Fixture: Northampton Town v MK Dons, Sky Bet League One
Date/kick-off time: Sunday, September 4, 12pm kick-off
Forecast: 18C, sunny spells
Outs and doubts: Cobblers: John-Joe O’Toole (suspended), Gabriel Zakuani (international duty). MK Dons: Scott Wootton (cruciate), Chuks Aneke (cruciate), Kieran Agard (thigh)
Betting: Northampton 6/4, draw 5/2, Dons 17/10
Form guide: Cobblers LDDDDD, Dons DLDWLD
Likely line-ups: Northampton (4-1-4-1): Smith; Moloney, Diamond, Nyatanga, Buchanan; McCourt; Anderson, Beautyman, Taylor, Gorre; Revell. Dons (4-2-3-1): Martin; Baldock, Downing, Walsh, Lewington; Potter, Upson; Williams, Carruthers, Colclough; Maynard
Man in the middle: David Webb
Last time out: Northampton 0 Wycombe 3 (Rowe, Hayes, Thompson); MK Dons 2 (Reeves, Walsh), Barnet 2 (Nicholls, Weston)
Most recent meeting: Tuesday, January 19, 2016 – MK Dons 3 (Reeves, Murphy, Church) Northampton 0
Record v MK Dons: P8 W1 D1 L6
Opposition view: Karl Robinson: “They’ve signed some good players over the summer, including Alex Revell who is a great guy and left with our blessing, but the the club on the whole is very good. It’s a healthy rivalry between the clubs.”
Cobblers connection: If Alex Revell finds the net on Sunday, he will have no hesitation in showing his emotions, bucking the recent trend of players who choose to do otherwise. Revell only swapped MK Dons for Northampton a matter of months ago when he turned down the chance to stay at Stadium MK and instead opted for a two-year deal at Sixfields. Karl Robinson had signed the 33-year-old from Cardiff and he became an instant hit at the Dons but was not able to stave off relegation. Revell has also played for Brighton, Southend, Leyton Orient, Rotherham and Wigan.
With five draws from five league games, a fabulous cup win over West Brom and then a desperate home defeat to League Two Wycombe on Tuesday, it remains difficult to gauge exactly where this current Cobblers team are at.James Heneghan
James Heneghan’s preview: With five draws from five league games, a fabulous cup win over West Brom and then a desperate home defeat to League Two Wycombe on Tuesday, it remains difficult to gauge exactly how this Cobblers team shape up against the competition.
It’s important at this still very early stage of the season to guard against placing too much emphasis on one game, but this Sunday’s televised clash against rivals MK Dons could be a significant one in the sense that it will shed more light on the progress of Rob Page’s project.
There are several pieces of the jigsaw that still need putting in place and the longer Northampton remain without a league victory this season, the louder those murmurs of discontent will become.
Of course, that will all change if they turn a moderate start into a good one by beating MK Dons tomorrow.
A good performance to boot would further quieten the naysayers, but anything else and the question marks will persist.
MK Dons fans probably feel the same away about their team.
After relegation from the Championship last season, their reintroduction to League One football has not been all plain sailing, especially in recent weeks with just one win from their last six games in all competitions.
So there is work to do for both clubs, which only serves to heighten the importance of Sunday’s battle.
Northampton’s transfer business was wrapped up this week and all in all, Page should be relatively satisfied with what he’s recruited this summer, even if that is tinged with frustration.
How you view Northampton’s transfer business depends on what you feel their aspirations should be for the season ahead.
In an ideal world, the target would be to harness the momentum of last season and really push on towards the right end of League One.
But, in reality, with a new manager and a host of new players, the focus has be to consolidate this season and build a foundation from which they can kick-on next year.
The players Page now has at his disposal should be good enough to achieve that, even allowing for the fact they are player or two short in attacking positions, and now it’s down to the Cobblers boss to find a settled team and get the best out of them.
The shortage of goals is a legitimate concern but that is something which can be fixed if Page is able to find a balanced, cohesive system which offers both an attacking threat and defensive solidity.
So far, Northampton have leaned too much towards the latter and whilst they have indeed been hard to break down, there’s a certain spark missing in attack with opposition goalkeepers not nearly tested enough.
The arrival of Paul Anderson on transfer deadline day may well provide that spark but he alone will not resolve the issue, although the return from injury of three attacking players is a boost ahead of Sunday’s game.
Sam Hoskins, Alfie Potter and Marc Richards are all back in contention for a starting berth for the visit of MK Dons, but the absence of John-Joe O’Toole and Gabriel Zakuani will be keenly felt given the fact both have been ever-presents in the league so far this season.
MK Dons endured an equally frustrating transfer window, and their problems were not helped be the news that Scott Wootton will miss the rest of the season after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament against Barnet on Tuesday, while Kieran Agard may only be fit enough for the bench.
MK Dons are the type of team who should provide the perfect barometer by which to judge Northampton. These are two sides in transition, so therefore Sunday’s encounter will reveal a lot more about the ambitions of both.
Indeed, it could well shape their respective seasons.
Prediction: Northampton Town 1 MK Dons 1