James Heneghan’s Northampton Town v Walsall preview

Defender Gabriel Zakuani returns to Sixfields for the visit of Walsall this weekend after helping Congo qualify for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations
Defender Gabriel Zakuani returns to Sixfields for the visit of Walsall this weekend after helping Congo qualify for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations
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Fixture: Northampton Town v Walsall, Sky Bet League One

Date/kick-off time: Saturday, September 10, 3pm kick-off

Venue: Sixfields

Weather forecast: 16C, showers

Outs and doubts: Cobblers: John-Joe O’Toole (ankle). Walsall: Reece Flanagan (knee), James O’Connor (hamstring)

Betting: Northampton 23/20, draw 12/5, Walsall 9/4

Form guide: Cobblers WDDDDD, Walsall WDLLDD

Avg. goals scored/conceded per game: Northampton 1.0/0.8; Walsall 1.4/1.6

Likely line-ups: Northampton (4-1-4-1): Smith; Moloney, Diamond, Zakuani, Buchanan; McCourt; Anderson, Beautyman, Taylor, Gorre; Revell. Walsall (4-2-3-1): Etheridge; Kinsella, McCarthy, Toner, Edwards; Osbourne, Chambers; Makris, Oztumer, Morris; Jackson

Man in the middle: Gavin Ward

Last time out: Northampton Town 3 (Beautyman, Revell, Taylor) MK Dons 2 (Bowditch, Carruthers); Walsall 5 (Bakayoko 3, Morris, Kouhyar) Grimsby 2 (Boyce, Summerfield)

Most recent meeting: Saturday, February 21, 2009 – Northampton 0 Walsall 2 (Hughes, Ibehre)

Record v Walsall: P76 W30 D15 L31

Opposition view: Saddlers boss Jon Whitney is aiming to end Northampton’s unbeaten run on Saturday, saying this week: “All runs have to come to an end. It’s a challenge and a great opportunity for us but it’ll be a tough ask. They’ve bought some good players in and It’ll be a great game for the neutral because both teams like to play the right way. I respect Rob (Page) for what he’s done because he’s gone in there and kept the ball rolling and they’ve got momentum. I watched them against MK Dons and Coventry and they’re a good organised team, they’re a threat and they know their responsibilities.”

Cobblers connection: Alex Nicholls joined Northampton from Walsall in the summer of 2012 but his three-year stay at Sixfields was marred by a horrific double leg break just months after signing. The 28-year-old, who left Exeter for Barnet this summer, impressed in reserve and youth team games at the Saddlers before breaking into the first-team in 2005/06 and he would remain there for seven years, playing 219 games and scoring 28 goals. He left on a free in 2012 and was snapped up Northampton but that aforementioned injury meant he turned out only 29 times in three years. Others to have played for both Northampton and Walsall include former Cobblers manager Kevin Wilson, who played nearly 150 games for the Saddlers, and striker Sam Parkin.

James Heneghan’s preview: Consistency is usually the buzz word banded about once a team starts to show any hint of form and that has been and will be the message from Rob Page to his players as they attempt to build on last Sunday’s win over MK Dons.

After five successive draws, those three precious points would have been a relief as much as anything else to the new Cobblers boss, as well as his players and the fans, and with an inconsistent Walsall side next to rock up at Sixfields, another opportunity beckons on Saturday.

The win and performance over MK Dons was a significant one for many reasons, not least because it proved that this Cobblers side are capable of matching and even bettering anyone at this level.

Prior to that game, Northampton were too passive, almost waiting for something to happen, whereas for the first half-an-hour on Sunday they were always very much on the front foot, playing at a high tempo and forcing the opposition not only into basic errors but also to retreat onto the back foot.

It was notable upgrade on anything we’ve seen previously from Page’s team and now there can’t be any resting on laurels because performances like that must become the norm at Sixfields if the Cobblers are to be a successful League One side.

But as is often the case, when a team shows more attacking ambition, it comes at a cost at the other end and Northampton looked more defensively vulnerable against the Dons than in the five games previous.

So the return of Gabriel Zakuani from international duty this weekend is a timely one although his place in the team is by no means guaranteed due to Lewin Nyatanga’s solid start to his loan period at the club.

There’s another interesting selection conundrum for Rob Page if John-Joe O’Toole is fit enough to start. Last year’s Player of the Season is yet to live up to the same lofty heights this time around and Harry Beautyman’s excellent performance against MK Dons surely warrants another start in that more central role this weekend.

After their resounding semi-final defeat to Barnsley in last year’s play-offs, Walsall have so far stuttered as they seek to launch another bid for promotion this season, managing just one win from their first five games.

They had a week off last Saturday due to international call-ups, giving manager Jon Whitney, who was only appointed in June, plenty of time to do his homework on the Cobblers as he tries to do something which not a single one of his counterparts have managed in the whole of 2016 - win a league match against Northampton Town.

Prediction: Northampton Town 2 Walsall 1