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1 min: And the game at Upton Park starts 35 seconds later.

1 min: They've kicked off at St Mary's!

12.29pm: Philippa Booth wants to know which of the big games she should watch. For me, Southampton without a doubt. Should be a big party, and certain to be relevant. Neither will probably be true of West Ham's match. Coventry have a 17-year-old debutant at centre-half.

12.26pm: At St Mary's and at Upton Park the players are in the tunnel. It's happening.

12.25pm: If fans' body language is anything to go by, it's all decided – it looks like the party's already begun at Southampton, while Upton Park seems to be preparing for a wake.

12.12pm: I don't see much cause for optimism for West Ham, really. Southampton might not be in brilliant form, but they're still pretty good, and Coventry are pretty bad. Any nervous Saints fans out there?

The key promotion-chasing line-ups, then:

Southampton: Davis, Butterfield, Fonte, Hooiveld, Fox, Guly, Schneiderlin, Hammond, Lallana, Sharp, Lambert. Subs: Bialkowski, Harding, Cork, De Ridder, Puncheon.
Coventry: Murphy, Hussey, Willis, Cranie, Clarke, Baker, Bigirimana, Norwood, Thomas, McSheffrey, McDonald. Subs: Platt, Dunn, Jeffers, Roberts, Henderson.
Referee: A Taylor (Lancashire).

West Ham: Green, Demel, Reid, Tomkins, Taylor, O'Neil, Noble,
Nolan, Lansbury, Cole, Vaz Te. Subs: McCartney, Baldock,
Maynard, Collison, Faubert.
Hull: Mannone, Rosenior, Chester, Cooper, Dawson, Cairney,
McKenna, Evans, Garcia, Fryatt, King. Subs: Oxley, Stewart,
Brady, Bradley, Cullen.
Referee: Nigel Miller (Durham).

Hello world! So, no beating about the bush: let's get things straight.

The fixtures

Barnsley v Brighton
Birmingham v Reading
Burnley v Bristol City
Crystal Palace v Cardiff
Derby v Peterborough
Doncaster v Ipswich
Leeds United v Leicester
Millwall v Blackpool
Nottm Forest v Portsmouth
Southampton v Coventry
Watford v Middlesbrough
West Ham v Hull


Reading are promoted as champions. Southampton, who face already-relegated Coventry at home, will take the second automatic promotion spot if they win, or if they equal West Ham's result. West Ham, who host Hull, will steal second place off them if they win and Southampton lose, or if they win by four goals and Southampton draw.

Where it might get complicated

If West Ham win 3-0 and Southampton draw 1-1, both teams will be on 86 points. Both will have a goal difference of +35. Both will have scored 82 goals, and conceded 47. So what would separate the clubs next, I hear you ask? Well, this is what the Football League's regulations state:

If two or more Clubs have the same number of points, goal difference and goals scored the highest placed Club shall be determined by the respective League records against each other, taking into account in order of precedence, points gained, goal difference and goals scored

Right then. Well, the last time the teams met, in February, they drew 1-1. But when they met at St Mary's in October Southampton won 1-0. If Mark Noble's deflected cross that night had hit the back of the net rather than the post (and Southampton had made up those two dropped points with draws elsewhere), then the teams could conceivably be heading for a promotion play-off (an outcome considered so unlikely the Football League haven't got round to thinking about how they'd organise it, stating the teams would face "a deciding League Match or Matches"). And the losers of that promotion play-off would go into the promotion play-offs.

This sounds like a lot of fun to me, but sadly it can't happen. Booooooooooo!

The play-offs

Whichever out of West Ham or Southampton misses out on second place will be joined in the play-offs by Blackpool and Birmingham City*. Cardiff will take the final place if they beat Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. With a goal difference better by 10 than the only team who might catch them, and having scored 13 more goals, a draw will almost certainly be good enough too. But if they lose, and Middlesbrough win at Watford, Cardiff will be overtaken. Of course Cardiff's manager, Malky Mackay, walked out on Watford last summer to take up the post, though I wouldn't have thought that the Hornets are so overcome by lingering resentment that they will submit themselves to a 11-goal thrashing just to annoy him.

* Strictly speaking Birmingham could miss out, but there would have to be a 25-goal final-day swing between them and Middlesbrough, and Cardiff would have to get at least a point as well. You'd have to be a pretty darned pessimistic Bluenose to consider that a possibility.


Nothing to play for here: Doncaster, Coventry and Portsmouth have already been relegated. Doncaster will finish 24th. The other two are stuck together on 40 points, with Portsmouth holding a comfortable but ultimately totally irrelevant goal-difference advantage.

The odds

Southampton are strongly favoured, with odds ranging between 10-1 on and 25-1 on against them going up. West Ham are typically about 6/4. Cardiff are 12-1 on to take the last play-off space, Middlesbrough 6-1.

Coming up?

Charlton have already sealed their spot in next year's Championship, as winners of League One. They will be joined by a team from Sheffield, though precisely which we won't know until later. Sheffield Wednesday need to win their 3pm kick-off at Brentford and hope that United drop points at home to Stevenage, which starts at 5.20pm. Simple as that.

There's more reading with this week's Football League Weekender, if you fancy. Read More

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