James Heneghan’s Northampton Town v Gillingham preview

Matt Grimes scored a superb free-kick to hand the Cobblers all three points in October's reverse fixture. Pictures: Sharon Lucey
Matt Grimes scored a superb free-kick to hand the Cobblers all three points in October's reverse fixture. Pictures: Sharon Lucey

Fixture: Northampton Town v Gillingham, Sky Bet League One

Date/time: Tuesday, February 13, 7.45pm kick-off

Venue: Sixfields

Forecast: 1C, showers

Outs and doubts: Cobblers: Shay Facey (hamstring), Aaron Pierre (thigh), Aaron Phillips (thigh). Gillingham: Lee Martin (calf), Alex Lacey (ankle), Scott Wagstaff (hamstring)

Betting: Northampton 13/10, draw 23/10, Gillingham 21/10

Form guide: Cobblers WLDWWW, Gills DLWWWW

Possible line-ups: Northampton (4-4-1-1): O’Donnell; Moloney, Taylor, Turnbull, Bunney; Hoskins, Grimes, Crooks, Powell; O’Toole; Van Veen. Gillingham (4-3-3): Holy; O’Neill, Ehmer, Zakuani, Garmston; Hessenthaler, Byrne, Reilly; List, Eaves, Parker.

Man in the middle: Northampton and Gillingham will have to be on their guard this evening to avoid the wrath of Charles Breakspear who, with 14 red cards, has sent off more players than any other referee across the entire EFL this season. He’s handed out nine reds in his last nine games alone with eight of those coming in just four matches, including two on his last visit to Sixfields when he gave both Walsall striker Amadou Bakayoko and Cobblers midfielder Matt Crooks their marching orders.

Last time out: AFC Wimbledon 1 Northampton Town 3 (Grimes, Crooks, Powell); Gillingham 1 (Ehmer) Peterborough United 1 (Lloyd)

Three points is currently the gap back to Oldham Athletic but nine of the other 11 bottom half teams still have at least one game in hand on the Cobblers – up to five in Rochdale’s case – so the battle for points remains as ferocious as ever.

Most recent meeting: Saturday, October 21, 2017 – Gillingham 1 (Martin) Northampton Town 2 (Powell, Grimes)

Record v Gillingham: P111 W52 D19 L40

Cobblers connection: Three Northampton old boys will make a return to Sixfields tonight. Gabriel Zakuani was a Cobblers player for a season before failing to agree a new contract, Lee Martin spent the second half of the title-winning campaign on loan at the club and Josh Parker’s Sixfields stay was even shorter, playing just three games in a month’s loan spell from Queens Park Rangers. All three have been influential in Gillingham’s recent rise up League One, making 97 appearances between them, and should start back at their old club this evening.

James Heneghan’s preview: From second-bottom in mid-October to an outside bet for the play-offs in February, Gillingham’s rapid rise up the League One table this season has taken pretty much everyone by surprise.

When the Cobblers made the visit to Kent back on October 21, both teams were in the heat of a relegation battle. Northampton were second-from-bottom with nine points from 14 games, one place and two points below Gillingham.

At the time, Steve Lovell was in caretaker charge but despite losing that game to wonder goals from Daniel Powell and Matt Grimes on a blustery day at Priestfield, he’s since been given the job on a permanent basis having inspired a remarkable run of form, with his team losing just twice since that meeting with Town.

Indeed, if you created a league table for the 16 games Gillingham have played between their two matches against Northampton, they would sit fourth with 30 points, while the Cobblers would be holding a steady mid-table position, six points worse off.

Bar a big win over Bristol Rovers, the Gills have not blown teams away during their run of six wins in the last 10 games, beating Charlton, Rochdale, Scunthorpe and Fleetwood by one goal, and they’ve also picked up a handy knack of scoring late goals, as exemplified on Saturday when Max Ehmer’s stoppage-time strike salvaged a draw at home to Peterborough.

Despite Gillingham’s terrific form, though, this should be viewed as a winnable game by the Cobblers and an opportunity to really put breathing space between themselves and everyone below them ahead of a tricky-looking trip to play-off hunting Scunthorpe at the weekend.

Three points is currently the gap back to Oldham Athletic but nine of the other 11 bottom half teams still have at least one game in hand on the Cobblers – up to five in Rochdale’s case – so the battle for points remains as ferocious as ever.

Town go into tonight’s encounter buoyed by Saturday’s excellent 3-1 win over AFC Wimbledon, which was the perfect riposte to their last home game when Rochdale became only the second visiting team since Scunthorpe in November to come away from Sixfields with all three points, the other being Wigan.

The manner of the victory at Kingsmeadow, achieved through a mixture of resilience, efficiency and clinical finishing, suggests Northampton remain on the right path despite their Rochdale wobble and that can be continued at Sixfields this evening.

There are no fresh injury concerns – Shay Facey is unlikely to be risked, however – but Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s words following Saturday’s win appeared to insinuate he’s thinking about changes as his team play their first midweek game of any kind for nearly three months – and their first league home game on a Tuesday all season.

With four wins, one draw and one defeat, Northampton and Gillingham have identical records over the past six games and it will be a surprise if it’s not a tight game at Sixfields. It’s up to the Cobblers to ensure they’re on the right side of the result.

Prediction: Northampton Town 2 Gillingham 1