Fixture: Northampton Town v Portsmouth, Sky Bet League Two
Date/time: Saturday, December 19, 3pm
Forecast: 13C, cloudy
Outs and doubts: Cobblers: Paul Corry (knee). Portsmouth: Gary Roberts (ankle), Matt Tubbs (ankle), Christian Burgess (ankle)
Betting: Northampton 13/5, Draw 5/2, Pompey 5/4
Form guide: Cobblers WWWWWW, Portsmouth: WWDWDD
Likely line-ups: Northampton (4-2-3-1): Smith; Moloney, Diamond, Cresswell, Buchanan; O’Toole, Byrom; D’Ath, Adams, Potter; Richards. Portsmouth: Murphy, Stevens, Webster, Clarke, Davies, Doyle, Bennett, Evans, Hollands, McNulty, Lavery
Man in the middle: Fred Graham took charge of two matches at Sixfields last season, and the Cobblers lost them both, 3-2 to Plymouth in December and 1-0 to Cambridge in April. Overall, he has refereed the Cobblers seven times, and he was in the middle when Town won a crucial 1-0 victory at Accrington in April, 2014.
Last time out: Luton Town 3 Northampton Town 4 (O’Toole, D’Ath, Richards, Holmes); Portsmouth 4 (Lavery, OG, Evans, McNulty) Hartlepool United 0
The added bonus for Cobblers fans is that they have gone top playing an exhilarating style of football, performing with verve, style, flair, pace, energy and real qualityJeremy Casey
Most recent meeting: Tuesday, March 3, 2015 – Northampton 1 (Holmes) Portsmouth 0
Record v Portsmouth: P27 W6 D7 L14
Opposition view: Portsmouth manager Paul Cook: “Every game offers a different challenge, and because of Northampton’s run and their league position, the game will get that extra bit of media attention, and it is a difficult game.
“When the fixtures come out I look at all the fixtures including the last one, which is Northampton at home, which also looks a bit of a good fixture at the minute! But it is what it is.
“We just keep going, and I think it is boring messages from managers sometimes and it’s repetition of what you do, and in my opinion what will see you home, but Saturday is going to be a very, very difficult game but a good one.”
Cobblers connection: There aren’t too many connections between the clubs. John Curtis finished his career with a season at Sixfields in 2009-10 having spent a year with Pompey when they were a Premier League club in 2004, while winger Andy Turner also played for both clubs. Turner is more associated with Portsmouth though, as his stay at Northampton was very brief as he was brought to the club by Terry Fenwick, and didn’t stick around for much longer than the manager! In more recent times, Danny East, who enjoyed a successful loan spell at Sixfields, played for Portsmouth for two seasons - scoring the winner when the teams met at Sixfields in April, 2014 - and another ex-Town loanee, Enda Stevens, is a fixture in the current Portsmouth defence.
Jeremy Casey’s preview: The chasers become the chased.
That’s the scenario facing the Cobblers as Chris Wilder’s team get used to life as top dogs in Sky Bet League Two.
To even find themselves at the head of the table after 21 games is a remarkable achievement for Northampton after their months of off-field turmoil.
It can’t be understated what a fantastic job Wilder has done in concentrating his players’ minds on their role out on the pitch, especially in those worrying weeks when the future of the club was in serious peril.
But concentrate on their jobs they did, and a brilliant run of one defeat in 15 league games has seen them rise from mid-table to the top of the pile.
The added bonus for Cobblers fans is that they have done it playing an exhilarating style of football, performing with verve, style, flair, pace, energy and real quality.
It’s certainly no fluke the Cobblers are where they are, but the trick now is going to be staying there.
For outsiders that shouldn’t pose a problem, they just have to keep doing what they’re doing, keep playing as they’re playing, keep banging in the goals.
But it’s not as simple as that.
The team will obviously try to keep calm and carry on, but it’s how other teams will approach games against them that will change.
The Cobblers are there to be shot down, they are a scalp, a prize, and the first team that will come to Sixfields trying to knock them off their perch are Portsmouth, the team Wilder calls ‘the best in the division’.
Whether that statement is true or not remains to be seen, but Pompey certainly represent one of the toughest, if not the toughest test they will face at Sixfields this season.
Paul Cook’s men are right up there with the Cobblers in the form table, and in recent weeks have found their shooting boots at Fratton Park, romping to 6-0 and 4-0 wins over struggling York City and Hartlepool United respectively.
But their form on the road is not as impressive, and the Cobblers should go into this game without any sort of fear factor - they are top of the league for a reason after all.
Portsmouth should come to Sixfields to play and try to win the game, and that should suit a Town team that at times struggles to find its attacking fluency when a team sits back and sets out to simply defend, as Yeovil Town did at Sixfields a few weeks ago.
A full-house is expected at Sixfields, confidence his high in both camps, both teams are renowned for their attacking football, and it should be a crackling, big-match atmosphere. That’s something the Northampton players have revelled in in recent weeks, and I expect them to do the same on Saturday.
The Cobblers have a great chance to open up a nine-point gap between them and a Pompey side that will be one of their main promotion rivals.
It’s an opportunity for Wilder’s men to to rubber-stamp their promotion credentials and send out a message to the rest of the league two that they are at the top to stay, and go into Christmas on a huge high.
And I reckon they will do it. But it will be tight!
As for the team news, the Cobblers are likely to be unchanged from the team that won 4-3 at Luton Town last Saturday, with former Portsmouth player of the year Ricky Holmes again having to make do with a place on the bench.
Pompey have been hit by an ankle injury to central defender Christian Burgess, who has played every gleague ame for them so far this term. He will be replaced by 19-year-old Matt Clarke, who is at Fratton Park on loan from Ipswich Town, and he’ll line up alongside 20-year-old Adam Webster in a very youthful partnership.
Prediction: Northampton 2 Portsmouth 1