Fixture: Luton Town v Northampton Town, Sky Bet League Two
Date/time: Saturday, December 12, 3pm kick-off
Venue: Kenilworth Road
Forecast: 6C, cloudy
Outs and doubts: Luton: Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu (ankle), Dan Potts (hamstring), Luke Guttridge (knock), Jack Marriott (knock), Scott Cuthbert (hamstring), Nathan Doyle (knee), Mark O’Brien (knock). Cobblers: Paul Corry (knee)
Betting: Luton 13/10, draw 12/5, Northampton 2/1
Form guide: Luton LLLDWW, Cobblers WWWWWW
Avg. goals scored/conceded per game: Luton 1.6/1.4, Cobblers 1.7/1.2
Likely line-ups: Luton (4-4-2): Tyler; Lawless, Okuonghae, Wilkinson, Griffiths; Green, Smith, Lee, McQuoid; Benson, Mackail-Smith. Northampton (4-4-1-1): Smith; Moloney, Cresswell, Diamond, Buchanan; Potter, O’Toole, Byrom, D’Ath; Adams; Richards.
Man in the middle: Premier League referee Mike Jones will be the man with the whistle for this League Two clash – his first non Premier League or Championship game of the season. In fact, the last time he officiated a League Two game came way back in December 2011 and also featured the Cobblers, who were beaten 2-1 at home to Swindon. Jones has taken charge of 11 top division games so far this season, dishing out 42 yellows and one red.
Last time out: Peterborough United 2 (Washington, Maddison) Luton Town 0; Northampton Town 3 (Hoskins, Taylor, Calvert-Lewin) Northwich Victoria 2 (Ball, Bennett)
Most recent meeting: Saturday, March 28, 2015 – Northampton 2 (Holmes, Gray) Luton 1 (Lawless)
Cobblers connection: There’s a whole array of candidates who could fill this slot, Hatters’ Luke Guttridge being perhaps the most obvious, but one man who is particularly well known to both sets of supporters, especially those in Luton, is striker Steve Howard. Now retired, Howard was Northampton’s record signing when he joined in 1999. Ninety-five appearances and 18 goals later, he moved to Kenilworth Road where he spent the bulk of his career and it was here where the now 39-year-old was at his most prolific, scoring 103 goals in 228 games during a five-year stint.
James Heneghan’s preview: Life couldn’t get much better for Cobblers fans right now, in fact the only goal left unticked on the to do list is seeing their team top the Sky Bet League Two table – and they can do exactly that with victory against out-of-form Luton Town this weekend.
On a run of six straight wins, a place in the third round of the FA Cup secured and with Chris Wilder picking up the Manager of the Month award, it’s been a pretty pleasing few weeks for all those at Sixfields, made all the more satisfying by the recent off-field troubles which now seem a distant memory.
And it could get even better for Wilder’s men if they manage to come away from Kenilworth Road with all three points.
A win for Northampton coupled with favourable results elsewhere would see them in sole possession of top spot in League Two, and you could argue there’s no better time to face a low-on-confidence, injury-stricken Luton side who, after seemingly rediscovering their mojo in September, have lost their way in recent weeks.
Billed as one of the hot favourites for the League Two title prior to the season and with a host of new signings added to an already strong-looking squad, the Hatters made a solid start to the season and were stationed just a point outside the play-offs after 17 games.
But their form of late has taken a dramatic nosedive. After a three-game winning run at the start of November, the Hatters go into tomorrow’s clash on the back of three successive defeats, failing to score in the last two.
That downturn in form has largely been due to defensive struggles with eight goals conceded in the last three – and by all accounts they were lucky it was only 2-0 at Peterborough in the FA Cup last time out – but when you have the quality and depth of squad that Luton do, containing the likes of Craig Mackail-Smith, you can never take them lightly.
And one man the Cobblers will have to be particularly wary of is Luton’s creative hub and right-sided midfielder Danny Green, whose wicked set-piece delivery has helped him notch up four goals and three assists this season.
Hatters boss Jon Still is a man under growing pressure and, much like Yeovil’s Paul Sturrock last month, a negative result against Northampton this weekend could well be the final nail in the coffin for an increasingly restless fanbase.
Striker Paul Benson returns from suspension and is likely to partner the prolific Craig Mackail-Smith up front, but otherwise Luton are plagued by mounting injury problems and could be without as many as seven first-team players for the visit of Northampton.
In sharp contrast to Luton, the form guide makes delightful reading for Cobblers supporters with their side on a run of six straight wins and just one defeat in their last 14 league matches.
Cobblers had their own injury problems earlier in the season but currently only Paul Corry is sidelined with a long-term knee injury, while Ricky Holmes will again be among the 18, though his first start of the season will have to wait a little longer.
Losing someone with the quality Holmes possesses would usually represent a significant blow, but the form of Nicky Adams, who tops the League Two assists tally with 11, three clear of his nearest rival, has limited the damage and makes you wonder just how good this Northampton side could be if and when Holmes returns to full fitness.
But, for now, that will have to wait as Northampton continue to march on without him.
Providing the Manger of the Month curse doesn’t strike them down, this is another excellent opportunity for Wilder and his players to prove their promotion credentials.
And, of course, there is the added incentive that a win this weekend could very well put Cobblers at the League Two summit by 5pm.
Prediction: Luton 2 Northampton 2