Fixture: Northampton Town v AFC Wimbledon, Sky Bet League One
Date/time: Saturday, August 20, 3pm kick-off
Forecast: 18C, showers
Outs and doubts: Cobblers: Raheem Hanley, Jak McCourt. AFC Wimbledon: George Francomb (knee), Jon Meade (ankle)
Betting: Northampton 6/5, draw 9/4, Wimbledon 12/5
Form guide: Cobblers DDWD, Dons LLLL
Likely line-ups: Northampton (4-4-2): Smith, Phillips, Diamond, Zakuani, Buchanan, Potter, O’Toole, Taylor, Gorre, Revell, Richards. Wimbledon (4-4-2): Clarke, Fuller, Charles, Robinson, Kelly, Whelpdale, Bulman, Reeves, Barcham, Taylor, Barnett
Man in the middle: Nick Kinseley
Last time out: Oldham 0 Northampton 0; AFC Wimbledon 1 (Charles) Scunthorpe 2 (Hopper, Morris)
Most recent meeting: Tuesday, March 1, 2016 – Northampton Town 1 (O’Toole) AFC Wimbledon 1 (Taylor)
Record v AFC Wimbledon: P10 W5 D5 L0
Opposition view: The Dons have endured a tough start to life in League One but boss Neal Ardley insists he will not change his approach, saying this week: “We don’t want to change if we can help it. We want to try and keep two strikers, have a go at it and have a go at the league. We look at Northampton who were the best team in League Two by a mile last year and won it in a canter so it does not get any easier.”
Cobblers connection: Sadly, there will be no reunion with cult hero Adebayo Akinfenwa on Saturday after his release from AFC Wimbledon in the summer despite scoring in May’s play-off final win over Plymouth. But one man who will come up against his former club is Cobblers winger Alfie Potter who played 15 times for the Dons in 2015 after leaving Oxford by mutual consent having spent five-and-a-half years with the U’s. Following a short five-month stint at Wimbledon, Potter then jumped at the chance to link up with Chris Wilder again at Northampton where he’s endured a frustratingly stop-start 15 months due to persistent injury problems.
James Heneghan’s preview: AFC Wimbledon arrive at Sixfields this weekend as the only team in League One without a single point from their first three games.
The Dons, who are competing in England’s third tier for the first time since the club’s inception in 2002, won promotion from League Two last season alongside Northampton thanks to a dramatic play-off final win over Plymouth Argyle at Wembley in May, with the one and only Adebayo Akinfenwa keeping his cool from the spot deep into injury-time to put the gloss on a 2-0 victory.
Under the stewardship of the impressive Neal Ardley, Wimbledon were a breath of fresh air last season with their attacking, enterprising style of football and they will certainly be no pushovers tomorrow irrespective of their shaky start to the season, particularly as they have the dangerous Lyle Taylor among their ranks.
A whippy, clinical striker, Taylor ran rings around the Northampton defence on both occasions the clubs met last season and his goal at Sixfields – where he skipped past several defenders before curling an exquisite shot into the top corner – was an indication of his talent and showed why he bagged an impressive haul of 23 goals in total last campaign.
For Northampton, three draws from three is a more steady if unspectacular start, but on the basis of Wimbledon’s struggles so far, you feel that Saturday represents a golden opportunity for the Cobblers to get that precious first victory to really kick-start their season.
These two sides have met 10 times since AFC Wimbledon formed 12 years ago, the Cobblers not losing any of them in addition to five wins and if they can make it six tomorrow, they’d take their total to a very solid six points from four games.
Rob Page could revert to a two-man attack and recall skipper Marc Richards in a 4-4-2 system as he did in their only game at Sixfields so far this season, the season-opener against Fleetwood Town.
Although that game ended in a frustrating 1-1 draw, there were encouraging signs to come out of it and on the evidence of Northampton’s first two away games, their home form will be essential to having a successful season, just like it was last term when they comfortably topped the League Two home table.
Without the match-winning ability of Ricky Holmes, or indeed any other player, there has so far been a certain lack of ruthlessness to the Cobblers attack on the road, making what they do at Sixfields doubly important.
That’s not to suggest they can’t be successful away from home, but winning your home games, especially when you come up a division, is often the first step to better things, and Saturday’s encounter against a familiar foe will tell us a lot more about how Rob Page’s Cobblers are shaping up.
Prediction: Northampton Town 2 AFC Wimbledon 1