Fixture: Fleetwood Town v Northampton Town, Sky Bet League One
Date/time: Saturday, February 25, 3pm kick-off
Venue: Highbury Stadium
Forecast: 10C, showers
Outs and doubts: Fleetwood: Conor McLaughlin (knock), Nathan Pond (knee), Jimmy Ryan (foot), Martyn Woolford (knee), Wes Burns (leg). Cobblers: Alex Revell (calf), Brendan Moloney (knee), Luke Williams (knee), Sam Hoskins (knee)
Betting: Fleetwood 1/1, draw 12/5, Northampton 14/5
Form guide: Fleetwood WWDDDW, Cobblers DWWLWL
Avg. goals scored/conceded per game: Fleetwood 1.4/1.0, Northampton 1.5/1.6
Likely line-ups: Fleetwood (3-5-2): Cairns; Eastham, Bolger, Davies; McLaughlin, Brannagan, Glendon, Dempsey, Bell; Cole, Grant. Northampton (4-4-2): Smith; Eardley, Diamond, Zakuani, Buchanan; Taylor, O’Toole, Boateng, Anderson; Richards, Smith.
Man in the middle: Saturday will be the second time this season that Andy Haines has refereed a match between Northampton and Fleetwood, having also officiated the reverse fixture on the opening day. Alex Revell was the only man to be booked that day, although Haines has since been responsible for 86 bookings and four red cards.
Last time out: MK Dons 0 Fleetwood Town 1 (Bolger); Southend United 2 (McGlashan, Cox) Northampton Town 2 (Richards, O’Toole)
Most recent meeting: Saturday, August 6, 2016 – Northampton Town 1 (Neal OG) Fleetwood Town 1 (Nirennold)
Record v Fleetwood: P6 W3 D1 L2
Opposition view: Previewing his side’s clash with Northampton, Fleetwood boss Uwe Rosler told the club website: “They have had a change in manager and most of the time that will have an effect and they have been affected. They have really good players and have scored the most goals in the last few games. They are a threat home or away and we just need to be sure that we are not the first team that they pick up their first away three points under the new manager.”
The general consensus is that 51 points should be enough to survive in League One – no team in the last 10 years has been relegated with that amount – so three wins coupled with the odd draw or two from their final 13 games is all that is required
James Heneghan’s preview: From one seaside town to another, and from one promotion chasing side to another, for the second successive Saturday Northampton must defy both the odds and the form book to emerge with a positive result, only this time they face the country’s hottest team.
A 1-1 home draw with Fleetwood Town on the opening day of the season may have seemed like two points dropped at the time but, given events since, it appears the Cobblers caught Uwe Rosler’s side at just the right time.
There was little in that game to suggest the Cod Army were capable of a promotion push this season but, having been tipped for relegation by some before the campaign, Rosler, who was only appointed in the summer, has worked wonders to lead his side right into the mix for a top two spot as we approach the business end.
Competing with the big boys of Sheffield United, Bolton Wanderers and Bradford City, all of whom have an average attendance of at least 10,000 more per game this season, few would give Fleetwood a sniff, but when you take a glance at their current streak of 16 straight league games unbeaten, only Manchester United can match it.
It’s the sort of run Northampton fans became accustomed to last season, and like the Cobblers, it’s one which has taken Fleetwood from mid-table obscurity to genuine contenders for automatic promotion.
It’s at home where they have been particularly impressive, losing just once in 17 league outings at at the Highbury Stadium – and that defeat came way back in September to, of all teams, MK Dons.
Given that no side has clocked up more points from their home fixtures this season, it’s another stat which works squarely against this weekend’s visitors.
But the Cobblers are a team also on the up of late, albeit not to the same degree, and they too will harbour hopes of using Saturday’s game to help achieve their own objective this season.
A gritty 2-2 draw at another side currently occupying a play-off spot, Southend United, should stand them in good stead going into this one, and they will require a similarly dogged and determined performance to emerge from their 360-mile round trip to Lancashire with a positive outcome.
The return of key players, specifically Gabriel Zakuani, has come at a good time, and with an important four-game stretch to come after this trip north, anything they take from Fleetwood should be viewed as a bonus.
Because, after Saturday, they face three home games in the space of 15 days, welcoming Oldham, Charlton and Port Vale to Sixfields whilst also heading to AFC Wimbledon.
With all four of those sides either around or below them in the current Sky Bet League One standings, it is that run which will present the Cobblers with a perfect opportunity to finally shake off thoughts of relegation and stabilise themselves in mid-table.
Justin Edinburgh reverted back to a more direct 4-4-2 at Roots Hall, opting to push Matty Taylor wide and start with Gregg Wylde, and though he could go with the same system on Saturday, there’s a strong chance he’ll at least alter personnel.
The Cobblers defence has invariably looked more secure when it features Zakuani – they’ve conceded 1.3 goals per game with him in the team compared to 2.1 without – while Keshi Anderson will be unlucky not to regain his place, especially as Wylde struggled to really impose himself at Southend.
The general consensus is that 51 points should be enough to survive in League One – no team in the last 10 years has been relegated with that amount – so three wins coupled with the odd draw or two from their final 13 games is all that is needed.
So games like this one, and future ones to come at Rochdale and Bolton, are free hits as much as anything, though it’s doubtful the manager and the players will see it that way.
Because it’s not just about surviving. With several mid-table teams stumbling and stuttering around them, there’s an opportunity for the Cobblers to do more than just stay up. They can make their mark on League One and lay the building blocks for a smoother, more successful campaign next time around.
And if they can achieve something no team has managed since November and beat Fleetwood this weekend, there’s no reason to believe they aren’t capable of being much more than just a bottom half League One side.
Prediction: Fleetwood Town 2 Northampton Town 1