James Heneghan’s Leyton Orient v Northampton Town preview

Dean Cox's superb 96th minute free-kick denied Northampton in August's 1-1 draw between the two
Dean Cox's superb 96th minute free-kick denied Northampton in August's 1-1 draw between the two

Fixture: Leyton Orient v Northampton Town, Sky Bet League Two

Date/time: Saturday, February 13, 3pm kick-off

Venue: Brisbane Road

Forecast: 5C, showers

Outs and doubts: Orient: Paul McCallum (knee), Dean Cox (knee), Lloyd James (achilles), Charlie Grainger (wrist). Cobblers: Alfie Potter (ribs), Paul Corry (knee)

Betting: Orient 11/8, draw 23/10, Northampton 2/1

Form guide: Orient WLWWLD, Cobblers WWLWWD

Avg. goals scored/conceded per game: Orient 1.5/1.4, Northampton 1.8/1.1

Likely line-ups: Orient (4-4-1-1): Cisak; Hunt, Brisley, Baudry, Shaw; Jahraldo-Martin, Payne, Moore, McAnuff; Nolan; Simpson. Northampton (4-4-2): Smith; Moloney, Diamond, McDonald, Buchanan; Holmes, O’Toole, Byrom, Martin; Collins, Richards.

Man in the middle: Paul Tierney was the referee who oversaw Cobblers’ dramatic FA Cup win over Northwich earlier this season and now he takes charge of Northampton again when they go to Leyton Orient this weekend. The Lancashire official has handed out 83 yellow cards and two reds in 27 games this season.

Last time out: Portsmouth 0 Leyton Orient 1 (McAnuff); Northampton 2 (O’Toole, Richards) York City 0

Most recent meeting: Saturday, September 26, 2015 – Northampton Town 1 (Calvert-Lewin) Leyton Orient 1 (Cox)

Record v Orient: P78 W29 D21 L28

Opposition view: Kevin Nolan told the East London Advertiser this week: “It is going to be another tough game against Northampton, we need to make sure that we impose ourselves on them and we get the three points. You have to look forward to the games against all the top teams in the division and if you manage to take three points off them you are cutting the gap on them. We are at our place so hopefully we will be looking for more of the same as what we had against Portsmouth.”

Cobblers connection: Having signed for the O’s on loan from Peterborough until the end of the season, defender Shaun Brisley looks set to face Northampton this weekend barely three months after being a Cobbler himself. The centre-back saw his time at Sixfields cut short due to a knee injury but he’s now back fully fit and made his Orient debut in the 1-0 win over Portsmouth last weekend.

Ian Hendon, however, was sacked as Leyton Orient manager last month, denying him the chance to take charge against his former club on Saturday. Hendon, who plied his trade as a right-back, started out at Tottenham Hotspur but spent most of his career at Brisbane Road between 1992 and 1997 during which time he played almost 150 times for the O’s. He then made 65 appearances for the Cobblers at the end of the decade before further spells at Sheffield Wednesday and Barnet. The 44-year-old went into management in 2008 and had coaching roles at Barnet, Dover and West Ham before being made O’s manager in 2015. After a poor run of results, however, he was sacked by the club last month and replaced by Kevin Nolan.

James Heneghan’s preview: Saturday’s trip to Kevin Nolan’s Leyton Orient signals the start of 21 potentially season-defining days in which the Cobblers face five promotion rivals and three long treks up north.

Following tomorrow’s visit to Orient, Northampton go to third-placed Oxford for a tasty derby clash on Tuesday before facing another current top seven side in the shape of Wycombe Wanderers at Sixfields four days later.

That’s then followed by two lengthy journeys up the M1 to face relegation-threatened York and Hartlepool, with a return to Sixfields and the visit of play-off chasing AFC Wimbledon next, before Chris Wilder and co head back up north to take on yet another team with promotion aspirations, Carlisle United, all within the next three weeks.

It’s a hectic run of fixtures but one which could well prove key in determining how this Cobblers season ends.

It would take quite some drop off in performance levels if automatic promotion isn’t achieved given their current position at the League Two summit, but if the Cobblers are to come unstuck, it’s these next 21 days which could derail them.

Come through those seven games relatively unscathed, however, and promotion will be within touching distance.

First up, it’s an O’s side who’ve experienced something of a resurgence under new player-manager Kevin Nolan, with the former West Ham and Newcastle man replacing ex-Northampton defender Ian Hendon last month.

Under Nolan, Orient have won three of four League Two games, including impressive victories at Wycombe and Portsmouth, which has taken them back into the play-off positions following a run of just one win in 10 prior to his arrival.

After relegation last season, Orient would have been targeting an immediate return to League One and things initially started well when they led the way ahead of September’s 1-1 draw at Northampton, but that’s when it all started going downhill.

In fact, since that dramatic draw at Sixfields, which saw Dean Cox’s majestic 96th minute free-kick cancel out Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s 93rd minute header, these two sides have flipped positions and gone in very different directions.

The O’s went into that clash sitting top of League Two and Northampton were eighth, but fast forward five months and the Cobblers find themselves five points clear at the top while Orient are clinging onto a play-off place in seventh.

Since that day, Town have taken 47 points from a possible 57 while Orient have collected 28 from 64.

Orient’s recent rejuvenation, though, has put them right back in the promotion picture and they are now the latest team to be tasked with ending Town’s exceptional run of form.

It goes without saying that Orient’s bang in form striker Jay Simpson is the one to watch this weekend. Eight goals ahead of his main competitors, including Town’s Marc Richards, the former Arsenal man already has 22 for the season and is well on course to finish as League Two’s leading goalscorer.

Former Cobbler Shaun Brisley is set to feature for the Londoners this weekend after making his debut in the win at Portsmouth and Nolan may also start himself but Orient are without long-term absentees Dean Cox and Paul McCallum.

Alfie Potter and Paul Corry remain the only doubts for Northampton and Chris Wilder could name an uncharged starting XI for the third successive game, although with the pile-up of fixtures in mind, Tuesday’s crunch game at Oxford in particular, the Northampton boss could be tempted to freshen things up.

With confidence high and the finishing line in sight,the Cobblers are eyeing a seventh straight league win.

Prediction: Leyton Orient 1 Northampton Town 2