Fixture: Northampton Town v Exeter City, Sky Bet League Two
Date/time: Saturday, Mach 9, 2pm kick-off
Venue: PTS Academy Stadium
Forecast: 11C, sunny spells
Outs and doubts: Cobblers: Shay Facey (thigh), George Cox (ankle). Exeter: Dean Moxey, Nicky Law, Lee Martin, Troy Brown, Luke Croll, Hiram Boateng, Jonathan Forte, Ryan Bowman, Donovan Wilson.
Betting: Northampton 13/10, draw 9/4, Exeter 21/10
Form guide: Cobblers WWDDWL, Grecians LDWLDW
Possible line-ups: Northampton (4-2-3-1): Cornell; Goode, Taylor, Pierre, Buchanan; Turnbull, Foley; D Powell, O’Toole, Hoskins; A Williams. Exeter (4-2-3-1): Pym; K Wilson, Sweeney, O’Shea, Woodman; Taylor, Collins; Holmes, Jay, Williams; Forte.
Man in the middle: Andy Haines
Last time out: Crewe 0 Northampton 2 (Powell, O’Toole); Exeter 0 Tranmere 1 (Norwood)
Most recent meeting: Saturday, November 17, 2018 – Exeter 2 (Taylor, Stockley) Northampton 2 (Waters, Stockley OG)
Record v Exeter: P114 W51 D34 L29
Opposition view: “We’ve been playing really well away from home,” said Grecians boss Matt Taylor. “It seems to have suited us to a certain extent, soaking up a bit of pressure and then hitting teams on the counter attack, but also the good surfaces we’ve played on away from home.
“Northampton will hopefully be the same, but it’s all about the points at this stage of the season. They have got some good players, a team that we watched a lot at the start of the season, and they were underachieving because they have some seriously good players in that squad.”
The notion the Cobblers can still make the play-offs this season might seem fanciful to some, but it can’t be entirely ruled out at this stage, and that will remain the case should they recapture their home form and beat both Exeter and Newport County over the next four days.
Cobblers connection: Former Town midfielder Hiram Boateng could be in line to make his first start since October when his Exeter City side face the Cobblers this weekend. The 23-year-old made 17 appearances for Northampton while on loan from Crystal Palace during the 2016/17 campaign. He impressed in glimpses but not enough to warrant a full-time transfer to Sixfields, so instead he moved to the Grecians in the summer of 2017. Boateng became a key player at St James Park until a hip flexor injury struck him down in October, however after two substitute appearances in the past couple of weeks, and given the extent of Exeter’s injury crisis at present, he could be in from the off on Saturday.
James Heneghan’s preview: This weekend’s visit of promotion hopefuls Exeter City should provide a good test for the Cobblers whose recent resurgence will come under the microscope back on home soil.
While Town have upped their game away from the PTS of late – winning three of four on the road – their form at home remains patchy and disappointing. Since early November, they’ve managed only one victory in eight games, including a drab goalless draw with Crawley Town last time out.
The notion the Cobblers can still make the play-offs this season might seem fanciful to some, but it can’t be entirely ruled out at this stage, and that will remain the case should they recapture their home form and beat both Exeter and Newport County over the coming days.
These next couple of games are against teams fifth and 12th respectively, but after that, the average current position of Northampton’s remaining nine opponents is a lowly 16th, and that includes the visit of third-placed Mansfield and a trip to second-placed Bury.
Of course, no game will be easy at this stage of the season with teams battling for their lives to either get out of the division or stay in it, but it’s nevertheless a kind-looking fixture list on paper and should give Town encouragement in their unlikely pursuit of a play-off place.
The Cobblers might not be involved in the relegation battle – thankfully – but they will certainly play a big role in who goes down and who stays up. Yeovil, Macclesfield and Port Vale are all yet to visit the PTS this season while Town also head to bottom side Notts County next month.
However you view the situation, it makes a refreshing change to be looking up instead of down. Even a top-half finish would represent a respectable effort given everything that’s happened over the past 12 months.
To even have a sniff of a top-seven berth, Keith Curle’s men will almost certainly have to overcome the Grecians this weekend and though that seems a tough ask on paper given the league positions of both teams, Exeter’s mounting injury crisis, which has left them without a single fit centre-forward, leaves the door ajar for a rare home victory.
The loss of top scorer Jayden Stockley has also unsurprisingly hit Exeter hard on the goalscoring front. The 25-year-old, who netted at both ends when Town visited St James Park in November’s 2-2 draw, had 16 of City’s 35 goals when he departed for Preston North End at the start of January.
Since, the Grecians have mustered just 10 goals and four wins in 10 games, a run which has seen them go from two points adrift of third place to nine and in a battle to maintain their play-off position.
Just as City’s injury situation is worsening, Town’s continues to improve, with defender George Cox their only real injury doubt heading into Saturday’s League Two clash at the PTS.
But after last week’s accomplished victory at Crewe, perhaps Keith Curle will do the unthinkable and name an unchanged team? Don’t bet on it...
Prediction: Northampton Town 2 Exeter City 1