Rivers of emotion flow through Nottingham

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The Independent Football

Forest, backed by 6,000 fans, go to Bradford City needing to win while results go against Barnsley (at Walsall) and Swansea (at Chesterfield) if they are to reach the League One play-offs. Doncaster - away to a Tranmere outfit whose manager, Brian Little, stepped down yesterday - also retain an outside chance of prolonging their campaign.

Frank Barlow, whose caretaker managerial partnership with Ian "Charlie" McParland has transformed Forest, said that he would be "extremely disappointed" if he had to "get anyone up for this game". He added: "It might even be a case of bringing one or two of them down."

Southend are already promoted and will be champions if they beat Bristol City. If they do not, Essex rivals Colchester can take the title by winning at Yeovil. The only other side who can go up automatically are Brentford, who must defeat Bournemouth and rely on a Yeovil victory.

At the bottom of League One, Rotherham and Milton Keynes Dons collide in the knowledge that defeat would result in dropping a division. A draw would favour the Yorkshire team. Hartlepool and Blackpool are also vying to avoid the two remaining relegation places.

League Two will have an unusually high number of capacity crowds as seven clubs start the afternoon in danger of accompanying Rushden & Diamonds in the Conference. Notts, the League's oldest club, slashed ticket prices for their critical meeting with fellow stragglers Bury.

Gudjon Thordarson, manager of a Notts side that topped the table last autumn, claimed that he was "more excited than nervous", but doubtless spoke for all the teams in trouble by adding: "When you look at our position in the past few weeks, you ask yourself, 'Just what is happening?'"

What has happened is a Lazarus-like revival by the seemingly doomed Torquay under Ian Atkins, allied to the failure of Stockport, Barnet, Macclesfield, Oxford and the rest to conjure anything comparable. Oxford, who fired Atkins and are now back under Jim Smith's tutelage, are in the most parlous position with arguably the toughest game.

League Cup winners at Wembley only 20 years ago, they play Leyton Orient knowing that victory will preserve their status, but anything less could send them down. The task is complicated by the fact that Orient will be promoted with Carlisle and Northampton if they win. No wonder giant posters at Oxford's ground proclaim "Fever Pitch at the Kassam Stadium", even if they are advertising an Elton John show.

The phrase "biggest game in our history" is often used glibly, but it certainly applies for the less-than-magnificent seven. The Torquay chairman, Mike Bateson, summed up the maelstrom of emotions vividly. "My nerves are disintegrating into numbness," he said, neglecting to specify whether that represented improvement or deterioration.

Ups and downs: Closing on the finish line in the Premiership, League One and League Two


Champions and relegation: decided.

Fourth Champions' League place: Tottenham will clinch it with a win against West Ham tomorrow. If they draw, Arsenal must win at home to Wigan. If Spurs lose, then Arsenal can draw to finish fourth.


Champions: A win for Southend will make them Champions but if they lose or draw and Colchester win, then they will take the title.

Automatic promotion: Southend have already qualified for promotion. Colchester need only a point to finish second. If they lose and Brentford win, then the Bees will take the second automatic promotion place.

Play-offs: Brentford and Huddersfield guaranteed. Barnsley need a win to make certain of a play-off place, as do Swansea. If Barnsley draw, then only Swansea and Nottingham Forest can overtake them with wins. If Swansea draw, then Forest and Doncaster can reach the play-offs with wins. If Barnsley and Swansea both lose, then either Forest, Doncaster or Bristol City could qualify. And even then Bristol City would need to win by a mountain of goals.

Relegation: Walsall, Swindon relegated. A point will be enough for Blackpool to stay up, but Rotherham need a win to make sure. MK Dons and Hartlepool must get three points and hope that Blackpool and Rotherham lose, anything less and the former will be relegated.


Champions: Carlisle are virtually guaranteed to end the season as champions thanks to their superior goal difference. Only a freakish defeat and Northampton winning by a mountain of goals can deny them the title.

Automatic promotion: Northampton are promoted. Leyton Orient will clinch the remaining play-off place with a win but if they lose or draw, Grimsby could take their place.

Play-offs: Cheltenham, Wycombe. Lincoln City need a point to take the last place. However, if they lose and Peterborough or Darlington win convincingly, they will miss out.

Relegation: Rushden & Diamonds relegated. Any one of seven can be relegated. Oxford need a win to have any chance of staying up but even then Stockport, Notts County, Barnet, Torquay and Macclesfield can send them down with a win. A point for Bury will guarantee their safety.