James Heneghan’s Northampton Town v Port Vale preview

BACK IN TOWN: Vale's JJ Hooper played 13 times for the Cobblers earlier in the season
BACK IN TOWN: Vale's JJ Hooper played 13 times for the Cobblers earlier in the season

Fixture: Northampton Town v Port Vale, Sky Bet League One

Date/time: Tuesday, March 14, 7.45pm kick-off

Venue: Sixfields

Forecast: 13C, cloudy

Outs and doubts: Cobblers: Gabriel Zakuani (hamstring), Alex Revell (calf), Sam Hoskins (knee), Zander Diamond (knock). Port Vale: Jerome Thomas (muscle), Danny Pugh (ankle), Sebastien Amoros (knock), Kiko (hamstring), Anthony de Freitas (groin), Rigino Cicilia (calf), Tyler Walker (knee), Remie Streete (knee). Sam Foley (knock)

Betting: Northampton 7/10, draw 13/5, Vale 19/5

Form guide: Cobblers WWLLDW, Valiants WDLDLD

Avg. goals scored/conceded per game: Northampton 1.5/1.6, Vale 1.1/1.6

Likely line-ups: Northampton (4-4-2): Smith; Phillips, Diamond, Nyatanga, Buchanan; Williams, O’Toole, Taylor, K Anderson; Smith, Richards. Vale (4-4-2): Fasan; Purkiss, Smith, Knops, Kiko; Eagles, Tavares, Guy, Shodipo; Hooper, Forrester.

Man in the middle: Gavin Ward

Bruno Ribeiro resigned as Vale manager on Boxing Day, replaced by Michael Brown

Bruno Ribeiro resigned as Vale manager on Boxing Day, replaced by Michael Brown

Last time out: AFC Wimbledon 0 Northampton Town 1 (Taylor); Port Vale 3 (Eagles, Hooper 2) Swindon Town 2 (Ajose, Norris)

Most recent meeting: Saturday, December 10, 2016 – Port Vale 2 (Taylor, Cicilia) Northampton Town 3 (Zakuani, Hoskins, Anderson)

Record v Port Vale: P67 W28 D20 L19

Opposition view: Speaking ahead of their visit to Sixfields, Vale manager Michael Brown told the media: “My target is that we’ve got to get a certain amount of wins and we go again on Tuesday. We might have one or two back but we will see how it goes, it will be great to welcome some back. There are some massive games coming up and I’ve set myself a target in my head.”

While Vale bid for back-to-back wins for just the second time in 2016/17, the Cobblers could do something they’ve yet to achieve this season: win three straight league games.

Cobblers connection: Returning to Sixfields as a Vale man this evening, JJ Hooper scored more goals against Swindon on Saturday than he managed in the entire four months and 13 games he spent at Northampton earlier in the season. Finding the net just once, and that against Harrow Borough in the FA Cup, Hooper’s loan spell was not deemed a great success, prompting his return to Vale Park in January. The 23-year-old also played five times for the Cobblers in 2013/14, but again the goals eluded him.

James Heneghan’s preview: Buoyed by recent results, tonight’s clash at Sixfields brings together two teams whose similar seasons are only separated by the speed at which they’ve tumbled down the Sky Bey League One table.

Initially, both Port Vale and Northampton began the campaign positively, sitting fourth and fifth respectively at the end of September, but with the two currently in the bottom half and far from out of danger, thoughts of a potential promotion push have been replaced by fears of the drop.

All is not lost, however, especially if their most recent results are anything to go by.

Whilst the Cobblers were pinching a late 1-0 win over AFC Wimbledon on Saturday, Port Vale, inspired by former Town man JJ Hooper, were notching their first win of 2017, downing relegation rivals Swindon Town.

On target just once during his 13-game spell at Northampton, Hooper now has three in three for Vale, including a superb free-kick on Saturday, to help revive a faltering season which had been heading rapidly downhill from November onwards.

Even a change in manager failed to have the desired impact. Following the departure of Bruno Ribeiro on Boxing Day, Vale won just two of of their next 13 games under Michael Brown, both of those coming at home to teams in the current bottom three.

Still in the relegation zone themselves, Brown has also been badly hindered by a lengthy injury list, with up to nine first-team players a doubt for their trip to Sixfields including influential midfielder Sam Foley and impressive youngster Tyler Walker.

All in all, it’s a bleak outlook for the Valiants, and their cause this evening is not helped by some worrying statistics.

With only eight points since New Year’s Day, they have the second worst record in 2017, ahead of only Coventry, as well as the second worst away record of anyone in the division, again only Coventry have managed fewer than their one win and nine points on the road.

It’s a desperate situation albeit one which can be somewhat remedied by three points tonight.

And while Vale bid for back-to-back wins for just the second time in 2016/17, the Cobblers could do something they’ve yet to achieve this season: win three straight league games.

Recent performance suggest that is a strong possibility, too.

A world away from the troubles under the previous regime, Northampton were unrecognisable at Wimbledon on Saturday, Determined and resolute, they battled to just a second clean sheet of 2017 in a first away victory of 2017.

If the Cobblers can replicate that tonight at Sixfields, where they’re hunting a fifth win in six, they can take another sizable step towards safety.

Zander Diamond, a key part of Saturday’s impressive rearguard action, is a doubt having come off early at Kingsmeadow, perhaps paving the way for a rare start for Rod McDonald.

Other than that, it’s difficult to envisage Justin Edinburgh making too many changes.

Given the form of various teams below them, you cannot say Northampton are completely out of the woods just yet

Coventry’s inevitable relegation is just a question of when and not if, while Chesterfield also looked doomed, leaving up to 10 teams locked in a battle to avoid the final two bottom four places.

Tonight’s visitors currently occupy one of those spots and matters are further complicated by Vale’s three games in hand over nearly every side around them, although their recent form – four league wins since September – hardly suggest they are a team capable of stringing together the necessary run of results needed to avoid the drop, even if their fixtures are kind.

Nevertheless, victory at Sixfields would be a huge step forward.

The situation may not be quite so urgent for the Cobblers but such is the fast-moving nature of football, and with games to come against promotion-chasing trio Bolton, Sheffield United and Millwall all in the next month, they cannot ease up for a moment.

The sooner they hit the 50-point mark, the better for all involved.

Prediction: Northampton Town 3 Port Vale 1