Saints and Hammers set for Judgement Day

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Few leagues can boast to offer up as much drama as the Championship, as teams battle for promotion to the Premier League promised land or fight tooth and nail to avoid dropping through the trap door.

The latter has already been decided this season, with Portsmouth, Coventry and Doncaster all condemned to League One, but the final automatic promotion place remains undecided heading into the final day of the campaign.

Reading have been confirmed as champions following a stunning run of form, which began in mid-January, and either Southampton or West Ham will join them in the top-flight next term.

Saints have not been out of the top two for the entire campaign, and had enjoyed 28 weeks at the summit of the table, but are now faced with the very real prospect of losing out on the last weekend.

The Hammers, similarly, had hardly featured beyond the automatic places for the majority of the season, and had spent a month in first place, but seven draws in nine games saw them relinquish their position of supremacy.

On Saturday, Saints meet Coventry at St Mary's, while Hull travel to Upton Park, with Nigel Adkins' side two points clear of the Hammers, and with a superior goal difference of only three.

Saints know, then, that a victory makes West Ham's result redundant, and could even confirm a place in the Premier League with a draw against the already relegated Sky Blues.

Adkins, though, is firm in the belief that his charges will take all three points on Saturday afternoon on home soil, just as they have done on 15 occasions in the league this season.

"We have 90 minutes to win a game of football and I have got total belief in the players to go and do that," Adkins told BBC Radio Solent.

"We know what we need to do. We need to win a game against Coventry."

West Ham, meanwhile, can approach the encounter with Hull under far less pressure than Saints and, although their record at the Boleyn Ground has not been the best, can play with the shackles off somewhat against the Tigers.

Sam Allardyce certainly feels that Saints will be the more nervous of the two sides on Saturday, but realises the prospects of a Coventry victory remain slim.

"I don't think we are too nervous because we only have slim chance. Most of the pressure lies with Southampton on the day because they have more to lose than we do," the Hammers boss told his weekly press conference.

"We have to rely on Coventry doing a big favour for us at St Marys which is going to be difficult.

"But you never know do you? Anything can happen under the pressures of a final game of the season when so much is at stake.

There can be a twist and a turn along the way and if there is and it's in our favour we must make sure we are in a position to take advantage."

Should Coventry restrict Southampton to a draw, the Hammers must win by a three goal margin to ensure they progress to the Premier League at the expense of the south coast club.

Hull, though, are still in with a chance of sneaking into the playoffs should they win in east London, and Allardyce is fully aware of the difficulty of the task at hand.

"We need to focus on getting a result against Hull by 3-0 or more. So from the very start it's a difficult task for us but it's a task we must try and meet," he added.

"Only after we have done that can we look to see how Southampton have faired against Coventry. Winning by three or more is our only objective for Saturday right now."

There still remains the realistic chance that the final automatic promotion position will be decided by virtue of the head-to-head record between the two clubs this season, given how close their goalscoring statistics are.

Saints are ahead on both goal difference and goals scored - with the latter 81 to 79 in favour of Adkins' side - but, should they draw and West Ham win by only two, previous meetings between the two this term will be taken into account.

This will be another eventuality Allardyce will be desperate to avoid, having seen his side lose at St Mary's and play out a 1-1 draw at Upton Park this season.

A place in the Premier League promised land and a £90 million windfall will be guaranteed for one of these clubs tomorrow afternoon, while the other will be given a ticket to the playoff lottery.

Whichever side enters into the latter will be required to play the first leg of their semi-final next Thursday, with the second leg following four days later, and the final scheduled to take place at Wembley on May 19.

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