Fixture: Northampton Town v Barnet, Sky Bet League Two
Date/time: Saturday, January 2, 3pm kick-off
Forecast: 8C, showers
Outs and doubts: Cobblers: Alfie Potter (ribs), Paul Corry (knee). Barnet: Jamie Stephens (thigh), Josh Clarke (hamstring)
Betting: Northampton 17/20, draw 13/5, Barnet 3/1
Form guide: Cobblers WLWWWW, Barnet LWWDLL
Avg. goals scored/conceded per game: Northampton 1.7/1.2, Barnet 1.5/1/7
Likely line-ups: Northampton (4-2-3-1): Smith; Moloney, Cresswell, Diamond, Buchanan; O’Toole, Byrom; Adams, Hoskins, Holmes; Richards. Barnet (4-4-2): Lawlor; Hoyte, Dembele, N’Gala, Johnson; Yiadom, Togwell, Champion, Weston; McLean, Akinde.
Man in the middle: Ross Joyce will hold the whistle for this League Two clash, his second Cobblers game this season after August’s 3-0 win over Exeter.
Last time out: Northampton 1 (Richards) Accrington 0; Cambridge 2 (Berry, Corr) Barnet 1 (Akinde)
Most recent meeting: Tuesday, August 18, 2015 – Barnet 2 (Akinde 2) Northampton 0
Record v Barnet: P30 W8 D7 L15
Opposition view: Bees boss Martin Allen on Northampton: “They’ve got good players. They’ve got a lot of players that I’ve made enquiries about, but they’re well out of our range.
“Northampton are near the top of the league, and so they should be. They’ve got good players right the way through their team and on their bench. Chris Wilder has put together a tremendous side. There’s no doubt that they’ll be playing at a higher level next season, and rightly so.”
Cobblers connection: Sam Hoskins is one of several Cobblers players who can feel hard done by not to have featured more in recent weeks. The livewire forward will be especially keen to return to the starting XI this week with former club Barnet in town. Hoskins scored twice in six games while on a short-term loan deal at the Bees in 2014 before returning to parent club Yeovil.
James Heneghan’s preview: After an undeniably successful 2015 saw Northampton rack up more wins than all but two of the 92 clubs in England’s top four divisions, the Cobblers open up 2016 with a home game against League Two’s worst travellers.
If you go by statistics alone, Saturday’s game should be a foregone conclusion as it sees the league’s best home team play host to the league’s worst away side, at least on paper.
It’s never that straightforward, of course, and while their away record is woeful, most Bees fans will be relatively satisfied with how well their side have adapted to life back in the Football League having won the Conference title last term, with Barnet currently 18th on 28 points from 24 games.
Most of this season’s success has come at home where Martin Allen’s side have collected 23 points from 12 games, three of those points coming against Northampton back in August when big striker John Akinde scored both goals during a performance in which he tormented Town’s defence throughout.
Unsurprisingly, it’s Akinde who tops Barnet’s scoring charts with 10 for the campaign, one less than Marc Richards.
But while the Bees excel at home, it’s on the road where the struggles have come, managing just a paltry five points from 12 games this term, conceding a league high 28 goals in the process, and they face perhaps their toughest test yet when up against a Northampton side who boast the division’s best home record having taken 25 points from a possible 36.
Chris Wilder has several selection options to ponder after Monday’s off-colour showing against Accrington. He’s already hinted at possible changes and Sam Hoskins, Ricky Holmes and Jason Taylor must all be in his thinking, especially with Alfie Potter an injury doubt.
This is by no means a simple three-pointer, despite what the statistics suggest, with Barnet a dangerous and ever-improving outfit, but the Cobblers must surely fancy their chances of making a winning start to 2016.
Prediction: Northampton 3 Barnet 1