Fixture: Northampton Town v Blackpool, Sky Bet League One
Date/time: Saturday, October 28, 2pm kick-off
Forecast: 15C, cloudy
Outs and doubts: Cobblers: Aaron Phillips (thigh), Matt Crooks (knee), Leon Barnett (Achilles), Brendan Moloney (knee). Blackpool: Jim McAllister (leg), Clark Robertson (foot), Jimmy Ryan (knock), Kyle Vassell (hamstring), Mark Cullen (hamstring)
Betting: Northampton 19/10, draw 23/10, Blackpool 7/5
Form guide: Cobblers WDLLDL, Tangerines LWDWLD
Possible line-ups: Northampton (4-3-3): Ingram; McWilliams, Taylor, Pierre, Buchanan; Poole, Grimes, O’Toole; Powell, Waters, Long. Blackpool (4-3-3): Allsop; Mellor, Aimson, Tilt, Daniel; D’Almeida, Turton, Spearing; Delfouneso, Gnanduillet, Solomon-Otabor
Man in the middle: John Busby
Last time out: Gillingham 1 Northampton 2 (Powell, Grimes); Blackpool 1 (Vassell) Wigan 3
Most recent meeting: Tuesday, August 11, 2015 – Northampton Town 3 (Hackett, Calvert-Lewin, Hoskins) Blackpool 0
Record v Blackpool: P33 W9 D7 L17
Cobblers connection: There’s hardly an abundance of players who have donned both the claret of Northampton and the orange of Blackpool, but striker Scott Vernon is an exception. The 33-year-old, who’s currently plying his trade for Grimsby Town in League One, made 83 appearances between 2005 and 2008 for the Seasiders and during his subsequent four-year stay at Colchester United, he spent six games on loan at Sixfields in 2009, scoring one goal.
James Heneghan’s preview: The transition from League Two to League One has so far proved a seamless one for Gary Bowyer’s Blackpool who, among those teams jostling for an early top six berth, will provide a good gauge as to the extent of Northampton’s recent resurgence.
The Cobblers return to their own patch this weekend knowing they must improve upon their dismal form at Sixfields – only Plymouth Argyle have a worse home record this season – to have any chance of escaping the bottom four, with Blackpool marking the first of three games against teams currently placed seventh, eighth and ninth in the table
A courageous draw at Rochdale followed by a gritty win at Gillingham, the Cobblers have undergone a sorely-needed upturn in both performances and results over the past two outings but that apparent improvement will be put to the test on Saturday.
There can be no doubt that Town are on the rise of late, helped by the return of key players and a kinder fixture list, but if they are serious about turning their fortunes around for good, it’s games against the likes of Blackpool, as well as future opponents Scunthorpe and Oxford, that will ultimately hold the key.
Four points in back-to-back away games represents a stark improvement for a team whose previous descent towards the bottom of the table looked somewhat irreversible given the manner of their back-to-back home defeats against Bristol Rovers and AFC Wimbledon.
They return to their own patch this weekend knowing they must improve upon that dismal form at Sixfields – only Plymouth Argyle have a worse home record this season – to have any chance of escaping the bottom four, with Blackpool marking the first of three games against teams currently placed seventh, eighth and ninth in the Sky Bet League One table, with an FA Cup tie, also against one of those sides, sandwiched in the middle.
It’s a difficult run of fixtures but one that Town must emerge from with a decent points haul given that they are far from out of the relegation woods, still three points adrift of safety and with a significantly inferior goal difference.
Promoted via the play-offs and a Wembley win last season, Blackpool have adapted to the rigours of League One football impressively under Boywer, currently sitting ninth and within touching distance of the play-offs.
Having surged from 15th place from the end of February to the top seven in May, the Seasiders took the long way around to win promotion last term, including a dramatic, last-gasp 6-5 aggregate win over Luton Town in the semi-final before pipping Exeter City 2-1 at Wembley.
With six goals and two assists Kyle Vassell has done much of the damage so far this season, though summer signing Sean Longstaff has also been instrumental in their steady start to the campaign.
But, just at a time when Northampton are getting key men back, Tangerines boss Bowyer has this week been lamenting his own injury problems ahead of the long trip south. Vassell, reportedly out for three weeks, is one of those almost certain to be absent at Sixfields with a hamstring injury sustained against Wigan last week, while Clark Robertson is also struggling for fitness and Mark Cullen remains sidelined until 2018.
The return of John-Joe O’Toole, as alluded to by manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in his weekly press conference, has undoubtedly had a positive influence on Northampton. Saviour of the Cobblers so often over the past couple of seasons, the midfielder’s no-nonsense approach and combative style has injected some bite and steal into Town’s midfield, snapping into challenges and giving opposing players a little less time on the ball.
He’s also allowed Hasselbaink to find the right blend in that key midfield battleground. Alongside the athleticism of Regan Poole and the class of Matt Grimes, O’Toole’s presence has helped give the Cobblers more of a foothold in matches.
That trio are likely to start again this Saturday, though Sam Foley’s past two displays have both impressed and he’s also in the frame, while the impressive performance of young Shaun McWilliams at right-back at Gillingham could see him start in the same position again, especially with Hasselbaink keen to manage Brendan Moloney’s workload.
In further positive news, Matt Crooks and Aaron Phillips are edging closer to full fitness although Leon Barnett remains some way away.
As so often this season, it’s in attack where most of the questions are. Like O’Toole, the return of Chris Long has added something extra to Town’s play in the final third, and Daniel Powell’s first goal for the club at Gillingham will hopefully be the confidence-booster he needs kick-start his career at Sixfields.
Sam Hoskins or Billy Waters have interchanged on the right side of a front three and the latter appears more likely to start against Blackpool, though the return of both Marc Richards and Alex Revell, back from a three-game suspension, gives Hasselbaink options.
An organised and hard-working Blackpool side will be a good test for the Cobblers on Saturday, but it’s one they must overcome to maintain recent momentum.
And don’t forget, it’s a 2pm kick-off!
Prediction: Northampton Town 2 Blackpool 1