Fixture: Cheltenham Town v Northampton Town, Sky Bet League Two
Date/time: Saturday, March 23, 3pm kick-off
Venue: Whaddon Road
Forecast: 11C, sunny spells
Outs and doubts: Robins: Billy Waters (ineligible), Alex Addai (hamstring), Sean Long (knee). Cobblers: Shaun McWilliams (hamstring), George Cox (ankle), Junior Morias (ill)
Betting: Cheltenham 8/5, draw 11/5, Northampton 17/10
Form guide: Robins LWDLWW, Cobblers DWWWWD
Possible line-ups: Cheltenham (3-5-2): Flinders; Raglan, Tozer, Boyle; Broom, Dawson, Tillson, Clements, Hussey; Varey, Barnett. Northampton (4-4-1-1): Cornell; Goode, Taylor, Pierre, Buchanan; Hoskins, Turnbull, Foley, Bridge; O’Toole, Sordell.
Man in the middle: Charles Breakspear – more on that here...
Last time out: Newport 1 Cheltenham 0; Grimsby 0 Northampton 0
Most recent meeting: Saturday, September 8, 2018 – Northampton Town 1 (van Veen) Cheltenham 3 (Boyle, Thomas, Mooney)
Record v Cheltenham: P31 W11 D8 L12
Opposition view: Robins boss Michael Duff said this week. “I don’t think Northampton should have been where they were, but they were and Keith has come in and done a really good job. I think they’ve only lost 10 games all season and most of them were at the start of the season.
They’re organised from set-plays; they’re a real threat from them, they throw seven in the box, and have good variation within it so we’ll be under no illusions that it’ll be typical League Two and you’ve got to be able to stand up and fight.”
James Heneghan’s preview: The Cobblers aren’t quite drinking in the last chance saloon just yet but their margin for error is already small and anything other than victory at Cheltenham Town tomorrow will only see it shrink further as they hunt down a play-off place.
Judging by recent League Two history, Keith Curle’s men likely require a minimum of six wins from their final eight games for a top-seven finish this season, an improbable but not impossible ask.
Their fixture list pits them against teams struggling at the wrong end of the table. Tomorrow’s opponents Cheltenham, currently 15th, are almost certainly safe but the Cobblers then face Port Vale and Notts County on back-to-back Saturdays, two sides in poor form and still in need of points and wins to get away from the drop zone.
Something must give this weekend as Cheltenham, strong on home turf, takes on a Northampton team in fine form away. The Robins have won five and drawn one of their last six at Whaddon Road while the Cobblers are unbeaten in five on the road, including three wins and only three goals conceded.
As for the teams Northampton are chasing, all have winnable fixtures this weekend. Forest Green and Exeter, both in the play-offs and six points clear of Town, face relegation-threatened duo Port Vale and Notts County respectively.
Colchester and Carlisle, in eighth and ninth, are both at home while Stevenage, a point and a place above the Cobblers, visit struggling Macclesfield. If the Cobblers do not return from Gloucestershire with all three points, you fear it could well be game over.
And they will have the added motivation of attempting to right the wrongs of what happened in the reverse fixture in September.
Town’s abysmal 4-0 defeat at Mansfield is often considered the nadir of Dean Austin’s ill-fated reign but their hapless 3-1 home reverse to Cheltenham Town three weeks earlier was arguably worse.
The Robins turned up at Sixfields with only one win and four points from six games but some charitable defending gifted them three goals and three points, one of only four on the road all season.
Seeking to complete the double over Northampton, Cheltenham boss Michael Duff – appointed two days after that win at Sixfields – is hampered by the loss of Billy Waters. The Cobblers loanee has started five of the last six games and scored two goals since rejoining in January but is ineligible to face his parent club on Saturday.
Curle has a few selection quandaries of his own. He’s named an unchanged team twice in the past two weeks but, after a couple of toothless attacking performances against Newport and Grimsby, now might be the time to make a few alterations.
He could call upon any of Jack Bridge, Joe Powell or Marvin Sordell to give his side a little extra firepower at Whaddon Road. For sure, at this point draws are of little value to the Cobblers. They may as well go for broke.
Prediction: Cheltenham Town 1 Northampton Town 1