James Heneghan’s Walsall v Northampton Town preview

Alex Revell's late penalty sealed a 2-0 win for the Cobblers when Walsall came to Sixfields earlier this season
Alex Revell's late penalty sealed a 2-0 win for the Cobblers when Walsall came to Sixfields earlier this season
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Fixture: Walsall v Northampton Town, Sky Bet League One

Date/time: Saturday, February 4, 3pm

Venue: Bescot Stadium

Forecast: 7C, cloudy

Outs and doubts: Walsall: Reece Flanagan (knee). Cobblers: Gabriel Zakuani (hamstring), Alex Revell (calf), Brendan Moloney (knee), Sam Hoskins (knee)

Betting: Walsall 13/10, draw 5/2, Northampton 19/10

Form guide: Walsall DDWWLW, Cobblers WLLLLL

Avg. goals scored/conceded per game: Walsall 1.2/1.3; Northampton 1.4/1.7

Likely line-ups: Walsall (3-5-2): Etheridge; O’Connor, Preston, O’Connell; McCarthy, Chambers, Cuvelier, Osbourne, Edwards; Oztumer, Bakayoko. Cobblers (4-4-2): Smith; Eardley, Diamond, Nyatanga, Buchanan; Taylor, O’Toole, Boateng, Williams; Richards, Anderson.

Man in the middle: Robert Jones

Last time out: Milwall 0 Walsall 0; Northampton 3 (Anderson 3) Coventry 0

Most recent meeting: Saturday, September 10, 2016 - Northampton Town 2 (Taylor, Revell) Walsall 0

Record v Walsall: P77 W31 D15 L31

Opposition view: “It’s going to be a tough game on Saturday but I think we can give any team a tough game,” said Saddlers boss Jon Whitney after his side’s draw with Millwall on Wednesday. “It’s key for us to concentrate on ourselves and what we’re doing right. There are always areas to improve but we’ll look at that and try to recover and get ourselves ready for a battle on Saturday.”

Walsall manager Jon Whitney

Walsall manager Jon Whitney

Cobblers connection: Former Cobblers boss Kevin Wilson spent much of his 22-year playing career at Walsall, making well over 150 appearances for the Saddlers between 1994 and 1997. Scorer of 199 goals in all, Wilson also enjoyed lengthy spells at Chelsea and Derby County before finishing his career at Northampton where he also managed for two years. His career since has been spent in non-league, taking charge of the likes of Bedford Town, Aylesbury United, Kettering Town, Corby Town and most recently Nuneaton.

James Heneghan’s preview: After finally ending their long home drought with last week’s pressure-relieving win over Coventry City, Northampton must now set about fixing their defensive troubles on the road where they’ve conceded five goals on each of their last two away trips.

The Bristol Rovers’ abomination – the nadir of Rob Page’s ill-fated reign – and the MK Dons disaster were the sort of nightmares that take a while to recover from, but now back on the winning trail and with a much-needed clean sheet under their belts, Northampton must now demonstrate that they have turned a corner once and for all.

The only way to do just that is by beating Walsall on Saturday, or at least maintaining a similar level of performance to the one in the second-half against Coventry.

Just like previous wins over Port Vale and Oxford United, both followed by defeats thus stalling any momentum and draining confidence, last Saturday’s victory will mean little if the Cobblers are unable to build from it.

Consistency is and always has been the bedrock of any successful team but it is something that Town have distinctly lacked this season; only three times have they strung together successive league wins and not once have they won three on the trot.

With back-to-back home fixtures to come against struggling duo Chesterfield and Swindon after Saturday’s visit to the midlands, this next 10 days represents an opportune time for Justin Edinburgh’s men to put their foot down.

With back-to-back home fixtures to come against struggling duo Chesterfield and Swindon after Saturday’s visit to the midlands, this next 10 days represents an opportune time for Justin Edinburgh’s men to put their foot down.

If they can do that and, say, notch at least six points from those three games, fears of relegation will diminish and hopes of a mid-table finish will become more realistic.

But the flip side is that a defeat to the Saddlers would leave them nervously looking over their shoulder once again, cranking up the pressure on the two home games to come.

And they face no mean feat against a Walsall side who have lost just twice in the last 11 league games, a run which includes two impressive wins over table-toppers Sheffield United.

Jon Whitney’s side, who drew 0-0 at Millwall on Wednesday, were in the bottom four after winning only two of their first 10 matches but their form since, spearheaded by Erhun Oztumer’s 10 goals and three assists, has led them to the safety of mid-table, with a late play-off push not totally out of the question.

The respective fortunes of these two teams have virtually reversed since their previous meeting at Sixfields in September, when Matty Taylor’s header and Alex Revell’s late penalty took the Cobblers eighth and left Walsall just two points off bottom.

It’s all change now ahead of tomorrow’s reunion at the Bescot Stadium.

Aside from the result, the win over Coventry offered some encouragement for Northampton, especially the performances of loan trio Keshi Anderson, Hiram Boateng and Luke Williams.

Their stay at Sixfields might only be temporary but, between them, those three – with Anderson’s goals, Boateng’s strength and Williams’ guile – could hold the key to Northampton’s season.

The defence also looked more assured, albeit against 10 men, and with Gabriel Zakuani back in the country following his exploits in Africa, things are starting to look up again.

Tuesday signalled the end of another frustrating transfer window for the Cobblers. With three title-winners leaving in Alfie Potter, Joel Byrom and Lawson D’Ath, Rob Page and then Justin Edinburgh raided the loan market, signing Hiram Boateng, Gregg Wylde, Keshi Anderson, Luke Williams and Michael Smith, as well as right-back Neal Eardley on a free.

Those six additions all bring something different but the absence of more defensive cover remains the biggest concern, and you feel much will rely on the form and fitness of Zakuani if the Cobblers are to tighten up at the back.

It’s also not ideal to have so many loanees – six in all – with only five allowed in any matchday squad, but that is the reality of the current market and Northampton were far from the only club who struggled to do business in January.

Now Edinburgh must work with what he has, which should be enough to get to the end of the season without worrying about what’s beneath.

To do that, performances like the one against Coventry must become the norm, starting against Walsall on Saturday.

Northampton must avoid defeat, otherwise they’ll be back to square one again.

Prediction: Walsall 1 Northampton Town 1