for was Tony Stewart’s cry this week. But some games are bigger than others, as Saturday’s encounter with the Blues very much is the Millers, who start off life without Neil Redfearn under his short-term successor Neil Warnock.

It’s a huge character test for the Millers, who have criminally passed up two massive opportunities to put some daylight between themselves and the drop zone after damaging losses to Bolton and Charlton, which have cost Redfearn his job and unceremoniously dumped them into the bottom three.

The Blues game marks the start of a seriously tough looking run of games which sees United take on the likes of Burnley, Sheffield Wednesday, Boro and Derby. They need a bonus ball or two from somewhere, just like the one that they got in a priceless and morale-boosting 2-0 win at St Andrews on September 26, in what proved to be Steve Evans’s final game in charge.

They need another milestone win in double-quick time.

5: Nottingham Forest v Huddersfield Town. Town must cut out the mistakes and slackness and get back to basics.

David Wagner’s reign, the vast majority of it, has been overwhelming positive with Town supporters buying into his footballing philosophy which has left them thoroughly enthused, quite rightly so.

Rome was, most certainly, not built in a day though with Town still attempting to get back on an even keel after a punishing 5-2 FA Cup replay loss at Reading last month, when they spurned a 2-0 lead after Jon Hogg was dismissed.

They head to in-form Forest at the City Ground on the back of a four-match losing streak, with the mental scars of the cup reverse at the Madejski perhaps still lingering.

Some concentration and aptitude at the back - and across the pitch for that matter - is required. Put plainly, Town need to tighten up, 12 goals conceded in their past four games is a worry.