Fixture: Northampton Town v Morecambe, Sky Bet League Two
Date/time: Saturday, January 23, 3pm kick-off
Forecast: 8C, cloudy
Outs and doubts: Cobblers: Lawson D’Ath (groin), Paul Corry (knee). Morecambe: Peter Murphy (knee), Aaron McGowan (hamstring), Tom Barkhuizen (ribs), Shaun Beeley (ankle), Aaron Wildig (hamstring)
Betting: Northampton 3/4, draw 11/4, Morecambe 18/5
Form guide: Cobblers LWWDWW, Morecambe WDWDLL
Avg. goals scored/conceded per game: Northampton 1.8/1.2, Morecambe 1.7/1.7
Likely line-ups: Northampton (4-2-3-1): Smith; Moloney, Diamond, McDonald, Buchanan; O’Toole, Byrom; Holmes, Adams, Martin; Collins. Morecambe (4-3-3): Roche; Wilson, Edwards, Dugdale, Parrish; Wildig, Devitt, Kenyon; Fleming, Miller, Ellison.
Man in the middle: Gavin Ward’s last two Cobblers games both came away at Portsmouth, 2014’s 2-0 defeat and the previous season’s goalless draw. One of Ward’s more memorable Northampton games took place in 2010 when he sent off Cobblers’ Kevin Thornton after just 10 minutes in a 3-0 home defeat to Aldershot.
Last time out: MK Dons 3 (Reeves, Murphy, Church) Northampton 0; Morecambe 2 (Ellison, Miller), Yeovil 1 (Ward)
Most recent meeting: Saturday, September 19, 2015 – Morecambe 2 (Barkhuizen, Byrom OG) Northampton 4 (D’Ath Hoskins, Byrom, Clavert-Lewin)
Record v Morecambe: P13 W8 D4 L1
Cobblers connection: Current Stevenage defender Mark Hughes enjoyed two-year spells at both Northampton and Morecambe. Having made the move to Sixfields for an undisclosed fee from Everton in January 2007, Hughes turned out 106 times for the Cobblers, however after rejecting a two-year deal in 2009, the now 29-year-old moved to Walsall before going down under to play for North Queensland Fury in 2010. His time in Australia was short-lived, though, as the following year he returned home to England where he signed for Bury before moving to Morecambe in 2013. Eighty-nine appearances later, Hughes was released by the Shrimps and snapped up by Stevenage last May.
James Heneghan’s preview: Without wishing to jinx this game into a goalless borefest, the one thing we should be guaranteed of when Northampton host Morecambe at Sixfields on Saturday is goals.
With 46 goals in 26 games, the Cobblers are currently League Two’s top scorers – and the third leading scorers in the entire Football League – just one ahead of their Lancashire counterparts who make the four-hour trip down south this weekend looking to find some much-needed consistency in what has been an up-and-down campaign for Jim Bentley’s men.
For the Cobblers, it’s all about one thing following Tuesday’s FA Cup defeat: promotion.
Level on points at the top of the table with a game in hand, the foundations have been put in place for a return to League One as we head into the final 20 games, the first of those coming tomorrow when they host League Two’s biggest entertainers.
Home matches against Morecambe and York may seem innocuous enough on paper but there’s a feeling that these next two games could prove crucial in the context of Northampton’s season.
Six points from six would would, at the very least, maintain that healthy nine-point cushion back to fourth ahead of a manic run of fixtures in February which sees the Cobblers play six times in 19 days, including games against Leyton Orient, Oxford United and Wycombe all in a week.
Come through that run relatively unscathed and promotion will be within their grasp.
Given the fixtures elsewhere, this weekend is a particularly golden chance for the Cobblers to strengthen their grip on a top three place.
While Town host mid-table Morecambe, fourth-placed Bristol Rovers entertain table-topping Plymouth and fifth-placed Portsmouth go to third-placed Oxford, giving Chris Wilder’s players a marvellous opportunity to boost their promotion hopes with three points on Saturday.
Morecambe are not a team to be underestimated, though.
With away wins at Wycombe, Bury, Carlisle and Rochdale already in the bag this season, Morecambe have shown in flashes what they are capable of and if it’s goals you’re after, Bentley’s side are the team for you.
Not content with scoring them, Morecambe have developed something of a habit of letting them in too having conceded 43 this season, the most of any team placed 14th or higher in League Two.
But Bentley does have a few selection quandaries this weekend. Midfielder and captain Peter Murphy has been ruled out for the season after suffering cruciate ligament damage against Wycombe earlier this month, while there are doubts over several other key personnel including winger Tom Barkhuizen and defender Shaun Beeley.
For the Cobblers, the return of loanees James Collins and Lee Martin gives Chris Wilder the chance to freshen the side up following Tuesday’s defeat to MK Dons, while Alfie Potter could also return but Lawson D’Ath remains out.
It’s been a demanding January but the Cobblers need to summon up one final effort this weekend before they can enjoy some much-needed and well-earned recuperation time.
Prediction: Northampton 3 Morecambe 1