Fixture: Rochdale v Northampton Town, Sky Bet League One
Date/time: Saturday, April 1, 3pm kick-off
Venue: Spotland Stadium
Forecast: 11C, showers
Outs and doubts: Rochdale: Keith Keane (suspended), Reuben Noble-Lazarus (ankle), Josh Lillis (knee). Cobblers: Alex Revell (calf), Gabriel Zakuani (hamstring), Sam Hoskins (knee)
Betting: Dale 3/4, draw 14/5, Northampton 16/5
Form guide: Rochdale LWDWLD, Cobblers DLWWWL
Avg. goals scored/conceded per game: Rochdale 1.6/1.5; Northampton 1.4/1.6
Likely line-ups: Rochdale (4-3-3): Logan; McGahey, Canavan, Bunney, McNulty; Allen, Lund, Camps; Andrew, Henderson, Mendez-Laing. Northampton (4-4-2): Smith; Phillips, Diamond, Nyatanga, Buchanan; McCourt, O’Toole, Taylor, Williams; Smith, Richards.
Man in the middle: Mark Haywood
Last time out: AFC Wimbledon 3 (Kelly, Taylor, Parett) Rochdale 1 (Camps); Northampton Town 0 Oxford United 0
Most recent meeting: Saturday, December 17, 2016 – Northampton 2 (Taylor, Hoskins) Rochdale 3 (Lund 3)
Record v Rochdale: P60 W20 D20 L20
Cobblers connection: With 12 goals and seven assists to his name, one time Cobbler Ian Henderson has been the driving force behind Rochdale’s promotion push this season. The 32-year-old striker has found his home at Spotland having struggled to settle elsewhere, even making two appearances for Turkish club Ankaragucu. Henderson’s time at Sixfields was almost as brief; he featured 33 times in 2007 and 2008 during which time he failed to register any of his 100 career goals, a landmark that was brought up at Chesterfield last weekend.
James Heneghan’s preview: The 49th installment of Northampton’s tumultuous season takes them to Rochdale and Spotland Stadium where their pitiful recent record does little to instill much confidence ahead of the long trip north.
Not only have they won just one of the last 13 meetings dating back to 2004, you have to go all the way back to the year 2000 to find the last time the Cobblers left Spotland with all three points.
Steve Howard, James Hunt and Carlo Corazzin were the scorers in a 3-0 victory on that day, though a similar scoreline this Saturday seems unlikely given Rochdale’s impressive home record.
Dale have lost only three times on their own patch throughout 2016/17, and only once since August. More recently, Spotland has also been the scene for some high-scoring thrillers; in fact three of their last four home games have ended 3-3.
But their form in 2017 should offer the Cobblers some encouragement. Keith Hill’s side have won just three and lost six of their 15 league games since the turn of the year to slip from fourth and in contention for automatic promotion to ninth and well adrift of the play-offs.
Dale have lost only three times on their own patch throughout 2016/17, and only once since August, while they’ve also been involved in their fair share of high-scoring draws; in fact three of their last four home games have ended 3-3.
In fact, their downturn in form has been so steep that they would sit 19th in a table based purely on games in 2017 so far, five points behind the Cobblers in 15th.
That prolonged poor form has severely damaged any hopes of challenging for promotion and leaves them needing to win virtually all of their remaining seven games to realistically finish in the top six.
So by no means should Northampton be written off this weekend, especially given they are a team heading in the opposite direction to Saturday’s opponents – upwards – as they seek to finish the season with a flourish.
The draw at Oxford took them past the 50-point mark and bear in mind that only two teams in the past 10 seasons have gone down with that many points, they can enter these final six games without constantly having to look over their shoulders.
Their next three assignments are about as difficult as they come but each one presents them with an opportunity to lay down a marker ahead of next season and prove their recent resurgence is no flash in the pan.
John-Joe O’Toole and Luke Williams should be fit for the trip to Lancashire and both will bring back a bit of guile and craft to midfield, two elements that were missing in the draw with Oxford.
Brendan Moloney is pushing Aaron Phillips at right-back but, that aside, once again it’s difficult to envisage Justin Edinburgh making wholesale changes to a team that seems to have struck the right balance at just the right time.
One thing we should almost be guaranteed this weekend is goals. If you add each team’s goals scored to their goals conceded this season, Northampton are alongside Rochdale and Sheffield United as the division’s second most entertaining League One sides, each with a combined 120 goals, behind only Bury (127).
If ever there was a precursor to a dull goalless draw, that was it.
Prediction: Rochdale 2 Northampton Town 2