Football League Expert & Columnist
Easter in the Championship: Blackpool face tough task against top-flight hopefuls Burnley
First goal will be crucial as promoted Leicester entertain QPR
Last Updated: 18/04/14 7:42am
After going 21 home games unbeaten, back-to-back defeats at Turf Moor have left Burnley needing five points from four games to secure promotion back to the Premier League. Absent from the top flight since their relegation in 2010, Burnley's team sheet has a more familiar look to it with all their star performers, barring 21-goal star striker Sam Vokes, back from injury. Marauding full-back Mr Assist Kieran Tripper has been missed, while 25-goal Danny Ings' return is a timely boost for the Clarets' automatic promotion chances and I cannot see them failing to capture the coveted second spot they have worked so hard to attain, despite Derby's return to form.
Blackpool's task, even with home advantage, is sizeable, with their current form alarmingly poor following eight losses in 11 and three in a row. That does not make good reading for a side with a tough run-in and they will be hoping that the two-point advantage over 22nd-placed Millwall does not decrease. The Tangerines have fifth-placed Wigan and seventh-placed Brighton to come after Burnley, leaving a potentially-vital home game against Charlton, so Blackpool fans will he hoping for a Championship future-saving finish to a horrendous season which has left them wondering where all the money has gone and when the good times will return. One thing's for sure: they deserve better.
Doncaster v Derby - 7.15pm, Good Friday, Sky Sports 1
Doncaster can thank their lucky stars for a six-game run between March 8 and 29 which saw them win four, draw one and lose only to high-flying Burnley, as three defeats on the bounce has brought them crashing back down to earth with a bump and just three points off the dreaded relegation zone. Ironically, one of their best away performances, against Ipswich last time out, brought no points but gave plenty of encouragement to Paul Dickov's side and after Derby they face Millwall on Monday followed by games with Reading and Leicester.
Donny fans know a win over County is unlikely, having lost the corresponding fixture 3-1 earlier in the season, making Millwall a genuine six-pointer. Derby have awoken from their slumber after looking physically and mentally drained and somehow been re-energised, scoring six goals in their last two wins versus Blackpool and Huddersfield. Donny's rearguard is in for a very stern test.
Leicester v QPR - 12pm, Saturday, Sky Sports 1
Leicester's promotion champagne has been drunk, copious amounts of it judging by the Foxes' performance against Brighton, a very humbling and sobering 4-1 reversal. The title champagne remains on ice but Nigel Pearson's terrific team are only delaying the inevitable and I'm sure they will want to repay their faithful and return to their imperious home form. Strength, pace, work ethic and organisation are traits this team has displayed consistently and we have seen a greater tempo, creativity and artistry this term, which has seen them outscore everyone in the Championship. City have scored first on 27 occasions, winning 23 of those games and losing only once, so I will get a medal for stating the obvious by saying the first goal is vital if QPR are to take anything from this fixture.
A 5-2 home win over out-of-sorts Nottingham Forest left Rangers 10 points off second place and nine clear of seventh-placed Brighton but more importantly ended a three-game sequence without a win. It is now all about reaching the play-offs in good form by gaining momentum in these final four games. QPR goal machine Charlie Austin's return from injury and Junior Hoilett's return to form are a welcome bonus for Harry Redknapp, but it is mercurial midfielder Ravel Morrison who has provided the recent moments of magic for the pre-season promotion favourites. Hampered by injuries and expectation, Rangers have failed like many others have in the past by not claiming an automatic return to the Premier League but you would be foolish to rule them out in the play-offs as they possess similar strengths and have experienced similar problems to the West Ham side that beat Blackpool in the 2012 Play-Off Final. The Hammers were the last team to earn an instantaneous return to the top flight after dropping out if it and just the 16th out of 61 teams to achieve that feat since the Premier League started in 1992.
Leeds v Nottingham Forest - 5pm, Monday, Sky Sports 1
Two big clubs who have been hugely disappointing recently - and seen off-field madness and mayhem grabbing more headlines than their performances on the field - collide on Easter Monday. Boardroom turmoil has definitely impacted Leeds, though how much is hard to quantify, so they can be thankful for Ross McCormack, for without his 21 goals they could be several points closer to the relegation fight. Jimmy Kebe and Cameron Stewart have so far failed in their bid to add the pace, width and flair that was missing from the Elland Road faithful but a summer of major rebuilding looks possible with Massimo Cellino completing his takeover. Forest's fall from both grace and the play-off race has been as spectacular as Leeds' ability to self-implode.
On February 11 they were fifth and five points off an automatic promotion place, now they are 11th and 24 points off second place, as well as five off the play-offs. They are hoping for the minor miracle of five other teams collapsing and suffice to say it is not going to happen, so it's a case of self-pride and halting a 12-game winless run before ex-captain and club legend Stuart Pearce takes over in the summer. Stuart will inherit a very good squad, featuring an excellent young goalkeeper in Karl Darlow, a solid first-choice defence and a fluid midfield, but he will need a 20-goal striker if he is going to further his beloved Forest's cause. It has been a case of so near, yet so far for Forest since their return to the Championship and in three of the last four years they have finished in the top eight. Last term they slipped from fifth to eighth after winning one of their final eight games so Pearce, who is so mentally strong, could be the one to transform the club. It will be an interesting pre-season and hopefully it is he, not the owner, that decides who to bring in and play.