Friday plays host to a huge game in the Championship as leaders Southampton host second-placed Reading.
These two teams are locked on 82 points with just four games to go – although the Saints are Betfred’s
8/11 favourites to go on and claim the title with Reading priced at 11/10.
The winner of the division is sure to come from these two with all four teams below them failing to win last time out to allow the pair to pull six points clear of the chasing pack with just 12 left to play for.
Southampton have enjoyed an extra day’s preparation for this crunch fixture as they bounced back from a 2-2 draw with rivals Portsmouth on Saturday with a 2-0 win at Crystal Palace on Monday.
Meanwhile, Reading, who have snuck up on the rails to challenge for the title, followed up a 2-0 success over Leeds on Friday with a narrow 1-0 victory at Brighton on Tuesday.
Nothing will be decided by this result although the winner will be one huge step further towards automatic promotion, while the loser will be dragged closer to the chasing pack – depending on how they fare over the weekend.
The Saints have made St Mary’s a stronghold this season, losing just twice while recording 15 wins and four draws, amassing 44 goals and conceding just 15, to easily boast the best home record in the division.
With that in mind it is no surprise to see them installed as favourites in the match betting, albeit at odds against of 5/4 with Reading available at 11/5 and the draw at 23/10.
It would be folly to disregard the Royals’ chances in this fixture as they are in the middle of a fantastic run – the 3-1 defeat at Peterborough aside – and have lost just one of their last 15 matches.
Thirteen of those recent matches have been victories as well and they are charging towards the finishing line and can boast recent successes over promotion-hopefuls West Ham and Blackpool.
Brian McDermott’s men have already notched up 12 wins on the road – the joint-best record alongside West Ham – so will not be overawed by a trip to St Mary’s, particularly given their current hot streak.
There will be certainly those who see the value in another away-day success but the difference in this match could well be Saints’ hitman Rickie Lambert.
Goals have not seemingly been a problem for Southampton this season and Lambert has scored plenty – his 26 goals leads the scoring charts by some margin – with West Ham’s Ricardo Vaz Te a distant second with 17.
The 30-year-old was ‘the difference’ in Monday’s win over Palace, bagging both, and he has got to be considered in the goalscoring markets. The Saints number seven is a tempting 9/2 chance to score the first or last goal and 7/1 to score two or more, while a hat-trick is on offer at 25/1.
It looks like it could well be a tight one with so much at stake but Lambert could just be the difference-maker for Nigel Adkins’ men as they look to secure back-to-back promotions.