James Heneghan’s Northampton Town v Scunthorpe United preview

Jak McCourt's goal earned Cobblers a point in the reverse fixture at Galnford Park

Jak McCourt's goal earned Cobblers a point in the reverse fixture at Galnford Park

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Fixture: Northampton Town v Scunthorpe United, Sky Bet League One

Date/time: Saturday, January 14, 3pm kick-off

Venue: Sixfields

Forecast: 2C, sunny

Outs and doubts: Cobblers: Brendan Moloney (knee), Gabriel Zakuani (international duty), Aaron Phillips (hamstring), Paul Anderson (cut). Scunthorpe: Conor Townsend (groin), David Mirfin (foot), Scott Wiseman (hamstring), Paddy Madden (groin)

Betting: Northampton 21/10, draw 12/5, Scunthorpe 5/4

Form guide: Cobblers LLLWLL, Iron WDLDWL

Avg. goals scored/conceded per game: Northampton 1.3/1.6; Scunthorpe 2.0/1.0

Possible line-ups: Northampton (4-4-2): Smith; Eardley, Diamond, Nyatanga, Buchanan; Hoskins, Boateng, Taylor, Wylde; Revell, Richards. Scunthorpe (4-4-2): Daniels; Toffolo, Wallace, Clarke, Goode; Morris, Dawson, Mantom, Bishop; Hopper, Van Veen.

Man in the middle: Graham Horwood

Last time out: Bristol Rovers 5 Northampton Town 0; Oxford 4 Scunthorpe 1 (Williams)

Most recent meeting: Saturday, October 8, 2016 – Scunthorpe United 1 (Morris) Northampton Town 1 (McCourt)

Record v Scunthorpe: P60 W21 D17 L22

Opposition view: United boss Graham Alexander has warned his side not to be complacent this weekend, saying: “We came up against Bury last weekend who hadn’t won in a while and everyone saw how tough a challenge that was. We have to put any thoughts about it being an easy game out of our minds because it certainly won’t be.

Caretaker manager Paul Wilkinson will take charge of Saturday's game

Caretaker manager Paul Wilkinson will take charge of Saturday's game

“We have to make sure we’re as good as we have been all season to get a positive result out of the game. We felt we should have won against them earlier in the season but any team at this level are competitive and it’s going to be a battle.

“They have a lot of experienced players and they’ve been hit hard but you usually react to that and we have to be aware of their quality and focus on our own performance.”

Cobblers connection: During his 18-year career, Jamie Forrester played over 100 league games for two clubs: Northampton Town and Scunthorpe United. After stop-start spells at Leeds and Grimsby in his early playing days, Forrester’s first sustained run of first-team football came at Glanford Park where he stayed for two years between 1997 and 1999, making 122 appearances in all, before being lured away by FC Utrecht. His time in Holland was short-lived, however, and he was soon back in England where it was at Sixfields he enjoyed perhaps the most success, scoring a goal every other game to fire the Cobblers to promotion. He played a total of 124 times for Northampton and impressed so much he was signed by Hull City manager Peter Taylor in 2003. But the now 42-year-old struggled to replicate his Cobblers success anywhere else despite spending time at Bristol Rovers, Lincoln City and Notts County prior to his retirement in 2010.

Another link between Scunthorpe and Northampton only emerged this week in the form of Ivan Toney. So close to rejoining the Cobblers on loan from Newcastle this month, the 20-year-old will indeed be back at Sixfields on Saturday but it won’t be as a home player. Instead, he may well line up for the away side after opting to sign for United on Thursday.

James Heneghan’s preview: Heading to Sixfields with their tails up and promotion in sight, Scunthorpe United will sense blood this weekend when they have the opportunity to inflict more pain on the wounded Cobblers.

In contrast to the troubled fortunes currently being endured by Northampton, United have been flying high under the impressive tutelage of Graham Alexander this season.

United boss Graham Alexander

United boss Graham Alexander

A 3-2 victory over free-falling Bury last time out arrested a mini-wobble for Alexander’s men, who had failed to win five of their previous six to slide out of the automatic promotion places.

That result keeps them in a three-way battle for both promotion and the title, and they will be many people’s overwhelming favourites to continue their charge on Saturday when they make the hop down south.

But if the Cobblers require any inspiration to remedy their own ailing fortunes, they’d do well to look back to happier times, specifically last October and the reverse fixture between these two at Glanford Park when they produced arguably their best performance of the season.

Trailing 1-0 and reduced to 10 men away at a team flying at the top of the table, you’d have been forgiven for thinking the game was up.

But the Cobblers refused to be beaten and their impressive second-half performance was rewarded when Jak McCourt’s late goal salvaged a deserved point, keeping them fifth in League One and maintaining a promising start to the season.

With just 12 points earned in the following 14 games, culminating in Rob Page’s sacking on Monday, it’s fair to say the wheels have since come crashing off.

It’s been a steady decline ever since that draw at Glanford Park, and eventually Page paid the ultimate price; the nadir of his ill-fated reign coming in last weekend’s horror show at the Memorial Stadium when Town found themselves 4-0 down inside 25 catastrophic minutes.

The decision to remove Page from his position as manager was unquestionably the correct one, even if Northampton’s season hadn’t quite reached crisis point.

The fact was things were only going one way and the worryingly apathetic nature of their performance against Rovers was proof that the team had permanently lost their way under Page, who was helpless to halt their tumble down the table.

The problem is, once a team begin to slide, it doesn’t take much for things to spiral out of control. And the more that downward slide gathers pace, the harder it is to stop.

With that in mind, chairmen Kelvin Thomas was left with no option, and the challenge for him now is to make a swift but sensible appointment by bringing in someone who can have an immediate impact and steer the ship away from choppy waters.

But it seems that appointment will have to wait until after Saturday’s game. Although speed is important, this is a potentially critical decision in the context of both Northampton’s season and the club’s immediate future, so it’s crucial Thomas gets it right, even if it does take longer than is ideal.

For now, it’s left to caretaker Paul Wilkinson to pick up the pieces and rebuild the shattered confidence of this demoralised squad, and his first task is to overcome Northampton’s woeful recent record at Sixfields by finally winning at home again - or at least not losing.

Since October, they’ve played four and lost four.

Much of that has owed to their own cautious approach which has allowed visiting teams to dominate games, something they can ill-afford against League One’s top scorers this weekend.

With Brendan Moloney definitely out and Aaraon Phillips a doubt, new signing Neil Eardley is set to slot straight in at right-back but who else Wilkinson selects and what formation he chooses is anyone’s guess.

Hiram Boateng was the one ray of sunshine on a glum day in Bristol and he will surely keep his place in midfield, while Lewin Nyatanga is fit again following illness so should replace Rod McDonald at the back.

JJ Hooper has returned to parent club Port Vale and Paul Anderson is out injured, meaning fellow winger Greg Wylde has a strong chance of starting again after suffering the ignominy of being replaced before half-time at the Memorial Stadium last week.

Whichever way the Cobblers seem to turn at present, trouble awaits. In one sense, the pressure is off this weekend. Not many will expect anything other than a comfortable United victory, and that just might work in Northampton’s favour.

Prediction: Northampton Town 1 Scunthorpe United 3

Matty Taylor saw red in October's meeting

Matty Taylor saw red in October's meeting