Crewe Alexandra v Wigan

GIVEN THAT they led the Championship by six points in early November but now trail the current front-runners Ipswich Town by five, it is hard to argue that Wigan Athletic's status as promotion favourites is as strong as ever, but the manager, Paul Jewell, is determined to keep negative thoughts out of his dressing-room.

One point only from Wigan's last two home games has set off alarm bells, but Jewell prefers to focus on the three consecutive wins that preceded the draw with Watford and last Saturday's defeat by Stoke. "You could say one point from six or 10 points from 15, depending on how you want to look at it," he said. "A couple of blips and people start to worry, but that reflects the high standards we have set. Really, to be second in the table at this stage of the season is a great position.

"People say Nathan Ellington is having a dip in form because he has not scored in three games, but over the season he has 17 from 30 games, which I'd say was pretty good going. If that is a dip, long may it continue."

None the less, Jewell has been in hot pursuit of a new striker, switching his attention to Stoke City's Adi Akinbiyi after failing, for the moment, to prise Brett Ormerod from Southampton.

But Jewell hopes the lessons learned from last season, when Wigan were edged out of a play-off spot on the last day, can help them through any crises ahead. "A lot of these players were in this division for the first time, but I think we are better equipped now," he said.

He is wary of another slip-up today, however. "We beat Crewe 4-1 at our place in October and [the Crewe manager] Dario [Gradi] said he thought it would be a dogfight between Gillingham, Rotherham, Brighton and themselves for the relegation places.

"Instead, they have had a great run and they are 12th in the table. They are always dangerous because Dario lets them play with complete freedom and on the day they can beat anyone."

Team news


Cardiff injured: Margetson, Jerome, Parry, Boland, Croft.

Doubtful: Collins (ligament strain).

Brighton suspended: Oatway.

Last season: No corresponding fixture.


Coventry injured: Morrell (ankle ligament).

Doubtful: Duffy (hamstring).

Burnley suspended: Sinclair.

Last season: 4-0 to Coventry.


Crewe injured: Jones (thigh).

Doubtful: Moses, Walker (both hamstring), Williams (hand).

Wigan doubtful: Thome (knee).

Last season: 3-2 to Wigan.


Gillingham injured: Hope (groin), Spiller (broken leg), Sidibe (Achilles).

Millwall injured: Stack (knee), Ifill (ankle), Sweeney (knee).

Last season: 4-3 to Gillingham.


Leicester injured: Wilcox, Morris, Blake.

Doubtful: Williams (hamstring).

Last season: No fixture.


Reading doubtful: Keown (knee), Sidwell (dead leg).

Last season: No fixture.


Plymouth suspended: Connolly.

Rotherham injured: McIntosh (hamstring).

Last season: No fixture.


QPR injured: Thorpe (hamstring), Culkin (knee).

Preston injured: McKenna (broken hand).

International duty: Daley (Jamaica).

Last season: No fixture.


Sunderland injured: Kyle.

Doubtful: Myhre (shoulder).

Watford injured: Gunnarsson.

Last season: 2-0 to Sunderland.


Luton Town v Hull City

SUCH HAS been the fiercely competitive nature of League One this season that it took Hull eight consecutive wins to displace Luton from top spot at the beginning of January - and it took only a draw in their next game for Peter Taylor's side to be nudged back into second place again. They meet at Kenilworth Road today with Mike Newell's team, beaten only once in their last 15 games, one point in front.

Should there be a winner this afternoon, they will be installed as clear favourites for the title, but both managers have been at pains to play down the game's importance in the long term.

"It is a massive game but let's not get carried away," Taylor said. "After this one there are another 45 points at stake for both sides." Newell added: "We have a little score to settle as Hull beat us at their place ... But nothing will be decided. It is only three points."


Rochdale v Lincoln City

THESE ARE promising times for Lincoln City, who travel to Spotland on the back of three wins in a row. The Imps are into the top seven and the club, which was in administration three years ago, has just reported a pounds 750,000 profit.

But the manager, Keith Alexander, is not afraid to reveal the cost of that financial turnaround, putting his side's bid for a third consecutive play-off spot in perspective.

"I'm working for pounds 20,000 a year less than previously and I have players on pounds 300 a week less," he said. "They feel they should be better rewarded, but I have to remind them that the alternative was to have no club at all.

"It is a very long time since the club made a profit like that, if they ever have. Our gates are up from 3,000 a couple of years ago to nearly 5,000 and the commercial department has taken off. It has been a great effort."

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