ON THE CASE: Cobblers can cause Cup shock, referees getting away with it, super Saints Academy and a striking issue

Northampton will be in the sporting spotlight on Friday night when the Cobblers and Saints both play home games in front of the BT Sports cameras.

Friday, 24th January 2020, 11:14 am
Updated Friday, 24th January 2020, 12:29 pm
Will the Derby County players be smiling after the match against the Cobblers on Friday night?

Chris Boyd's title-chasers take on London Irish in the Gallagher Premiership (ko 7.45pm), while Keith Curle's Town entertain Derby County in the FA Cup fourth round at the PTS Academy Stadium (ko 8pm).

It's a great chance for both clubs to show the nation and beyond exactly what they are all about, and to let everybody know what a great sporting town this is.

Indeed, they can show there is no finer town - which we already know there isn't!

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Cobblers defender Scott Wharton

Being beamed across the country on live televison is nothing unusual for the Saints, who are regularly featured thanks to their exploits in the top flight of English rugby as well as the European Cup, but for the Cobblers this is a big deal.

Town haven't been featured on live TV in the UK since they were beaten 3-1 by Manchester United in the League Cup back in 2016, and the players and supporters will relish their chance to be centre of attention.

No matter the result on Friday, this has been an excellent FA Cup run for the Cobblers, but I believe they have a genuine chance of progressing to the fifth round for the first time since 1970, and that infamous County Ground thrashing at the hands of a George Best-inspired Red Devils.

Of course if will be tough, as the derby line-up is packed full of quality and experience, with nobody fitting that bill better than Wayne Rooney.

George Furbank has been included in the England squad for the Six Nations

The former Manchester United man may now be 34 and entering his twilight years as a footballer, but he is still a class act.

Then there are the likes of former England midfielder Tom Huddlestone and current Wales international Tom Lawrence, plus the likes of Martyn Maghorn, Curtis Davies, Andrew Wisdom, Matt Clarke and, if he is fit, Brixworth boy Jack Marriott.

On paper, and if they pick their strongest side, the Rams should be shoo-ins for the win, especially as the Cobblers have never beaten them (although they haven't played since 1967!).

But we all know that's not how it works, and the Cobblers can go into the game with confidence and genuine belief.

Harry Kane was injured on New Year's Day, and is not expected to be fit until April

Curle's men have won eight and drawn one of their past nine home games in all competitions, they haven't lost at the PTS since October 5, and they are on a six-match unbeaten run.

The PTS is going to be packed to the rafters which will act as an inspiration to the Town players, and the Town supporters, who have been magnificent in recent weeks, can play a massive part by really getting behind their team from the first minute to the last.

Then there is the pitch itself, which is showing the signs of wear and tear of a long, wet winter.

Derby's players are used to playing on surfaces that are like a billiard table, and despite the superb ground staff's best efforts, the PTS pitch - thanks to a stack of games and a lot of training sessions - has more than a few bumps and bobbles that can make the best player look a fool.

The Cobblers are used to it though, they play on it several times a week, and that could play a real part, especially if Derby want to play their usual passing game.

So, we've got the lowest ranked team in the competition, we've got a wearing pitch, we've got a full-house of just shy of 8,000, it's under the floodlights, and we have got the TV cameras in attendance, beaming the action across the globe.

The match has all the makings of an FA Cup classic and, fingers crossed, all the ingredients of an FA Cup giant-killing.

Here's hoping!

A big disappointment for the Cobblers tonight is that impressive central defender Scott Wharton won't be involved following his late red card in Tuesday night's 1-1 draw at Leyton Orient

The Blackburn loan man got involved in a fracas following Josh Wright's equalising penalty after 85 minutes, trying to grab the ball back from a home player who had picked it out of the net.

It was something Wharton didn't need to do, and he has a right to feel aggrieved at being sent-off as he certainly wasn't the main aggressor in the incident, but he put himself in the situation and has to accept his three-match ban.

But there is little doubt that the whole incident was sparked by referee Alan Young's awful decision to award the Os the penalty in the first place.

Wharton was clearly pushed before handling the ball in the box, and he should have been awarded the free-kick.

But instead, Young gave the penalty, much to the frustration and anger of the Cobblers team.

That definitely led to the emotions getting the better of a few players and sparked the fracas following the goal, and now both clubs could find themselves in the dock for failing to control their players.

But the referee, who arguably kicked it all off with a poor decision, is able to just walk away from it saying 'nothing to do with me, guv'.

And that is not right.

I have seen plenty of games this season, and in the majority of them the referees have been pretty terrible, yet there never seems to be any comeback on them.

They just carry on, making the same mistakes over and over again, frustrating managers, players and supporters alike, and I don't get it.

Referees should be held accountable for their mistakes, just as players are, but that is not the case. It should be.

It was great news this week that six Saints players have been included in England's training squad ahead of the Six Nations, which starts next week.

It is yet another sign of the excellent work that is being done by the Academy at Franklin's Gardens, with graduates Lewis Ludlam, George Furbank, Fraser Dingwall and Alex Moon all joining another homegrown Saint, Courtney Lawes, in the Six Nations squad, and Alex Mitchell being included in the training group.

So it seems the academy is now not only producing players for the Saints, which is what it is there for, but it seems it is also doing a sterling job when it comes to the good of English rugby as well.

And by all accounts there are plenty more coming along the production line as well.

It all bodes well for the future at the Gardens. Good stuff.

How can it be that clubs the size of Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United are thrown into a tailspin when one striker is ruled out through injury?

Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford are facing lengthy spells in the treatment room and the panic button is immediately pressed as replacements are sought, and have to be signed before the transfer window closes next Friday.

These are huge clubs, with huge resources, and literally hundreds of players coming through their academy and youth systems.

In defence of United and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, he has already promoted 18-year-old Mason Greenwood to good effect - but he also sold Romelu Lukaku in the summer and didn't replace him.

Where is the planning?

These Premier League clubs have big squads and money to burn to bring in who they want, so why are they leaving themselves so short?

They wouldn't only have one goalkeeper in their ranks, so why only one or even two proper strikers?

Seems like madness to me.