Football League Expert & Columnist
Peter Beagrie picks out the games and players to look out for in the Football League on Boxing Day.
Last Updated: 23/12/11 11:44am
Christmas has always been an important time of year for football fans.
You always get higher attendances because people aren't at school or work (and are desperate to leave the house to avoid another plate of leftover turkey) and there's a feeling that your team's performances during this period can define your season.
Pick up a couple of wins and it's a happy Christmas, but if you're on the wrong end of the results then it can be a bleak midwinter.
All of the Boxing Day fixtures are going to be vital for all sorts of reasons, but here's my pick of the games, as well as my star turns as we reach the turn of the year...
Birmingham v West Ham (5.30pm, Boxing Day, Sky Sports HD1)
This is a massive game because weary Birmingham need to kick-start their season following a campaign punctuated by Europa League matches, while injury-ravaged West Ham have been in indifferent form of late and need to turn the heat up on table-topping Southampton. Keep an eye on 17-year-old Dan Potts, who made a brilliant debut against Barnsley. The fact he has played in the Championship just two years after recovering from leukaemia speaks volumes for the lad. Let's hope he can follow in the footsteps of his father, former Hammers skipper Steve Potts.
Middlesbrough v Hull
The budget has been slashed at the Riverside in recent seasons, but the arrival of the Middlesbrough messiah, Tony Mowbray, has seen the team climb to the giddy heights of third. They overcame one play-off rival in Cardiff last week and now face another in Hull - and another victory could see them climb into the automatic places by the turn of the year. Caretaker boss Nicky Barmby has done his job prospects no harm having won four games in a row and a win at the Riverside would see them leapfrog Boro in the table.
Coventry v Bristol City
The appointment of Derek McInnes has reinvigorated Bristol City and although their upsurge tailed off in December their supporters are in no doubt that the right man is in charge. Coventry fans will be hoping for a similar spark of inspiration for their team, who will remain glued to the bottom of the table on New Year's Day, no matter what happens. With Bristol City only just out of danger in 21st place, the Sky Blues need a win both to keep themselves in touch and to make everyone associated with the club believe that a survival mission is possible.
Peter's Christmas star: Rickie Lambert (Southampton)
Rickie Lambert has been spearheading Southampton's back-to-back promotion bid in fine style so far. He has become the Saints' latest Magnificent Seven, following on from the likes of Kevin Keegan and Matt Le Tissier and has 17 goals to his name this season to add to the bundles he scored in League One last year. This really has been an Indian Summer in the career of this 29-year-old late bloomer.
Walsall v Sheffield Wednesday
Second-placed Sheffield Wednesday will be looking to open up a gap between themselves and their city rivals Sheffield United and if last weekend is anything to go by then goals are guaranteed! Gary Megson will be frustrated to have seen his side concede an equaliser in the seventh minute of injury time in their 4-4 draw with Huddersfield and will be looking for three points at relegation-threatened Walsall.
Huddersfield v Chesterfield
I'll discuss Jordan Rhodes below, but his stunning four-goal salvo against Sheffield Wednesday has seen Lee Clark's side rebuild some momentum after their long unbeaten run came crashing to a halt with defeats against Charlton and Bournemouth. Their supporters will accept nothing less than three points at home to a side rooted to the bottom of the table, but the Spireites are still only five points off safety and a win here could see them turn their season around.
Sheffield Utd v Notts County (2pm, Tuesday, Sky Sports HD1)
You'll have to wait until the day after Boxing Day for this one, but while it might be cold outside Blades fans will be kept warm by their current hot streak. Danny Wilson's men have won six games in all competitions and are up to third in League One as they look to bounce back to the Championship at the first attempt. However, Notts County are on the cusp of the play-off picture and Martin Allen will be looking for a response after back-to-back defeats to Yeovil and Leyton Orient.
Peter's Christmas star: Jordan Rhodes (Huddersfield)
Lee Clark is hoping that Rhodes will lead to success for Huddersfield this season. This has been an amazing year for young Jordan for both club and country, including an incredible October when he scored 14 goals in a month, including back-to-back hat-tricks against Exeter and Preston. His form has seen the talent-spotters flocking to South Yorkshire to watch a player who is quick, bright and good in the air. A big move beckons if the Terriers once more miss out on promotion.
AFC Wimbledon v Oxford (12pm, Boxing Day, Sky Sports HD1)
Banish the Boxing Day blues at midday by celebrating one of 2011's best feel-good stories on Sky Sports. AFC Wimbledon's rise from the ashes into league football last May proved that romanticism still exists in modern football and Terry Brown's side initially held their own in League Two. However, they have not won in their last nine games and the manager has warned his players that they are playing for their futures against an Oxford team who are just two points off the play-offs.
Cheltenham v Shrewsbury
This game sees third against fourth and both of these sides are in the hunt for promotion this season. The Shrews have gone close year after year, but are in the top three of the league table and the form table after losing just one of their last eight league games. History is on their side ahead of the meeting, having won four and drawn two of their last six meetings, including victories on their previous three trips to Gloucestershire. However, Cheltenham are also near the top of the form charts - they've only lost once since September - and will not relinquish an automatic promotion spot without a fight.
Crawley Town v Gillingham
Newly-promoted Crawley have been flying high at the top of League Two, but face a stiff test of their promotion credentials against Gillingham, especially after a disappointing draw with Crewe last time out. The Gills will arrive full of confidence after smashing Bristol Rovers 4-1 last Saturday and have a good chance of making it into the play-offs, as long as they cope with the suspensions and injuries that inevitably pile up at this time of year.
Peter's Christmas star: Matt Tubbs (Crawley)
It has been a seamless transition from non-league football to the big time for the man with dynamite in his boots. He scored an incredible 40 goals last season, but the step-up in level has not seen those goals dry up. He has 15 goals in 25 appearances in all competitions this year and has helped pre-season favourites Crawley live up to their star billing. He's a massive part of the Red Devils squad, which is the best to ever come out of the Conference.