Fixture: Carlisle United v Northampton Town, Sky Bet League Two
Date/time: Saturday, March 5, 3pm kick-off
Venue: Brunton Park
Forecast: 5C, cloudy
Outs and doubts: Carlisle: Danny Grainger (ankle), Antony Sweeney (hamstring), Brandon Comley (ankle), Charlie Wyke (knee), Dan Hanford (dead leg), Tom Miller (hamstring), David Atkinson (knock). Cobblers: Rod McDonald (ill), Marc Richards (Achilles), Paul Corry (knee).
Betting: Carlisle 21/10, draw 12/5, Northampton 6/5
Form guide: Carlisle DWLWDL, Cobblers DDWWWW
Avg. goals scored/conceded per game: Carlisle 1.6/1.4; Northampton 1.8/1.0
Likely line-ups: Carlisle (4-3-3): Gillespie; McQueen, Raynes, Ellis, Gillesphey; Joyce, Kennedy, Gilliead; Wyke, Ibehre, Hope. Northampton (4-4-2): Smith; Moloney, Diamond, Prosser, Buchanan; Holmes, O’Toole, Byrom, Martin; Collins, Marquis.
Man in the middle: David Coote will take charge of his second Cobblers game this season having overseen Northampton’s 4-1 defeat to Newcastle in the Capital One Cup. The Nottinghamshire official has only had to show red four times this season, all of those coming in two games.
Last time out: Carlisle 2 (Gillesphey, Raynes) Leyton Orient 2 (Simpson, Palmer); Northampton 1 (O’Toole) AFC Wimbledon 1 (Taylor)
Most recent meeting: Tuesday, October 20, 2015 – Northampton Town 3 (Calvert-Lewin 2, Hoskins) Carlisle 2 (Gilliead, Wyke)
Record v Carlisle: P39, W14, D13, L12
Opposition view: Keith Curle, speaking to the News & Star, on facing the league leaders: “It is a challenge, and the pleasing thing is that the players won’t shy away from it. The players won’t be scared. We will be respectful of Northampton, do our due diligence on them, our background work, and come up with a plan – but the players will still have freedom to express themselves.
“It is a massive game for us, a good game as well, and an opportunity against the runaway leaders of the division, who are undefeated in a number of games. How do we compare? Down there (in October’s 3-2 defeat) we caused them big problems. They know we will be a very competitive animal.”
Cobblers connection: He’s currently head of recruitment at Everton but Ian Atkins spent 31 years as a player and then a manager. After brief spells in charge of Colchester, Cambridge and Doncaster, Atkins’ first long-term managerial job came at Sixfields where he spent five years in the 1990s during which time he enjoyed great success, leading the club to the Second Division before missing out back-to-back promotions when losing to Grimsby Town in the play-off final. After relegation the following year, Atkins departed Northampton having won 89 of his 248 games in charge and was subsequently appointed manager at Chester. His reign at Chester was short-lived, though, as the following season he led Carlisle to safety in Division Three in 2001. He’s also had jobs at Oxford United, Bristol Rovers and Torquay United.
James Heneghan’s preview: Two draws in as many matches almost qualifies as a barren spell such is the craziness of this season and now the Cobblers have another tricky game to negotiate against a Carlisle United team who, like Wimbledon, also harbour play-off aspirations.
The race for a top seven spot in League Two is a chaotic one with just three points separating fifth place right down to 12th and Carlisle are one of those teams firmly in the mix.
The Cumbrians will fancy their chances too, particularly given that Hartlepool are the only side in the division to have played fewer games.
Thanks to their already hefty points haul, Northampton need not worry about the play-offs
To those on the outside, two draws after a 10-game winning run might seem like the wheels are about to fall off the Cobblers juggernaut but, in reality, those were two excellent points gained for different reasons, especially given none of their rivals were able to take advantage, Oxford United aside.
Chris Wilder’s men complete their trio of demanding treks up north this weekend with the longest one of all.
It also completes a gruelling run of fixtures with this being their seventh game in 21 days. Having already returned a points haul of 14, they can be satisfied with their work regardless of what happens on Saturday.
Danny Grainger, David Atkinson and Tom Miller could all be in contention to return to the Carlisle squad for the visit of the league leaders, although Charlie Wyke is a doubt after colliding with a post during Tuesday’s draw with Leyton Orient.
Wilder has been tinkering with both his system and personnel over the past few weeks and having set up 4-2-3-1 against Wimbledon on Tuesday before reverting to 4-4-2, the Cobblers boss must again decide whether to with both James Collins and John Marquis up front or pick one over the other.
Marc Richards is making good progress in his comeback from an Achilles injury but this weekend’s game has come too soon for the skipper, and Rod McDonald remains a doubt as he struggles to shake off a sickness bug.
With promotion and the title in their sights, Northampton don’t need any extra motivation but after Keith Curle expressed his “surprise” at the Cobblers being top, the Carlisle boss may have just provided it.
Prediction: Carlisle United 2 Northampton Town 2