Fixture: Northampton Town v Newport County, Sky Bet League Two
Date/kick-off time: Friday, March 25, 3pm kick-off
Weather forecast: 11C, dry
Outs and doubts: Cobblers: Paul Corry (knee)
Betting: Northampton 7/10, draw 13/5, Newport 17/4
Form guide: Cobblers WDWDDW, Newport LDWLWL
Avg. goals scored/conceded per game: Northampton 1.8/1.0; Newport 1.1/1.4
Likely line-ups: Northampton (4-4-2): Smith; Moloney, Diamond, McDonald, Buchanan; Holmes, O’Toole, Byrom, D’Ath; Collins, Marquis. Newport (4-4-2): Day; Holmes, Jones, Donacien, Hughes; Rodman, Byrne, O’Sullivan, Elito; Boden, Ayina.
Man in the middle: Christopher Sarginson, who was also in the middle when Newport and Northampton met last season, is not known for his card-brandishing having handed out an average of less than three yellows per game this season, to go with just two reds in his 26 games.
Last time out: Stevenage 2 (Wilkinson 2) Northampton 3 (Collins, O’Toole, Holmes); Newport 1 (Rodman) Bristol Rovers 4 (Clarke, Castillo, Taylor, Harrison)
Most recent meeting: Saturday, October 31, 2015 – Newport County 2 (Barrow, John-Lewis) Northampton 2 (Hoskins, Richards)
Record v Newport: P5 W3 D1 L1
Opposition view: County boss Warren Feeney has high praise for Chris Wilder, telling the South Wales Argus: “Chris Wilder has done an unbelievable job when you look at the position they were in at the beginning of the season when they weren’t getting paid.
“He’s a fantastic manager who knows the league and they will be champions. They deserve to be champions but it’s a great game for us to go and play against a team that’s top of the league.
“They’ve been by far the best team this season and they haven’t lost games but all we can do is put on a performance and hopefully get a result.”
Cobblers connection: Nathan Ofori-Twumasi played 17 times for Northampton between 2011 and 2013 before heading to South Wales via Yeovil. The defender has made 12 appearances for Newport this season but hasn’t featured since October.
James Heneghan’s preview: With promotion now a mere formality, the Cobblers can shift their sights to more ambitious targets as we head into the final stretch of the season, starting with an Easter double-header.
Although it would take an improbable set of results, Northampton could mathematically clinch automatic promotion with back-to-back victories over Newport County tomorrow, Friday, and then Mansfield on Easter Monday.
If that’s not the case, then next Saturday’s home clash against Notts County could be the one – and it would be somewhat fitting if the day they won promotion coincided with the day the new seats in the East Stand were first put to good use.
The title would then be next logical step, of course, but that also seems an inevitability given their 11-point cushion over second-placed Oxford United with a game in hand.
The 100-point mark is well within reach too, and England’s fourth tier points haul record of 102 is not beyond the realms of possibility either.
Indeed, a quick glance at the remaining fixtures suggests the Cobblers have a real opportunity of achieving the seven wins required to break that record, currently jointly held by Plymouth and Swindon, given that seven of their last nine games come against sides who seemingly have little to play for.
The first of those arrives tomorrow when Warren Feeney’s rejuvenated Newport County head to Sixfields.
Having appeared destined for a season-long battle against relegation, County found form at the right time to sail away from danger, going from four points clear of 23rd in mid-January to now 14 clear and safely positioned in 17th.
One of the undoubted highlights of their season came two weeks ago when they stunned big-hitting Portsmouth 3-0 at Fratton Park, a result that should act as a warning signal to the Cobblers.
Northampton were given their own fright at Stevenage last Saturday but thanks to another piece of Ricky Holmes magic, their unbeaten run remains intact and could stretch to 16 this weekend.
With skipper Marc Richards back fit and in full training, Cobblers boss Chris Wilder has a decision to make.
He could throw his top scorer straight into tomorrow’s team in place of James Collins or John Marquis, more likely the latter, or bring him off the bench.
Either way, it’s a nice quandary to have.
Tomorrow’s game evokes memories of October’s reverse fixture when Northampton were pegged back to 2-2 having gone 2-0 up through Sam Hoskins and Marc Richards.
However, the lasting image of that day came post-match when Chris Wilder gathered his players for a prolonged and poignant post-match huddle on an emotional afternoon in South Wales.
It was the same week in which the players and staff had been informed they would not be paid for the month due to the club’s financial crisis.
The opposition might be the same but five months on and life at Sixfields could not be more different.
Prediction: Northampton 3 Newport 1