Nigel Adkins has warned his Championship-topping Southampton side that they will not have it easy against Crystal Palace tomorrow.
With 45 goals in 22 matches, Saints are the top scorers in the division but Adkins does not expect the Boxing Day fixture to yield a hatful of goals at St Mary’s.
Instead, and by way of a little festive wordplay, he made clear his expectation that it will be a tight affair.
“Crystal Palace will come full of confidence and will be a tough nut to crack - there’s a nice little Christmas pun for you - because they defend well in numbers,” he told www.sainstsfc.co.uk.
“I know from speaking to Dougie (Freedman, Palace boss) when he first took over his main concern was to stop conceding goals because they were in a relegation battle. They have come up with a way of playing that makes them very hard to beat because of the defensive way that they have set up.”
West Ham, who trail Southampton by just a point, make the trip to Birmingham, with Hammers chief Sam Allardyce looking forward to catching up with opposite number Chris Hughton.
Allardyce has been vocal in the past about his unhappiness at the way in which he lost his job at Newcastle and feels Hughton was similarly poorly treated by the Magpies.
“It will be good to see him, I am glad he got back into the game at Birmingham because of his bitter disappointment of losing his position at Newcastle, which he didn’t deserve,” he told West Ham’s official website.
“He is back and he is dealing well with difficult times. It was difficult for me to deal with the problems I had at West Ham with relegation but their problems are far greater than ours and he is doing a good job.”
Immediately below the automatic promotion places sit Middlesbrough and Hull, who meet tomorrow at the Riverside Stadium.
Boro manager Tony Mowbray is looking forward to the hotly-anticipated fixture with a sense of real excitement.
“It will be great to see a crowd of over 20,000 on Boxing Day,” Mowbray told the official Middlesbrough website. “The Riverside had 30-odd thousand for 10 years on the bounce and I usually try not to talk too much about attendances but it’s not pleasant sitting on the bench and looking at a half-empty stadium.
“I’ve said that from day one that as well as the goal of getting back to the Premier League, you take a lot of pride from seeing your stadium full.
“It means people are paying their hard-earned money to watch the team.”
The other sides in the play-off positions, Cardiff and Leeds, each face away games at Watford and Derby respectively.
Bottom club Coventry - six points adrift at the bottom and eight away from safety - face fellow strugglers Bristol City at home in a match they must take something from, second-bottom Doncaster visit Burnley and 22nd-placed Nottingham Forest welcome Peterborough.
The day’s remaining fixtures see Millwall host Portsmouth, Barnsley against Blackpool, Leicester versus Ipswich and Brighton at Reading.