February is soon to turn into March and those First Division clubs that are hungry for another season of disappointment in the Premiership are readying themselves for a final push for promotion. For London's representatives in this division, the automatic route appears to be well out of reach. Ipswich Town are ready to play their way to the top level, whilst Wigan Athletic are going to bulldoze through. So for Millwall, QPR and West Ham, the realistic objective has to be the play-offs, and all the beauty and madness that comes with them.
Millwall and QPR seem unwilling to grasp the nettle. Both teams have talent, but consistency is proving elusive. Of the two, the Super Hoops have the harder task of winning a shot at the big time, as they are currently eight points off the pace (but with a game in hand) and face a tough test of their credentials on Saturday, with a visit to play Joe Royle's silky Ipswich. Paul Furlong can be relied upon to put the ball in the net, but the 'goals against' column suggests that they have failed to adequately replace Clarke Carlisle, who left for Leeds last summer. Millwall have the reverse problem, possessing the third best defensive record in the league, but struggling for goals since the departure of Tim Cahill and Neil Harris. On Saturday they play Brighton away .
West Ham are absolutely desperate to get back in the Premiership, especially seeing as this is the season where they receive the last instalment of the 'parachute payment' that comes with relegation. The fear is that if they don't make it back this season, they are going to be stuck in the First for a long long time. Still, things are looking up . Pardew has avoided the sack and has taken his team back into the play-off places, Marlon Harewood is developing into a fine striker, Sheringham and Rebrov are in form and best of all, foaming-at-the-mouth nutter Steve Lomas is back to add some steel to the midfield. On Saturday, the Hammers travel north to Elland Road to play Leeds, a team with play-off hopes of their own.
In the Second, Brentford are going to have to come back down to earth after their recent cup exploits. The Bees have three games in hand on this weekend's opponents, Sheffield Wednesday, but they are now four places below the play-off places and need to maintain their recent momentum. In the Third, Orient host Darlington at the Matchday Stadium (Brisbane Road to you and I), with the ground's new stands beginning to take shape .
In the Premiership, a chastened Arsenal travel to Southampton on Saturday, hoping to recover from the mid-week capitulation to Bayern and keep up the pressure on Chelsea. Injuries and suspensions are starting to bite for the Gunners, who will be missing Edu, Bergkamp and Reyes. Charlton travel to Middlesbrough, in what is potentially an important fixture in terms of gaining entry into next season's UEFA Cup. The Addicks will be hoping that their hosts will be tired from their current European exertions, having played Graz AK only last night. There's a big game for Cyrstal Palace on Saturday, at home against Birmingham City. Palace, like their opponents, should be well-rested after two weeks off, and Dowie should have them fired up for a fixture in which they could claim some much-needed points. There is a London derby this weekend, with Fulham away at Spurs. There should be plenty of pretty football on show, but Londonist fears that it might lack purpose.
And finally, in case you'd forgotten, this season's first piece of silverware is up for grabs on Sunday, with Chelsea playing Liverpool in the League Cup Final . The two teams will be heading for Cardiff in contrasting moods, Chelsea in the realisation that their plans for world domination are no longer quite so straight forward and Liverpool quietly pleased that their might be life after Steven Gerrard after all. Mourinho and Billy Joel - lookalike Rafa Benitez will both be keen to claim their first trophy in England, but don't be surprised if José isn't dancing on the sidelines at a Chelsea win. His mind is firmly set on greater prizes.
Oh yes. Londonist has now recruited its very own football tipster, who lives in New York.....naturally. So if you're looking to fritter away your wages...I mean win some cash this weekend, look no further than our featured tip :
Crystal Palace to beat Birmingham City at 6/4, combined with a Middlesbrough / Charlton Athletic draw at 9/4, which is an 8/1 double.
But if you want to make some real money - go for Darren Clarke in the Accenture Match play at 20-1 or Lee Westwood each way (top 4) at 50-1.
All these odds can be found at Bet365 .