Fixture: Northampton Town v Notts County, Sky Bet League Two
Date/time: Saturday, April 2, 3pm kick-off
Forecast: 12C, sunny spells
Outs and doubts: Cobblers: Paul Corry (knee). County: Blair Adams (foot), Will Hayhurst (knee)
Betting: Northampton 1/2, draw 16/5, County 11/2
Form guide: Cobblers DWWDWD, Magpies DLLLLD
Avg. goals scored/conceded per game: Northampton 1.8/1.0; County 1.2/1.7
Likely line-ups: Northampton (4-4-2): Smith; Moloney, Diamond, McDonald, Buchanan; Holmes, O’Toole, Rose, D’Ath; Marquis, Richards. County (4-5-1): Carroll; Atkinson, Edwards, Hollis, Audel; Campbell, Thompson, Aborah, Noble, Burke; Stead.
Man in the middle: This is Ben Toner’s first season as a Football League referee and this weekend will be his first time in charge of Northampton. He’s handed out four reds and 87 yellows in 24 games this season.
Last time out: Mansfield 2 (Green 2) Northampton 2 (Holmes, Marquis); Notts County 0 Wycombe 0
Most recent meeting: Saturday, November 21, 2015 – Notts County 1 (Stead) Northampton Town 2 (McDonald, Moloney)
Record v Notts County: P52, W16, D10, L26
Opposition view: Recently-appointed Magpies manager Mark Cooper on facing the league leaders: “They’ve done remarkably well but sometimes it’s good for us because it’s game where we’re not really expected to get too much out of it so we can express ourselves a little bit.
“They’ve done brilliantly and won an incredible amount of games and they’ve come back from seemingly impossible positions so we know it’ll be a tough ask but one we’re looking forward to.
“They’ve got a group of incredibly focused professionals who know their jobs and do the basics and at the top of the pitch they’ve got some individuals that know how to win games and score goals – Holmes, Collins, Richards, Martin etc – those kind of players who can hurt you.”
Cobblers connection: Blair Adams has endured a frustratingly stop-start season at Notts County, which also included a three-month loan spell at Mansfield Town. Adams began his career at Sunderland where he went out on loan to first Brentford and then Northampton. He played 22 times during his five months at Sixfields but then signed for Coventry before moving to Notts County. He found himself as a County regular in February and March but is a doubt to face his former team this weekend with a foot injury.
James Heneghan’s preview: In a season that has spoilt us with its countless memorable days and defining moments, it’s what followed the reverse fixture between Northampton and Notts County five months ago that will perhaps go down as the 10 and a half minutes which most shaped this incredible campaign.
After Brendan Moloney and Rod McDonald had steered Cobblers to a 2-1 win at Meadow Lane, Chris Wilder ventured out onto the Meadlow Lane pitch to give his usual post-match thoughts.
But this would be no normal interview.
Instead, with the club’s very existence still hanging by a thread, Wilder unleashed a remarkably impassioned speech, pleading with the then-chairman David Cardoza to ‘get the bleeding deal done’ and sell the club to Kelvin Thomas, thus releasing everyone of the pain and torment that had built up after weeks and weeks of uncertainty and worry.
The Northampton manager was speaking on behalf of everyone connected to the club and vented all of his frustrations with the excruciatingly drawn out takeover ordeal that had left staff, players and fans in limbo for far too long.
Fans rallied behind the team like never before and the players responded with a series of determined, winning performances that acted as the catalyst for the club’s rise to the League Two summit.
Yet no one could enjoy what was happening on the pitch due to the off-field circus, and Wilder decided enough was enough.
It was less than a week until a crunch hearing in the high court and Wilder felt the time was right to act and have his say as he lambasted the ‘shambles’ of the preceding few months.
His speech went viral and undoubtedly had an impact on what followed.
We may never know just how big a role it played in Cardoza’s decision to sell to Thomas barely 48 hours later but regardless, it typified the kind of fighting, battling spirit Wilder and his team have shown time and time again this season to overcome and thrive in adversity.
It’s apt, then, that Wilder could lead his side to promotion in the reverse fixture between the same two clubs, especially with the ‘redeveloped’ East Stand – which was the root of the mess that culminated in Wilder’s speech in the first place – now, finally, in operation.
Ever since that day at Meadow Lane, the Cobblers have headed in only one direction, incredibly losing only once in the following 21 league games.
The latest of those came at Mansfield on Easter Monday when Town preserved their 17-match unbeaten run by coming from 2-0 down to draw 2-2.
The two goals at Field Mill mean Northampton have already scored more goals (71) than any team managed in the entirety of last season.
Their visitors this weekend, by contrast, have won just five times since the defeat at Meadow Lane, and if games were played on paper, there wouldn’t be much point bothering with this one.
Like Mansfield on Easter Monday, County go into this game having picked up just a solitary point from their previous five games, and paltry two from their last 27 available.
It’s a quite wretched run of form – the worst return of any team in that period – and now they face the league’s most in-form side who also boast the league’s best home record.
But games are not played on paper and while two weeks ago this fixture may have been a home banker, the bounce affect of a new manager, in this instance Mark Cooper, could give County an extra boost in their quest to pull off a shock result.
Indeed, by all accounts, the Magpies were unfortunate not to beat play-off chasing Wycombe on Easter Monday having put in a much-improved display from their 4-0 defeat at Portsmouth three days earlier.
For the first time in a while, predicting the Northampton starting line-up is not quite so straightforward, particularly after Chris Wilder threw a curveball in playing 4-3-3 with three strikers at Mansfield.
He won’t be doing that again in a hurry, for certain, and the Cobblers boss is likely to revert to 4-4-2 this weekend, but it’s the left side of midfield which has become something of a conundrum.
Lawson D’Ath struggled badly off the bench on Monday while Lee Martin and Nicky Adams weren’t even involved in the 18-man squad that travelled up to Nottinghamshire.
Alfie Potter is another who hasn’t featured at all recently and although Sam Hoskins continues to make an impact off the bench, it’s not a position he’s accustomed to, leaving Wilder with a decision to make.
On top of that, the Cobblers boss must also decide who to leave out up front now skipper and top scorer Marc Richards is back fully fit.
James Collins is coming off arguably his two least effective games since signing so could be the one to miss out, especially after fellow loanee John Marquis netted his fourth goal in five games at Mansfield.
Danny Rose impressed at Field Mill and deserves to keep his place in midfield alongside John-Joe O’Toole, and the same goes for Rod McDonald at the heart of defence.
Although promotion is a possibility this weekend, it seems unlikely to be clinched just yet with Bristol Rovers and Accrington Stanley both facing winnable home games against Crawley Town and Cambridge United respectively.
But while that would be an understandable anti-climax, it’d only delay the inevitable.
Prediction: Northampton Town 2 Notts County 0