Fixture: Hartlepool United v Northampton Town, Sky Bet League Two
Date/kick-off time: Saturday, February 27, 3pm kick-off
Venue: Victoria Park
Forecast: 5C, cloudy
Outs and doubts: Hartlepool: Michael Woods (hamstring), Luke James (thigh), Dan Jones (knee), Michael Duckworth (hernia), Harry Worley (knee). Cobblers: John-Joe O’Toole (thigh), Marc Richards (Achilles), Alfie Potter (ribs), Paul Corry (knee)
Betting: United 3/1, draw 13/5, Northampton 17/20
Form guide: Pools LLWLLD, Cobblers WWWWWW
Avg. goals scored/conceded per game: Hartlepool 1.0/1.7, Cobblers 1.8/1.0
Likely line-ups: Hartlepool (4-4-2): Carson; Magnay, Bates, Jones, Jackson; Thomas, Walker, Richards, Gray; Paynter, James. Cobblers (4-4-2): Smith; Moloney, Diamond, McDonald, Buchanan; Holmes, O’Toole, Rose, Martin; Collins, Marquis.
Man in the middle: Mark Haywood
Last time out: Luton Town 2 (McGeehan, Mackail-Smith) Hartlepool 1 (Jackson); York 1 (Penn) Northampton 2 (Collins, Marquis)
Most recent meeting: Saturday, October 10, 2015 – Northampton Town 2 (Richards, Adams) Hartlepool United 1 (Bingham)
Record v Hartlepool: P66 W28 D14 L24
Opposition view: Hartlepool boss Craig Hignett was at Bootham Crescent on Tuesday to watch Northampton beat York 2-1 and he was impressed by what he saw, telling the Hartlepool Mail: “Northampton had quite a few chances to score. Their movement was good, they interchange positions really well and their wide men don’t stay wide, they drift about.
“It’s about how we deal with it and how you stop them. But you can’t allow free crosses into the box and you can’t let the likes of Marquis and Collins go unmarked. If you leave them free, they’ll score goals. But I did see bits of play which we can exploit. If we do what we’ve been practising this week in training then I think we will trouble them.”
Cobblers connection: Marco Gabbiadini finally called time on his prolific playing days during a short spell at Hartlepool United in 2004 having a made over 750 appearances in a career that spanned 19 years. The striker began as a 16-year-old at York City and went on to play over 100 times for Sunderland, Derby County and Darlington. Towards the end of his career, Gabbiadini spent three years at Sixfields in which time made 136 appearances and scored 30 goals including that memorable strike against Cardiff City. The now 48-year-old was also prolific in his short time at Hartlepool but knee injuries forced his retirement at the age of 35. In total, he scored 270 goals.
James Heneghan’s preview: For the second time in four days Northampton Town and their tremendous army of travelling supporters will make a long trip up north in search of three more points against a team battling relegation.
Victoria Park and Hartlepool United is the next stop for the Cobblers juggernaut as this Saturday brings together two sides who have experienced very different fortunes since August.
Despite their current plight, Hartlepool initially made a lightning start to the season and sat top of the table on August 18 with three wins from three, three points more than Northampton had at the same stage.
But a run of just 18 points from the subsequent 26 fixtures – the worst return of any team in that period – has seen United plummet down the League Two table and into a relegation dogfight for the second successive season.
Manager Ronnie Moore paid the price for that wretched form, sacked by the club two weeks ago, and his replacement, rookie Craig Hignett, is now charged with achieving something that’s not been done since mid-October: win a home match against Chris Wilder’s rampaging Cobblers.
With more points (30) from their last 10 fixtures than Hartlepool have managed all season, Northampton head back up north this weekend with confidence levels almost off the chart and yet more history in their sights.
If Town manage to overcome a Pools side who have lost four of their last five, they will become the first ever fourth tier side to win nine consecutive away games, just one short of the all-time Football League record which dates back to 1950s when Tottenham Hotspur won 10 straight games on the road.
It would be a quite staggering achievement by a Cobblers team who have so far shown no mercy.
Traditionally, though, this is a fixture which has favoured the home team, particularly in recent years with each of the last eight meetings won by the hosts.
Northampton’s last win at Victoria Park came back in 2008 when Giles Coke bagged a late winner, but that came very much against the grain; the Cobblers losing all four games since.
This weekend, however, is as good an opportunity as they will get to reverse the trend.
Not only is this a a contest between first and 21st, it also pits League Two’s leading scorers (59) against the division’s lowest with Hartlepool managing just 29 goals all season, three less than any other team.
Both sides have injury problems, particularly Hartlepool who will be without midfielder Michael Woods and defenders Michael Duckworth and Harry Worley, while Dan Jones and Luke James are both doubts.
Even without the injured Marc Richards and John-Joe O’Toole, Cobblers boss Chris Wilder could afford to rest Ricky Holmes and Lee Martin at York City on Tuesday and still watch his side come away with the points.
Richards remains out with an Achilles problem but Martin, Holmes and O’Toole could all return to the starting line-up for the trip back up north on Saturday.
With so many options at his disposal, every game presents a selection headache for Wilder who has so far done an excellent job of rotating and keeping players fresh, particularly during this busy run of fixtures.
Hartlepool is Northampton’s fifth game of seven in 21 days. With four wins from four so far, you wouldn’t bet against them making it five this weekend.
Prediction: Hartlepool 1 Northampton 2