Nationwide First Division: The final curtain

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Burnley v Sunderland

Burnley v Sunderland

Manager Stan Ternent will be hoping for a win in his final match in charge of Burnley - "I am pleased to have brought back some credibility, some honour and some success to one of the most famous clubs in football," he said - against Sunderland, the only side guaranteed a play-off place. A point will ensure third place, and home advantage, against the sixth-placed team in the second leg of their play-off semi-final. The Black Cats have a long injury list, including Jason McAteer and Julio Arca, but should still earn at least a point. Key player: Kevin Kyle (Sunderland)

Coventry v Crystal Palace

The new Coventry manager, Peter Reid, could scarcely have chosen a more difficult match as his first in charge. With expected demonstrations against the sacking of Eric Black off the pitch, on the pitch they face the division's form team. Palace, on a run of six wins and a draw, also have the division's joint top scorer, Andy Johnson, and need a point to be sure of a play-off place. Hard-working Palace should get it, but the Sky Blues have plenty of attacking style with which to impress their new boss, notably from Gary McSheffrey. Key player: Andy Johnson (Crystal Palace)

Crewe Alex v Norwich City

First Division champions Norwich finish their lap of honour at Crewe, whose manager, Dario Gradi, wants two new recruits to avoid a relegation scrap next season: "It is difficult for the smaller clubs with lesser gates to compete, but the challenge is to try to bridge that gap and break into that top half." The Canaries striker Iwan Roberts captains the side in his final match for the club after seven years' service. "He deserves it and hopefully this will be a fitting way for him to leave the club," manager Nigel Worthington said. Key player: Darren Huckerby (Norwich)

Ipswich Town v Cardiff City

A win will ensure Ipswich Town a play-off finish. "We can't afford to go gung-ho from the start," their captain, Jim Magilton, cautioned. "Patience is the key, for the players and the supporters." Keeping an eye on Cardiff's coveted top scorer, Robert Earnshaw, joint leading scorer in the division, is equally important. But Ipswich have an in-form striker of their own, the England Under-21 international Darren Bent, who has scored 15 goals this season. "It's a massive game," he said, "bigger than any other since I made the first team." Key player: Darren Bent (Ipswich Town)

Millwall v Bradford City

Since booking their date with Manchester United for the FA Cup final in Cardiff later this month, Millwall have been in freefall, slipping out of play-off contention in a relegation-form losing streak. The Lions player-manager, Dennis Wise, is fit again after a back injury but striker Danny Dichio is suspended, and will also miss the final. Of course, relegation is something today's opponents know all about; the Bantams have the small consolation of those Yorkshire derbies with Sheffield Wednesday, Barnsley and Doncaster. Key player: Dennis Wise (Millwall)

Preston NE v Sheffield Utd

Having spent most of the season in the top six, Sheffield United ran out of steam, and fit players, in the run-in and now need a win at Deepdale, and other results to go their way, for an extended season. The Blades have wobbled since the sale of midfielder Michael Brown to Spurs, but Michael Tonge has been a positive force in that area. "Football can throw up silly results on the last day of the season," manager Neil Warnock said. "But we have got to win our game first." Preston have been patchy this season, but Ricardo Fuller remains a threat. Key player: Michael Tonge (Sheffield Utd)

Stoke City v Gillingham

Such was the bitterness surrounding Stoke City manager Tony Pulis's dismissal from Gillingham in 1999 that this match would have grudge stamped on it even if there was nothing to play for. As it is, if the Gills lose and Walsall beat Rotherham, the Kent side will go down. "I'm just being professional, there's nothing personal about it," Pulis said. Last week's 5-2 home defeat by Coventry showed Gillingham's unease; the Potters' 4-1 win over promoted West Brom last Tuesday night illustrated their appetite and current form. Key player: Gifton Noel-Williams (Stoke)

Walsall v Rotherham

Paul Merson, the Walsall player-manager, was involved in many must-win matches for former club Arsenal, but they usually entailed the winning of leagues and cups. This must-win has a different kind of pressure altogether. Lose or draw and the Saddlers are relegated, but win, and if Gillingham lose at Stoke, they stay up. If Gillingham draw, Walsall will need to win by three goals to stay up. "Experience is my biggest credential for being a manager," a calm Merson said. "The most important thing has been to keep the lads' heads up." Key player: Paul Merson (Walsall)

Watford v Reading

The longest shot for a play-off place, Reading require a win and defeats for Ipswich, Wigan and Sheffield United to finish sixth. As such, a strike force of Shaun Goater and Dave Kitson is useful, if not terrorising, while a minus goal difference does not encourage optimism. "The only thing that we can control and govern is our own performance," Steve Coppell, the Reading manager, said. "We need to win." The Hornets are safe and lost heavily at West Ham last Saturday. Another spanking is not out of the question. Key player: Shaun Goater (Reading)

West Brom v Nottm Forest

Promoted West Brom are quite possibly mentally on holiday but a Midlands derby, not to mention a place in Gary Megson's Premiership plans, should engage their interest. For Forest, it could be a final match for either coveted defender Michael Dawson or Irish international midfielder Andy Reid, although manager Joe Kinnear would not be keen to sell. "There are not too many players here who I have not formed an opinion on," Kinnear said. "I want to get next season's squad finalised ASAP. I am also looking to bring in new faces." Key player: Andy Reid (Nottm Forest)

Wigan Athletic v West Ham Utd

A goal difference of plus 22 means West Ham must avoid a four-goal defeat to make the play-offs. Indeed, if the Hammers win and Sunderland lose they could finish third. Wigan must win to have a chance of slipping into the play-offs; they will hope that Ipswich or Crystal Palace slip up. "Stranger things have happened than us sneaking back into the play-off positions on the last day of the season," Paul Jewell, the Wigan manager, said. "We will just focus on the one thing we can control, and that is getting the result that we need." Key player: Nathan Ellington (Wigan)

Wimbledon v Derby County

Wimbledon prepare for life in the Second Division hoping that no more of their young stars will be sold - defender Mark Williams is the latest to be eyed jealously. "Mark will be offered a new contract," Stuart Murdoch, the Dons manager, said. "We want to build a team around him in the Second Division." With three wins and a draw in their last five matches, Derby County escaped a similar fate to the Dons, and manager George Burley can now rebuild, but he may not learn a great deal from a match with little in it bar pride. Key player: Paul Peschisolido (Derby)

Comments