James Heneghan’s Northampton Town v Cambridge United preview

QPR right-back Darnell Furlong is currently on-loan at Cambridge but played against the Us for Northampton earlier in the season (picture by Sharon Lucey)
QPR right-back Darnell Furlong is currently on-loan at Cambridge but played against the Us for Northampton earlier in the season (picture by Sharon Lucey)

Fixture: Northampton Town v Cambridge United, Sky Bet League Two

Date/time: Saturday, March 12, 3pm kick-off

Venue: Sixfields

Forecast: 8C, dry

Outs and doubts: Cobblers: Marc Richards (Achilles), Paul Corry (knee). Cambridge: Ryan Donaldson (knee), Conor Newton (hamstring), Barry Corr (knee), Greg Taylor (ankle)

Betting: Northampton 5/6, draw 13/5, Cambridge 16/5

Form guide: Cobblers WDDWWW United LWLWLW

Avg. goals scored/conceded per game: Northampton 1.8/1.0, Cambridge 1.4/1.3

Likely line-ups: Northampton (4-4-2): Smith; Moloney, Diamond, Prosser, Buchanan; Holmes, O’Toole, Byrom, Martin; Marquis, Collins. Cambridge (4-4-2): Norris; Furlong, Legge, Coulson, Haynes; Barry, Ledson, Dunne, Dunk; Spencer, Williamson.

Man in the middle: Rob Lewis is usually seen refereeing in the Championship but on Saturday he’ll take charge of his first League Two game since December. The Shrewsbury official has handed out 64 yellows and three reds in 20 games this season.

Last time out: Carlisle United 1 (Hope) Northampton 4 (Marquis, O’Toole 2, Collins); Cambridge 0 Exeter 1 (Watkins)

Most recent meeting: Saturday, October 17, 2015 – Cambridge United 2 (Dunk, Corr) Northampton Town 1 (Richards)

Record v Cambridge: P35, W14, D8, L13

Opposition view: Cambridge boss Shaun Derry on this weekend’s game: “Northampton now are a very different side to the team that lost at the Abbey Stadium earlier in the season, they have had a tough time with the club takeover and an influx of better players during January which coincides with the run they have been on.

“We are a different team as well, and we have so much to play for with 11 games left to go and it will be a great game in front of a full house.”

Cobblers connection: Darnell Furlong might still be at Northampton had the club not been in such dire straits when his impressive loan spell came to an end in November. The energetic right-back, brought in as cover for the injured Brendan Moloney last autumn, has played his part in Cobblers’ success this season and it was during his 11-game spell when they began their ascent up League Two. Financial problems meant he returned to QPR in November and now the Luton-born 20-year-old looks set to return to Sixfields, only this time it’ll be with Cambridge having signed for the U’s on-loan in January.

James Heneghan’s preview: In a season of fluctuating emotions, from utter despair to unbridled joy, it’s the stark contrast in mood surrounding the two fixtures against Saturday’s opponents that best reflect the extent of Northampton’s dramatic turnaround in fortunes over the past five months.

When the Cobblers were preparing to face Cambridge way back on October 17, matters on the pitch were almost an irrelevance when the bigger picture came into view.

Just two days before that fixture, the club were issued with a winding-up petition by HMRC and with Kelvin Thomas’ takeover still in the balance, extinction was an all too real possibility.

Despite taking a noisy but evidently emotional following to the Abbey Stadium, Northampton then suffered defeat at the hands of Richard Money’s Cambridge to drop to ninth in League Two, eight points adrift of leaders Plymouth Argle.

To say the situation has improved since then would be putting it mildly.

Five months later, the off-field issues have been resolved thanks to Thomas, the team is running amok at the League Two summit and seats are even starting to go into the East Stand.

The feel-good, upbeat vibe around the club heading into Saturday is a world away from those dark days in October.

Remarkably, it was that reverse fixture five months ago when Northampton last tasted defeat away from home and as a consequence, Cambridge are now only one of two teams in the entire division who can complete the double over the runaway leaders this season – the other being Portsmouth.

Chris Wilder will be doing all he can to prevent that, of course, with the Cobblers boss on course for the Manager of the Season award having just scooped his third monthly honour.

The performance at Brunton Park last time out – where every player on the pitch impressed – combined with the fact they’ve had a whole week off for the first time in a month could well mean an unchanged XI.

Wilder has tended to favour the fluid 4-2-3-1 at Sixfields this season, compared to a more direct 4-4-2 away, but the tireless and goalscoring performances of strikers James Collins and John Marquis at Carlisle should see both retain their places.

That would mean no Rod McDonald, who is available again after illness, but the young defender will doubtless have many more opportunities to strut his stuff at Sixfields.

The temptation could be rotate given the wealth of options at his disposal and the enviable position they find themselves in, but Wilder will be desperate to keep the hammer down and there’s no better way of doing that than chalking up another three points in their pursuit of promotion.

Cambridge have struggled for consistency under new boss Shaun Derry, who has nine wins, three draws and eight defeats to his name since taking over in November.

He’s without Conor Newton, Barry Corr and Greg Taylor for the trip to Sixfields while Ryan Donaldson is a major doubt with a knee injury, but QPR right-back Darnell Furlong will be back at Sixfields for the first time since his Cobbers loan expired in November.

If their recent pattern of results continues – WLWLWL – Cambridge will walk away with the points on Saturday, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone who would back against the runaway leaders.

Prediction: Northampton Town 2 Cambridge United 1