James Heneghan’s Northampton Town v AFC Wimbledon preview

ON THE SPOT: Matt Taylor's late penalty was the difference between these sides back in March. Picture: Kirsty Edmonds
ON THE SPOT: Matt Taylor's late penalty was the difference between these sides back in March. Picture: Kirsty Edmonds

Fixture: Northampton Town v AFC Wimbledon, Sky Bet League One

Date/time: Saturday, October 14, 3pm kick-off

Venue: Sixfields

Forecast: 18C, cloudy

Outs and doubts: Cobblers: Chris Long (hamstring), John-Joe O’Toole (groin), Aaron Phillips (thigh), Matt Crooks (knee), Leon Barnett (Achilles), Brendan Moloney (hamstring), Alex Revell (suspended – 1/3). Wimbledon: Jonathan Meades (knee), Kwesi Appiah (hamstring)

Betting: Northampton 17/10, draw 9/4, Wimbledon 13/8

Form guide: Cobblers LDLDLL, Dons LDWLLW

Possible line-ups: Northampton (4-3-3): Ingram; Moloney, Taylor, Pierre, Buchanan; Poole, McWilliams, Grimes; Waters, Hanley, Richards. Wimbledon (4-4-2): Long; Fuller, Nightingale, Oshilaja, Francomb; Parrett, Trotter, Barcham, Soares; McDonald, Taylor

Man in the middle: Graham Salisbury

Last time out: Northampton 0 Bristol Rovers 6; Oxford United 3 AFC Wimbledon 0

John-Joe O'Toole, who's not played since pre-season, is closing in on a return

John-Joe O'Toole, who's not played since pre-season, is closing in on a return

Most recent meeting: Saturday, March 3, 2017 – AFC Wimbledon 0 Northampton Town 1 (Taylor)

Record v AFC Wimbledon: P12 W6 D6 L0

Opposition view: “I am expecting a tight game on Saturday,” said Dons assistant manager Neil Cox. “They’ve had a disappointing result at home, but Jimmy had done a good job for the first two or three games. We are going to go there in a positive frame of mind and try to win the game. It’s about what we do and about us playing well. Apart from the Oxford game, we’ve played really well and created chances, but we’ve not taken them.”

Cobblers connection: Kaid Mohamed. During his two years at Port Vale between 2013 and 2015, Mohamed was loaned out three times, once to AFC Wimbledon, once to Bristol Rovers and also to Northampton. That was the second time he turned out for the Dons having also played seven times in 2011. His time at Kingsmeadow may have been fleeting but he left a lasting impression, scoring four goals – including a hat-trick – in their 8-1 aggregate win over Fleetwood Town in the 2011 Conference play-off semi-final.

If you went by stats alone, the odds of a goalless draw on Saturday – which is how this fixture ended last year – would be overwhelming. The Cobblers have gone five successive League One matches without locating the net, Wimbledon four.

James Heneghan’s preview: The beauty of football – and sport in general – is that there is always another day and therefore another opportunity to put things right. For the Cobblers, Saturday’s visit of AFC Wimbledon is their chance to do just that following last week’s pressing of the self-destruct button.

And if they are to find a chink of light at the end of what has been a very long and dark tunnel over the past few weeks, it will surely have come this weekend when they play host to a team who have not fared much better than themselves in recent times, and one they have never previously lost to.

Six wins and six draws from the 12 meetings with Wimbledon since their reincarnation 15 years ago, it is an absolute necessity for Town to maintain that pristine record on Saturday as they meet another side struggling for goals, wins and consistency.

If you went by stats alone, the odds of a goalless draw on Saturday – which is how this fixture ended last year – would be overwhelming. The Cobblers have gone five successive League One matches without locating the net, Wimbledon four.

Indeed, with a total just 15 goals in 24 matches between them, it’s the chief reason why both teams find themselves in the bottom four having registered only two wins apiece.

How a team reacts in a time of adversity can be telling, so the visit of Wimbledon to Sixfields, a week on from the Bristol Rovers abomination, will reveal a lot about this Cobblers side, both their character as well as their ability to muster a run of form that vaguely resembles a team who are not destined for relegation.

Wimbledon manager Neal Ardley

Wimbledon manager Neal Ardley

Neither playing well nor particularly badly, the Cobblers had been teetering on the brink for a while prior to Rovers’ visit, but perhaps the shocking manner of the defeat will, in the long-run, be the best thing that could have happened.

“Certain things you can never forget about and you should not forget about,” said manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in Tuesday’s press conference. “You should use it as a marker, that you don’t want to be there and have that kind of feeling again.

“We had good sessions earlier in this week, we spoke together and it’s important that we are truthful with each other in knowing there is a lot of work to be done.”

The one saving grace for Hasselbaink’s men has been the similarly indifferent form of others, such as Wimbledon. Because of that, Town have yet to be cut adrift and it might take only one positive result to propel them into a safer position and kick-start their campaign. The sooner they can climb back up the table, the quicker their confidence will return.

Wimbledon too have not enjoyed the best of seasons to date, and much of that has to do with the departures of several key men over the summer, including the likes of Tom Elliott, Jake Reeves, Dom Poleon and James Shea.

But a 1-0 win at pre-season title favourites Blackburn Rovers back in mid-September suggests they have the quality and ability to trouble any team in the division, and coming off a 3-0 defeat to Oxford United last Saturday, they too will be desperate to bounce back at the first opportunity this weekend, much like their hosts.

Town’s injury situation is at least improving. John-Joe O’Toole is edging nearer to a return, though this week will come too soon, while Sam Hoskins and Shaun McWilliams are both fully fit.

Brendan Moloney and Chris Long are ‘touch and go’ to be in contention for a place in Hasselbaink’s squad but Alex Revell serves the first of his three-game suspension while Matt Crooks, Leon Barnett and Aaron Phillips remain long-term absentees.

Given what happened and how it unfolded last week, the team Hasselbaink selects for Saturday will be revealing. Marc Richards will almost certainly lead the line in the likely absence of Long and Revell and the back five will not change much but changes are otherwise likely, perhaps in terms of both personnel and tactical.

It was in midfield where the Cobblers really struggled against Rovers, so Regan Poole and Shaun McWilliams could come in while the presence of Sam Hoskins and Billy Waters would inject some pace and drive in wide areas, though Raheem Hanley was perhaps one of only two outfield players to emerge with any credit last weekend.

The pressure is on both the players and Hasselbaink. A win would significantly lift spirits and suggest last week was only a blip – albeit an alarming one – while the ramifications of a defeat to a similarly struggling side do not bear thinking about.

The pressure is on. Can the Cobblers deliver when it matters most?

Prediction: Northampton Town 1 AFC Wimbledon 0