Mike Holden on the EFL: Warnock can put City on the brink

Cardiff boss Neil Warnock
Neil Warnock can take a big step towards an eighth promotion at Pride Park
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The promotion picture is simple for Cardiff. They need two wins from three matches and should be trusted to seize a wonderful opportunity against an out-of-sorts Derby...

"Now that the dust has settled on those high jinks at the weekend and there's no heavy emotional gauntlet to respond to, the picture has cleared up quite nicely for the Bluebirds. They need two wins from three matches, which leaves them enough margin for error to approach this game in a fairly relaxed manner."

Big opportunity knocks for Bluebirds

Derby v Cardiff
Championship, Tuesday 19:45

Cardiff held their nerve in response to Fulham's big statement win at Millwall on Friday night, scoring twice to edge out Nottingham Forest in front of the television cameras 24 hours later and there's decent value in the [2.70] available on them taking a big step towards promotion with maximum points at Pride Park.

Now that the dust has settled on those high jinks at the weekend and there's no heavy emotional gauntlet to respond to, the picture has cleared up quite nicely for the Bluebirds. They need two wins from three matches, which leaves them enough margin for error to approach this game in a fairly relaxed manner.

Where to put your focus is often the difficult thing in these scenarios but Neil Warnock has been around the block many times and generally knows the best message to deliver in any given scenario. He might be mixing metaphors when saying that Fulham want to swat Cardiff away like a rash, but it's a brilliant way of keeping up the underdog narrative, when you stand on the brink of going four points clear with two games remaining.

There's also the small matter surrounding the original postponement of this fixture, that caused much consternation in the Welsh capital. Derby had injuries at the time and Warnock made a big deal of it, so one assumes he will be using that to create an 'us versus them' scenario.

It's a motivational fuel that might only be exacerbated by Gary Rowett's attempts to make light of the situation in his pre-match press conference. The Derby boss has been acting out of character increasingly this season as he wrestles with diminishing returns at a club with a long-standing habit for choking on the final straight.

The Rams have won just two of their last 13 matches and Rowett curiously changed to a back three against Middlesbrough at the weekend, essentially shying away from a toe-to-toe fight with Tony Pulis in what ordinarily would have been a straight match-up between two very similar 4-2-3-1 set-ups.

Boro emerged comfortable 2-1 winners, a game in which they led for 70 minutes and didn't concede until stoppage time, and you wonder where Derby go from here. It's unlike Rowett to be so radical and change formation mid-campaign, so he's obviously not happy with how things are going and resorting to desperate measures.


Imps can hold out for a point

Coventry v Lincoln
League Two, Tuesday 19:45

Danny Cowley was left perplexed by the EFL's decision to grant Coventry permission to bring their weekend fixture with Stevenage forward to Friday night, while simultaneously denying Lincoln the same privilege. But it should only clarify his approach to this game and there's plenty of mileage in the draw at [3.30].

The Imps are currently ahead of the Sky Blues on goal difference, so they would undoubtedly welcome a point from the trip to the Ricoh, even though it's not in their nature to sit deep and invite teams on. Instead, they can get in faces without taking too many risks and do everything in their power to ensure that a fluid football match doesn't break out.

Lincoln pride themselves on their strength and conditioning, and there's arguably no better team in the division to overcome the possible implications of Coventry's rest advantage at this late stage of the season. But Cowley obsesses over running stats and fully appreciates the difference that a day makes, so expect his attacking ambitions to be relative.

Indeed, you could argue that a point wouldn't be considered a bad result by counterpart Mark Robins. Coventry might have the conditions in their favour on the night but a stalemate puts them four points clear of eighth-placed Mansfield, meaning they would need just one win to secure a play-off berth from their final two games against Cheltenham (away) and Morecambe (home).

The Sky Blues broke their all-time points record with that 3-1 success over Dino Maamria's men and this is very much unchartered territory for them as a club; being involved in a promotion race at this time of year. Not since the late 1960s have they experienced anything like this, so don't expect them to risk it all when there's little else to gain from leapfrogging the Imps.

Mike Holden Profit/Loss 2017-18

Staked: 144 pts
Returned: 97.31 pts
P/L: -46.69 pts

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