Fixture: Bolton Wanderers v Northampton Town, Sky Bet League One
Date/time: Saturday, March 18, 3pm kick-off
Venue: Macron Stadium
Forecast: 11C, showers
Outs and doubts: Bolton: Jay Spearing (knee), Mark Davies (knee), Lewis Buxton (back). Cobblers: Gabriel Zakuani (hamstring), Alex Revell (calf), Sam Hoskins (knee), John-Joe O’Toole (knock), Zander Diamond (knock)
Betting: Bolton 17/20, draw 5/2, Northampton 100/30
Form guide: Trotters WWDDLD, Cobblers WWWLLD
Avg. goals scored/conceded per game: Bolton 1.5/0.9, Northampton 1.5/1.6
Likely line-ups: Bolton (3-5-2): Alnwick; Dervite, Wheater, Beevers; Morais, Vela, Derik, Pratley, Taylor; Madine, Le Fondre. Cobblers (4-4-2): Smith; Phillips, Diamond, Nyatanga, Buchanan; Taylor, O’Toole, Boateng, Williams; Richards, Smith
Man in the middle: Richard Clark
Last time out: Gillingham 0 Bolton 4 (Wheater, Le Fondre, Beevers, Vela); Northampton 2 (Phillips, Taylor), Port Vale 1 (Hooper)
Most recent meeting: Saturday, November 26, 2016 – Northampton 0 Bolton 1 (Clough)
Record v Bolton: P12 W5 D1 L6
Cobblers connection: Matty Taylor is the obvious candidate here but he’s not the only current Cobblers player who will be heading back to his former club this weekend. Keshi Anderson, currently on loan at Sixfields, spent a frustrating five months at the Macron earlier this season, scoring just once and making only a handful of starts. If selected this weekend, he will have the opportunity to prove to Phil Parkinson and co what they were missing out on.
Opposition view: After big wins over Fleetwood and Gillingham, Trotters boss Phil Parkinson told the Bolton News this week: “We have to remember the hard work that got us those results. There has been a good work ethic across the team and that is what we need to show against Northampton at the weekend.”
James Heneghan’s preview: After alleviating fears of the drop with three wins in three, Northampton’s recent resurgence could not have come at a better time, and if they return from Greater Manchester with a point or more this weekend, their transformation from relegation candidates to top-half hopefuls will be complete.
But whilst a run of nine points from nine has lifted Justin Edinburgh’s men up to 14th and a substantial 11 points clear of the bottom four, now is not the time to be patting themselves on the back for a job well done, especially with an exacting run of fixtures on the way.
In the next month, the Cobblers will face three teams fighting for promotion, including two away, as well as another two sides who still harbour aspirations of a late surge for the play-offs.
Free-scoring Bolton Wanderers and a trip to the Macron is first up this weekend, followed by Oxford United at Sixfields and then a visit to Rochdale.
Also to come in the next month are Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United, who could potentially seal their inevitable promotion at Sixfields, and Millwall at The Den before Town round out their campaign with three favourable fixtures.
But there’ll be time to ponder that later. First, the Cobblers must find a way of overcoming Phil Parkinson’s Trotters who are strong at home and have an immediate return to the Championship firmly within their grasp.
With four goals in each of their last two outings, both away from home, they have also seemingly hit tip-top form just in time for the visit of Northampton.
Built on a the foundation of an exceedingly strong defence – the best in League One – Bolton’s promotion challenge threatened to derail with a run of just two wins in 10 games in January and February but 4-2 and 4-0 winners at Fleetwood and then Gillingham in the past week, it seems they’ve found their mojo again.
They are especially strong at home where they’ve lost just three times all season and collected 38 points in all, only one behind fellow high-fliers Sheffield United and Fleetwood Town.
Whichever way you look at it, Northampton face a tough ask to return with any kind of positive result on Saturday.
But they too are a team on the up and in high spirits. In fact, going by the 10-game form table, the Cobblers are the fourth most in-form in the division, behind only Sheffield United, Millwall and Fleetwood, and well above Bolton.
And not only do they go to the Macron buoyed by three straight wins, they can also play without fear.
Those three successive victories have given them an 11-point cushion over the bottom four and though it’s too early to categorically rule out the possibility of relegation, it will take a catastrophic final eight games for the worst to happen.
For this trip north, Edinburgh could well make changes. He got the result against Port Vale on Tuesday but not the performance and with several players struggling with fatigue and knocks, it might be time to rotate his options.
The back five is unlikely to change but Hiram Boateng could be recalled to the starting XI while the likes of Paul Anderson, Jak McCourt and Gregg Wylde have regularly featured off the bench in recent games and are options for Edinburgh if he does indeed choose to freshen things up.
Whoever he selects will need to perform. They may well be able to get away with substandard showings against the likes of Port Vale but Bolton are unlikely to be quite so forgiving.
Prediction: Bolton Wanderers 2 Northampton Town 1