Fixture: Northampton Town v Bristol Rovers, Sky Bet league One
Date/time: Saturday, October 7, 3pm kick-off
Forecast: 14C, cloudy
Outs and doubts: Cobblers: Sam Hoskins (ankle), Chris Long (hamstring), John-Joe O’Toole (groin), Aaron Phillips (thigh), Matt Crooks (knee), Regan Poole (international duty), Leon Barnett (Achilles). Rovers: James Clarke (calf), Ryan Sweeney (international duty), Tom Lockyer (international duty)
Betting: Northampton 7/4, draw 12/5, Rovers 6/4
Form guide: Cobblers DLDLLD, Rovers WLWLLL
Possible line-ups: Northampton (4-3-3): Ingram; Moloney, Taylor, Pierre, Buchanan; McWilliams, Grimes, Bowditch; Powell, Smith, Revell. Rovers (4-4-2): Slocombe; Bola, Partingdon, Broadbent, Brown; Bodin, Sercombe, Lines, Sinclair; Harrison, Gaffney
Man in the middle: Mark Heywood
Last time out: Peterborough 1 Northampton 1 (Baldwin OG); Bristol Rovers 2 (Gaffney, Bodin) Plymouth 1
Most recent meeting: Saturday, January 7, 2017 – Bristol Rovers 5 (Bodin, Harrison 4) Northampton 0
Record v Bristol Rovers: P99 W38 D28 L33
Opposition view: “It’s one win in five for whatever reason, and I think if you are going to be successful you need to win seven to 10 of your away games in a season,” Darrell Clarke told bristolrovers.co.uk this week. “It is obviously an area we need to improve on, but I think we have been a little unfortunate last season and this season to a certain extent, but that’s football, you don’t always get everything.” Read Clarke’s full views on tomorrow’s game here.
Cobblers connection: Ex-Cobbler Billy Bodin has been banging in the goals for fun so far this term – his total of eight goals in all competitions matches Northampton’s collective output in the league – but he won’t be the only man returning to Sixfields on Saturday. Goalkeeper Adam Smith, released by the Cobblers at the end of last season, has started four games for Rovers this season having been snapped up on a free transfer by manager Darrell Clarke. Three of those appearances have come in the league, though the fact his last one came way back on September 12, when he picked up a knee injury in their 3-2 home defeat against Oldham, suggests it’s unlikely he’ll start against his former club this Saturday.
Whilst the Pirates are a team who evidently have goals in them, there is a clear element of vulnerability at the back: only one team in the entire division – Oldham Athletic – have conceded more than their 23 goals so far this season and no team has a worse goal difference in away games.
James Heneghan’s preview: The visit of Bristol Rovers this weekend marks the first of a five-game stretch that could prove make or break in the Cobblers’ bid to pull away from the bottom four and establish themselves in mid-table.
Whilst they have battled admirably against tough opposition in recent weeks, a return of two points from five games has not been sufficient in keeping them away from the clutches of the bottom four.
That is why this upcoming run of fixtures, starting with back-to-back home games against Bristol Rovers and AFC Wimbledon and then followed by trips to struggling duo Rochdale and Gillingham, represents a prime opportunity to stop the rot and taste the winning feeling again.
To do that, the Cobblers will need to end their barren run in front of goal. Jack Baldwin’s own goal in Tuesday’s Checkatrade Trophy tie at Peterborough was a welcome relief as it ended 490 minutes without a goal but it’s coming up to three weeks since Town last found the net in a league game.
The scorer of that goal, Matt Crooks, forms part of a long injury list that also includes fellow key men John-Joe O’Toole and Chris Long, while Regan Poole is away on Wales duty.
Shaun McWilliams, Sam Hoskins and Brendan Moloney should at least be in contention for a place in Saturday’s squad but injuries have not been kind to Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink since his appointment.
Their busy schedule hasn’t helped matters. Saturday’s game will be Town’s seventh in the space of 21 days, which has made it difficult for Hasselbaink to work on preparation and tactics as well as implementing his own ideas and methods on his new players.
October is a key month for the Cobblers because it should tell us a lot more about this team and give us a clearer picture as to what they are capable of this season. There have been signs in each of the last five games, albeit to differing degrees, that they are team heading in the right direction but good performances without good results will be of little consolation if they remain in the bottom four come November.
The last meeting between these two will not be remembered fondly by Cobblers fans and even less so by Rob Page given the 5-0 hammering back in January cost him his job 48 hours later.
Billy Bodin scored the first of four first-half goals and the ex-Cobbler has been in hot goalscoring form again this season, netting eight times in all competitions already – the same number of league goals Town have managed in total.
Rovers are not exactly flying themselves though, and their problems have mainly come on the road where they rank among the division’s worst travellers this season, losing four of five away games including heavy defeats at Wigan Athletic and Portsmouth.
And whilst the Pirates are a team who evidently have goals in them, there is a clear element of vulnerability at the back: only one team in the entire division – Oldham Athletic – have conceded more than their 23 goals so far this season and no team has a worse goal difference in away games. On top of that, they have their two first-choice central defenders away on international duty.
The question is: can the Cobblers produce enough quality and creativity in attack to exploit that weakness this weekend?
Rovers can at least call upon good recent memories of this fixture. Prior to January’s 5-0 win when Ellis Harrison helped himself to four of his nine goals in the entirety of last season, they were one of many teams to leave Sixfields with a late win earlier in the campaign, coming from 1-0 down to nick a 3-2 victory.
It could be argued that the defeat Northampton suffered at the hands of Rovers almost exactly a year ago to the day was when things started going downhill, especially at home. Since then, Town’s overall league record reads: played 47, won 12, drawn 8, lost 27, points gained 44.
Perhaps it’ll go full circle and the return of Rovers this weekend will prompt Town into turning their fortunes around for the better.
As for team news, Lewis McGugan provided glimpses in Tuesday’s debut at Peterborough that he can be the creative force Town so desperately need but he’s not yet fully match fit to start a league game.
The two Sams, Foley and Hoskins, are also gradually working their way back to full fitness following lengthy injury layoffs but, given that they are unlikely to start and with Poole away with Wales, Shaun McWilliams may have to come straight back in and partner Matt Grimes in midfield.
The fixtures have not been kind to Northampton during their poor start but that excuse will not be a valid one in a month’s time. If the Cobblers are to drag themselves up the table, October will surely hold the key.
Prediction: Northampton Town 2 Bristol Rovers 1