Fixture: Millwall v Northampton Town, Sky Bet League One
Date/kick-off time: Friday, April 14, 3pm kick-off
Venue: The Den
Forecast: 14C, cloudy
Outs and doubts: Millwall: Tony Craig (dead leg), Shane Ferguson (bruised ribs), Aiden O’Brien (ankle). Cobblers: Sam Hoskins (knee), Gabriel Zakuani (hamstring), John-Joe O’Toole (groin)
Betting: Millwall 8/13, draw 29/10, Northampton 17/4
Form guide: Lions DWWLLD, Cobblers LDDLWW
Avg. goals scored/conceded per game: Millwall 1.4/1.2, Northampton 1.4/1.6
Likely line-ups: Millwall (4-4-2): Archer; Romeo, Hutchinson, Webster, Martin; Worrall, Thompson, Williams, Wallace; Morison, Gregory. Northampton (4-4-2): Smith; Moloney, Diamond, Nyatanga, Buchanan; McCourt, Taylor, Anderson, Williams; Smith, Richards
Man in the middle: Graham Salisbury
Last time out: Gillingham 1 (Quigley) Millwall 1 (Morison); Northampton 1 (Richards) Sheffield United 2 (Clarke, Fleck)
Most recent meeting: Saturday, October 15, 2016 – Northampton 1 (Richards) Millwall 3 (Gregory, Butcher, Morison)
Record v Millwall: P88 W26 D17 L45
Opposition view: “They’ll be safe and they’re not in danger of going down,” Neil Harris said of Northampton this week. “But they’ll certainly want a point or two or three to feel more secure as quickly as possible. They’ve got a lot of size and presence in their teams at set-pieces. What Justin’s side also do is they have a right go at teams.”
Millwall have conceded fewer goals (13 in 18 games) than any other team in the division this year bar Fleetwood, and the joint fewest (14) at home all season.
James Heneghan’s preview: As Northampton continue to seek the victory that will guarantee them a place in the division for another season, Millwall are hoping to do the opposite and escape back to the Championship.
Currently occupying the final play-off spot, whether this season is deemed as a success or a failure for Neil Harris’ men will depend on their final four fixtures and then, with any luck, the following three.
Outside of League One, Millwall have had an excellent campaign. With wins over Premier League trio Watford, Bournemouth and reigning champions Leicester City, the Lions embarked on a memorable FA Cup campaign, even if it did end in a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur.
But their ultimate goal of promotion remains priority and with several teams breathing down their neck for that final play-off position, most notably Southend United, they arguably need the points more than their visitors on Good Friday, particularly given their final three fixtures are all against teams in the current top 10.
The general consensus is that Northampton already have enough points to survive, even if they lose all four remaining games.
The problem with that view, however, is the opposition of three of those four games: Shrewsbury, Bury and Gillingham.
Lose all of those – admittedly an unlikely prospect – and they risk being sucked back in, and the longer they remain on 51 points, the more the pressure will grow.
So it remains imperative that they keep their points tally ticking over, even if it’s just to maintain a safe distance back to those in trouble.
Friday’s visit to The Den represents the last time Northampton face a team currently above them this season, and also the final fixture of this block of five that always looked testing on paper.
Their return of two points from the first four is so far disappointing but performances continue to offer encouragement.
Town’s two most recent defeats came against the current top two in Sky Bet League One and on both occasions they took a deserved lead before eventually succumbing to a second-half fightback and then a late, somewhat harsh winner.
They did well to nick a point from Rochdale and all the goalless draw with Oxford lacked was a touch of composure in the final third, while the performance against Sheffield United last time out should only reinforce the notion that Edinburgh is making steady progress ahead of a critical summer when he will need to bolster his squad’s strength in depth.
As good as Neal Eardley and Aaron Phillips have been in his absence, it was a welcome sight to see Brendan Moloney charging down the right wing last Saturday. His pace and attacking threat only forces opposition teams to retreat and offers Northampton an alternative attacking avenue.
Zander Diamond produced another masterful display at centre-back and deserves to be in the running for player of the season, while the performances of his partner, Lewin Nyatanga, have helped soften the blow of Gabriel Zakuani’s unavailability.
John-Joe O’Toole could well be rested for Good Friday to keep him fresh and ready for the more important and more winnable game against Shrewsbury Town on Easter Monday.
It is in attack where the Cobblers have struggled for fluency and composure recently, and they will need to up their game against a miserly Lions defence that has conceded fewer goals (13 in 18 games) than any other team in 2017 bar Fleetwood, and the joint fewest (14) at home all season.
Their recent form is more patchy – two wins in seven – but you have to go way back to December 10 to find the last time they lost at The Den, one of only three defeats at home this season.
Steve Morison and Lee Gregory continue to churn out the goals, netting 11 and 15 respectively this term after 16 and 20 last year, and they also have another former Cobbler between the sticks in Jordan Archer, providing he’s recovered from a muscle injury.
Friday will be another tough test for the Cobblers but, going by recent performances, it’s one they can most certainly pass.
Prediction: Millwall 1 Northampton Town 1