Danny Higginbotham believes the Easter fixtures “will go a long way” in deciding the automatic promotion battle between Leeds United and Sheffield United.
While the Blades face Nottingham Forest this lunchtime and Hull City – managed by former Blade Nigel Adkins – on Monday, Leeds face Wigan Athletic and Brentford.
With just four games remaining, three points separate second-placed Leeds and the Blades, and Higginbotham – a former Blades player and now a Sky television pundit – expects the promotion picture to become clearer after this weekend.
“These next two games over Easter, Friday and Monday, will go a long way to deciding what happens in the Championship,” said Higginbotham, 40.
“So much can happen in those two games, and in such a short space of time.
“I did tip Sheffield United a couple of games ago, I fancied them to do it and it’s still going to be a very close call. But I think the injuries for Sheffield United could very well take their toll.”
The Blades will be without key duo Billy Sharp and Chris Basham for the Easter fixtures, after both picked up hamstring injuries in the 1-1 draw with Millwall last weekend, while John Egan serves a one-match ban.
Leeds extended their advantage after beating Sheffield Wednesday 1-0, but Higginbotham said: “Leeds United have got the advantage, they won at the weekend, and Sheffield United were pegged back in the last minute. But it’s not just the result, you have to look at what happened to the players. Billy Sharp has done his hamstring and will be out. He’s not only Sheffield United’s top goal-scorer, he is their talisman, he has been phenomenal for them this season.
“Chris Basham also got injured and he has arguably been Sheffield United’s most improved player – outstanding.”
After Wigan and Brentford, Leeds face in-form Aston Villa, before a trip to relegated Ipswich Town on the final day of the season.
The Blades play the Tractor Boys at Bramall Lane in their penultimate game, before concluding the regular season with a trip to Stoke City.
“If you look at the run-in, you would look at Sheffield United’s games and say that is arguably more favourable than Leeds’s,” said Higginbotham, whose clubs included Manchester United, Stoke and Southampton.
“Leeds have got Wigan at home – they don’t travel well – but then they go to Brentford, who, on form, are a match for anybody, then they play the in-form team at home in Aston Villa. Then Ipswich away on the last day of the season.
“The Leeds-Villa game could be absolutely pivotal, but we will know a lot more after Easter. It’s going to be fascinating and it could well go down to the last game of the season.
“It’s unbelievable. The Championship is brilliant, it’s so competitive.”
Higginbotham arrived at Bramall Lane in January, 2013, in the twilight of his career, after battling back from a serious knee injury at Stoke.
But despite spending just eight months in the Steel City, with United in League One, Higginbotham could see the obvious potential at the Lane.
“When I went there it was a fantastic football club,” he said. “The club was in League One, and a club of that size should not be in that division. You could see the potential was there. It would be great to see them in the Premier League.”