Fixture: Port Vale v Northampton Town, Sky Bet League One
Date/time: Saturday, December 10, 3pm kick-off
Venue: Vale Park
Forecast: 10C, rain
Outs and doubts: Vale: Anthony Grant (suspended), Jerome Thomas (hamstring), Martin Paterson (strain), Sam Foley (ankle), Anton Forrester (hamstring), Ben Purkiss (shoulder). Cobblers: Brendan Moloney (knee), Zander Diamond (fractured cheekbone), John-Joe O’Toole (suspended – 1/2), JJ Hooper (thigh)
Betting: Vale 21/10, draw 12/5, Northampton 5/4
Form guide: Vale WDDLWD, Cobblers LLLLDW
Avg. goals scored/conceded per game: Port Vale 1.2/1.5, Northampton 1.4/1.4
Likely line-ups: Vale (4-1-4-1): Alnwick; Taylor, Streete, Smith, Kiko; Amoros; Jones, De Freitas, Tavares, Kelly; Cicilia. Northampton (4-3-3): Cornell; Phillips, Zakuani, Nayatanga, Buchanan; McCourt, Taylor, Hoskins; Anderson, Potter, Revell.
Man in the middle: Graham Salisbury
Last time out: Port Vale 4 (Cicilia, Carroll OG, Jones, Taylor) Hartlepool United 0; Northampton Town 0 Bolton Wanderers 1 (Clough)
Most recent meeting: Saturday, April 20, 2013 – Port Vale 2 (Chilvers, Collins OG) Northampton 2 (Carlisle, O’Donovan)
Record v Vale: P66 W27 D20 L19
Cobblers connection: After swapping Vale Park for Sixfields in the summer, current Cobblers boss Rob Page is the obvious choice for this slot. Page spent much of his distinguished 18-year playing career at Watford where he made over 250 appearances between 1993 and 2001. After further spells at Sheffield United, Cardiff, Coventry, Huddersfield and Chesterfield – as well as 41 international capes for Wales – Page was offered a coaching role in 2011 by then-Port Vale manager Micky Adams. He started in club’s youth set-up and gradually worked his way through the ranks; from first-team coach to caretaker manager to assistant and, finally, when Adams resigned in 2014, to manager. He enjoyed two mixed but relatively satisfying seasons at Vale, leading them to 18th and then 12th last year, before making the switch to Northampton in the summer.
James Heneghan’s preview: Rob Page’s old stomping ground provides the setting for Northampton this weekend as they bid to resurrect their stuttering season against another side who have somewhat lost their way in recent weeks following a promising start.
Both the Cobblers and Port Vale have occupied a top six spot at some point this season but with just one win in their last eight league games combined, they go into Saturday’s meeting on downward trajectories, sitting 17th and 12th respectively.
Yet to string consecutive wins together on more than one occasion this season and with the second worst goal difference of the top 17, Vale in particular, under the stewardship of Page’s replacement, former Leeds United midfielder Bruno Ribeiro, have been bouncing around the League One table unable to settle.
A 4-0 home victory win over Hartlepool United in last Sunday’s FA Cup second round tie represented their first win in four games, and it’s at Vale Park where most of their success has come this term, with 21 of their 27 points collected in home games.
Among their ranks, the Valiants have two young players tipped for big things in 20-year-old centre-back Nathan Smith, who’s attracted Premier League interest, and top scorer Alex Jones, who’s netted 10 goals from the wing since signing on loan from Birmingham City in the summer.
Both are expected to feature against Northampton on Saturday, as well as former Newcaslte United defender Ryan Taylor.
Neither of these two sides have familiarised themselves with the concept of consistency this season, part of the reason why it remains difficult to forecast how much either can achieve.
The Cobblers need to get back on the winning trail – and fast – otherwise their decent down League One will only gather pace, triggering further fears over whether or not they are capable of avoiding being sucked into a relegation battle.
With the squad Page has at his disposal and the success of last season still fresh in the mind, Northampton should be nowhere close to the bottom four come May but that will be the harsh reality unless they turn good performances and narrow defeats into hard-fought draws and precious wins.
It’s now over a month since their last victory in any competition and six weeks since they lasted notched up three points in the league, a run that has taken them from seventh to 17th.
Their last three fixtures, all narrow defeats in tight games against three promotion hopefuls, were never going to be a cakewalk, and December’s schedule does not bring much light relief.
After Port Vale, fifth-placed Rochdale are the visitors to Sixfields and then comes the hectic Christmas period which has not been kind to Northampton this time around.
Between Boxing Day and January 2, the Cobblers head to both Oxford and Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United before Bradford complete a gruelling seven-day spell by making the hop down south.
With that in mind, notching at least one win from their next two is a necessity otherwise they could find themselves in a sticky situation come the New Year.
The news of Brendan Moloney’s knee injury, which will keep him sidelined for up to eight weeks, does little to brighten the gloomy outlook.
Back-up right-back Aaron Phillips is an able deputy but he does not possess the same attacking drive and offensive threat as Moloney, who will be sorely missed in a crucial and busy period of the season.
He is one of four absentees for the trip to Stoke-on-Trent. John-Joe O’Toole remains suspended, Zander Diamond is making good progress but Saturday will come to soon, and JJ Hooper has suffered a setback as he recovers from a thigh strain.
If the Cobblers are to return to winning ways this weekend, much will hinge on Page rediscovering the right formula, something which has escaped him in recent games, especially on the road.
Accused of being too negative in away games, the problem for Page has been finding a way of giving Alex Revell enough support up front without exposing his midfield and leaving Northampton vulnerable to the counter-attack, leading to an element of passiveness creeping into their play.
In Saturday’s case, attack might be the best form of defence, particularly given they are up against a Vale side who are deprived of up to six first-choice players this weekend and have the second leakiest defence in the top half.
And while Port Vale will also target this game as an opportunity to get their league campaign back on track. Page must ensure it is a happy return to Vale Park.
Prediction: Port Vale 2 Northampton Town 2