Fixture: Northampton Town v Cambridge United, Sky Bet League Two
Date/time: Saturday, August 18, 3pm kick-off
Venue: PTS Academy Stadium
Forecast: 24C, sunny spells
Outs and doubts: Cobblers: Shaun McWilliams (hamstring). Cambridge: Greg Taylor (muscular), Paul Lewis (thigh)
Betting: Northampton 10/11, draw 5/2, Cambridge 15/4
Form guide: Cobblers DDL, Cambridge LWL
Possible line-ups: Northampton (4-4-2): Cornell; Facey, Taylor, Pierre, Buchanan; Hoskins, O’Toole, Crooks, Powell; Williams, van veen. Cambridge (4-4-2): Mitov; Halliday, Taft, Darling, Carroll; Amoo, Deegan, Maris, Lambe; Azeez, Ibehre.
Man in the middle: Seb Stockbridge
Last time out: Wycombe 1 Northampton 1 (Hoskins); Cambridge 1 (Azeez) Newport County 4
Most recent meeting: Tuesday, August 29, 2017 – Football League Trophy: Northampton Town 1 (Revell) Cambridge United 1 (Mingoia)
Record v Cambridge: P37 W14 D10 L13
Opposition view: Cambridge are unbeaten on their last 10 visits to Sixfields and manager Joe Dunne is eager to extend that record this weekend, saying: “Northampton are tough opposition, but we’re very much looking forward to going over. It’s a place where we have a good record and we want to keep that going.
“I’m positive we can put a team out to be competitive against one of the strongest squads in the league in a derby match. When you look at their squad, it’s a healthy, competitive squad. They’re expected to be one of the contenders for promotion this year but we’ll go there and do the best have a real go.”
I’m positive we can put a team out to be competitive against one of the strongest squads in the league in a derby match. When you look at their squad, it’s a healthy, competitive squad.Cambridge boss Joe Dunne on the Cobblers
Cobblers connection: Forward Billy Waters should know all about Joe Dunne and his Cambridge United side having spent the second half of last season on loan at the Abbey Stadium. The 23-year-old was in and out of the Cobblers team under Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink so dropped down a division to seek regular playing time at Cambridge where he scored twice in 18 appearances.
James Heneghan’s preview: If Town are to break their duck and register a first win of the campaign this weekend, they will have to achieve something that’s not been done in 23 long years: beat Cambridge United in a home match.
Historic meetings between clubs so rarely have any influence on the here and now but if you were to judge by events of the past, it’d be fair to say the Cobblers would have chosen better opponents to face on Saturday in their quest for three much-needed points.
Amazingly, you have to go way back to October 1995 – some 10 meetings and 23 years ago – to find the last time Town beat Cambridge in a home match in any competition. On that occasion, Neil Grayson, Chris Burns and Lee Colkin were on target in a 3-0 victory. Since, United have won six and drawn four. Now would be a good time as any to break that sequence.
It’s not entirely uncommon for relegated sides to suffer a hangover effect at the start of the following campaign but there’s no better remedy than winning and that’s precisely what the Cobblers require when Cambridge come to town.
To be writing obituaries less than two weeks into a new season seems somewhat premature but three games and no wins was not the start anyone needed in an attempt to shake off the lingering disappointment of relegation.
The longer the Cobblers stutter and stumble, the louder the groans of discontent will grow. It is important, though, to remember that nothing is ever decided in August – an admittedly horrible cliche – and there’s no reason why Dean Austin’s men can’t click into gear and kick-start their spluttering campaign with three points and a good performance against the U’s.
It would be disingenuous to suggest there are not teething problems to overcome and rough edges to smooth out but three games is no time to be making sweeping judgements and to place unnecessary pressure on players and the manager. That will ultimately do more harm than good.
Cambridge, too, have made a curious start to the campaign. Soundly beaten 3-0 at Port Vale on the opening day, Barry Corr’s last-gasp winner then gave Joe Dunne’s side three points over Notts County last weekend before they returned to earth with a bump, comprehensively dismissed 4-1 at home to to Newport County in Tuesday’s EFL Cup tie.
Dunne’s route to the top job at the Abbey Stadium was similar to Austin in that he initially took charge as caretaker boss towards the back end of last season before a subsequent upturn in performances and results earned him the full-time position.
But his side have made a mixed start and nine goals conceded in their opening three fixtures suggest a leaky, vulnerable defence and Town will be hoping to exploit that this weekend – particularly striker Kevin van Veen who’s back to fitness and full of confidence following his goal at Carlisle United last time out.
There were signs at Brunton Park that van Veen and fellow forward Andy Williams could forge a fruitful partnership this season and for that reason, plus the fact they both performed well against Carlisle, you’d expect the two to start again on Saturday.
Shay Facey could well retain his place at right-back depending on how he pulls up having played the full 90 in midweek while John-Joe O’Toole and Matt Crooks will likely rekindle their midfielder partnership after the former sat out of Town’s trip to Adams Park, though Shaun McWilliams is also close to full fitness.
Cambridge’s last league visit to Sixfields was a dramatic one as John Marquis headed Cobblers ahead before United grabbed a dramatic last-minute equaliser to briefly stall Town’s charge towards the League Two title.
The situation is a little different this time around but that shouldn’t mean three points would be any less important. Even at this early stage, the Cobblers need them.
Prediction: Northampton Town 2 Cambridge United 1