GARY Rowett has warned his Burton Albion side they will need to be at their best when struggling Northampton Town visit the Pirelli Stadium on Boxing Day.
The Brewers host the Cobblers, kick-off 3pm, looking to build on a seven-match unbeaten run and excellent point at Hartlepool on Saturday.
Northampton, meanwhile, arrive sitting bottom of the League Two pile and without a manager after Aidy Boothroyd was sacked in the wake of their 4-1 home spanking by Wycombe at the weekend.
Assistant Andy King has taken temporary charge – and Rowett has told his players to beware.
“Northampton have been a tough side and a physical side when we’ve played them,” he said. “We’ve got to do what we do well and they’ll make you battle for everything you get.
“(Aidy Boothroyd’s departure) possibly makes it an even tougher game for us.
“The team might bounce back with a different message and a different voice.
“Teams often improve when a manager goes and their results get better – we’ve got to make sure that’s not the case for us.
“Plus, this season it’s been difficult at our place because of teams’ attitude to playing us at the Pirelli now.”
Boothroyd was sacked just months after taking Northampton to Wembley for the play-off final, which they lost 3-0 to Bradford.
Rowett is surprised the Cobblers pulled the trigger on Boothroyd after the job he did.
“I’m a little bit surprised at their points tally and where they are in the table this season,” he said.
“But for Aidy Boothroyd to get them into the play-off final and lose his job the following December is a little bit bizarre.
“However, I can understand the fear of dropping out of the league.”
Rowett was encouraged by Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Hartlepool, when the Brewers looked more dangerous going forward and had chances to add to their solitary goal before being pegged back in the second half.
“What’s been encouraging is we wanted to improve slightly going forward,” said the manager.
“We’ve been solid recently, but not as good in the attacking third.
“Now we’re improving there.
“On Saturday we created four or five good chances and played with a bit of quality in the final third.
“It’s not really been a concern but what I’ve seen has really encouraged me ahead of these two home games.”
Left-back Damien McCrory is a major doubt for Boxing Day and the games beyond after pulling his hamstring in the first half at Hartlepool.
Phil Edwards filled in on the left after McCrory went off, but the manager has several options in the position, including pushing Shane Cansdell-Sherriff across from centre-half or moving Chris Hussey back to his old position should McCrory be ruled out.
Lee Bell (hamstring) and Alex MacDonald (virus) return to the squad.