With the football season set to enter the festive season, Kitbag.com has picked out some real Christmas crackers from a host of different divisions to keep you entertained this fortnight. Here are some of the treats in store, from Christmas Eve through to New Year’s Day.
While barren in comparison your typical winter Saturday, matchday enthusiasts in Scotland can still fill their boots this Christmas Eve, with a host of live offerings across the leagues to help you avoid the shopping rush. At Ibrox, Rangers will be hoping for Christmas come early, as they welcome intrepid Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Meanwhile, neighbours Celtic will hope to wrap up a successful pre-Christmas programme with a victory at draw specialists Hamilton Academical. In the Scottish Championship, title-chasing Dundee United tackle relegation-threatened St. Mirren, while a lively atmosphere awaits at Edinburgh’s Easter Road, where divisional leaders Hibernian entertain Raith Rovers. With England’s leading leagues enjoying an ever-so brief hiatus, supporters south of the border can meanwhile still find action at a host of Northern Premier grounds, from Blyth Spartans to Sutton Coldfield.
While some might be surprised to learn this, football was for many years a Christmas Day staple, with a number of matches played annually across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. Top flight football on Christmas Day continued in England until 1959, while Blackpool and Blackburn Rovers contesting the last such fixture of its kind. In Scotland however, Christmas Day matches remained a tradition as late as 1976. This Christmas Day, the only competitive matches contested on British shores will be played on the latest gaming consoles. For those in need of their live football fix however, it appears (somewhat ironically) that Turkey has voted for Christmas! To that extent, the Turkish Süper Lig will be home to a selection box of fixtures this Christmas Day, with the league’s most decorated club Galatasaray pitted against top flight newcomers Alanyaspor in one of the standout picks.
Boxing Day sees the English Premier League bounce back into life, with eight crunch collisions across the country to help burn off those festive excesses. In the division’s first encounter, Crystal Palace head across the capital to challenge Walter Mazzari’s Watford, with Hull City vs Manchester City book-ending the action from 5.15pm. In the interim, there are traditional 3pm kick-offs at Old Trafford (Manchester United vs Sunderland), Stamford Bridge (Chelsea vs Bournemouth) and the King Power Stadium (Leicester City vs Everton). Elsewhere, some tasty treats await across the Championship, with a high-profile encounter between Newcastle United and Sheffield Wednesday bringing the curtain down on the day’s events from 7.45pm. In total, Boxing Day will see more than 100 matches across England’s seven top tiers, with a full programme in store in the Welsh Premier League and Northern Irish Premiership.
Tuesday 27 December
As Boxing Day fades into Tuesday, the football nation’s attention will switch to England’s south coast, where thriving Brighton and Hove Albion continue their chase for Premier League promotion against visiting Queen’s Park Rangers in the day’s early kick-off. With most clubs playing the previous afternoon, the Tuesday programme is a relatively sparse one, though entertainment will be on hand at Pride Park and Pittodrie respectively, as Derby County battle Birmingham City and Hamilton Accies make the lengthy trip to Aberdeen. Then, in the evening, two more grounds open their gates for action, as Liverpool face Stoke City at Anfield and Hearts square up to Kilmarnock at Tynecastle. The Liverpool/Stoke encounter sees a rematch of last season’s Capital One Cup semi-finals, with the Potters eager to avenge their aggregate defeat, against an LFC side with renewed aspirations of silverware this season.
Wednesday 28 December
Wednesday sees the final stops on the road to the Glasgow derby, as neighbouring Celtic and Rangers gear up for their Hogmanay showdown against Ross County and St. Johnstone respectively. In the Premier League meanwhile, an attractive fixture at St. Mary’s pits hosts Southampton against travelling Tottenham Hotspur, in a battle of two of this season’s UEFA Europa League representatives. Spurs have won seven of the team’s eight meetings since Southampton’s return to the English top flight in 2012. Nevertheless, the Saints hold the distinction of winning their last encounter, a 2-1 victory at White Hart Lane in May. Notably, in their previous EPL stint, Southampton held an 100% record against Spurs at St. Mary’s, winning five from five and setting the benchmark for Claude Puel’s team to replicate.
Thursday 29 December
As the festive action continues at pace, three vital points will be contested at the New York Stadium, as rock-bottom Rotherham United attempt to resuscitate their season against Championship newcomers Burton Albion. The division’s indisputable match of the day however will be played at Villa Park, where hosts Aston Villa welcome promotion-pursuing Leeds United. Once a perennial Premier League affair, this rematch of the 1996 League Cup Final will be the clubs’ first Midlands meeting since 2004, a match the Villains won by two clear goals to nil. Villa’s 2016-17 season has been a mixed bag to date, with 10 draws from 15 league outings constraining their challenge for an immediate return to the Premier League. Nevertheless, five wins from eight since the middle of October has offered new optimism to Steve Bruce’s side, with their only loss in this period suffered against Garry Monk’s charges.
Friday 30 December
With the annual New Year’s revelry looming ominously on the horizon, a feast of further football awaits on Friday 30th, with Everton’s trip to struggling Hull City among the most important games of all. Marking their EPL return with two successive wins, Hull’s Premier League campaign has subsequently stuttered in the months since, with Mike Phelan’s men claiming only a single point on the road (at Burnley) since August. The Tigers’ league form at the KCOM Stadium has been moderately better, with their 2-1 success against Southampton a bright spot in their winter of discontent. Nevertheless, City’s run to the EFL Cup semi-finals may have provided them with a timely morale boost, ahead of the Toffees’ year-end visit; with Everton conversely hoping to rouse themselves following a winless November. Elsewhere, there are four festive fixtures in the Championship and League 1 alike, with fallen giants Portsmouth’s visit to former giant slayers Yeovil Town the highlight of the League 2 list.
New Year’s Eve
As the nation prepares to ring in 2017, spectators will be spoiled for choice this New Year’s Eve, with extensive Football League, Scottish League and non-league programmes supplementing seven crunch Premier League meetings, including a salivating showdown between Liverpool and Manchester City in the televised 5.30pm slot. With championship-chasing Chelsea at home to Stoke City in another of the day’s standout games, current holders Leicester City will aim to end the greatest year in their history on a high, by claiming victory over visiting West Ham United; another who saw 2016 change the very face of their club. However, no fixture this New Year’s Eve will be any bigger than Rangers’ clash against Celtic, the 12.15pm kick-off poised to set the tone emphatically for the sporting day ahead.
New Year’s Day
Finally, while many supporters are resigned to nursing their New Year’s hangovers, there will be no rest for the wicked in the English capital, as Arsenal and Crystal Palace contest the Premier League’s first London derby of 2017. Having avoided defeat in all but one of the team’s last 27 meetings, the Gunners will be aiming to add to their 23-goal tally accrued against the winged Eagles since the last blot on their modern record, a 2-1 defeat at Highbury in 1994. A few miles northwest at Vicarage Road, Watford begin their calendar year with a Premier League fixture with Tottenham hours earlier. Meanwhile, fans of the non-league game can fill their boots in both the National League and its North and South feeder divisions, with Llandudno’s 5.15pm kick-off against Bangor City in the Welsh Premier League rounding off the New Year’s Day televised football on Wales’ national broadcaster S4C. AC
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