Fixture: Northampton Town v Oxford United
Date/time: Saturday, September 12, 3pm kick-off
Forecast: 17C, sunny
Outs and doubts: Cobblers: Adam Yates (thigh), Zander Diamond (leg), Ricky Holmes (back strain), Brendan Moloney (knee), Evan Horwood (groin), Alfie Potter (leg). Oxford: Liam Sercombe (suspended), Kemar Roofe (shoulder)
Betting: Cobblers 15/8, draw 11/5, Oxford 6/4
Form guide: Cobblers LWDLLL, Oxford WWLDWD
Likely line-ups: Northampton (4-2-3-1): Smith; Furlong, Cresswell, Brisley, Buchanan; Watson, Taylor; Adams, Hoskins, D’Ath; Richards. Oxford (4-4-2): Slocombe; Baldock, Wright, Mullins, Skarz; MacDonald, Rose, Lundstram, O’Dowda; Hylton, Hoban.
Man in the middle: Taking charge of this weekend’s encounter is a high profile name in the shape of Neil Swarbrick, who is usually seen reffing in the Premier League. The 45-year-old has taken charge of three top division games this season, handing out 16 yellow cards. His last League Two game also involved Oxford when the the U’s beat Wycombe 3-1 in October 2012.
Last time out: Northampton 1 (Richards) Dagenham 2 (McClure 2); Bristol Rovers 0 Oxford United 1 (Roofe).
Most recent meeting: Saturday, April 14, 2015 – Oxford 1 (MacDonald) Northampton 1 (Toney)
Opposition view: Oxford boss Michael Appleton on the trip to Sixfields: “It’s a difficult place. I think we just have to start the game well, compete with them and try and make it as nervous as we can for them in the later stages. They are going through a difficult period at the minute which is going to make it doubly difficult but we go there in great shape and it’s a game we are looking forward to.”
Cobblers connections: There are countless connections between these two rivals but a couple recent additions to the list are Alfie Potter and Kemar Roofe, who both joined their respective clubs in the summer. Signed by current Northampton boss Chris Wilder, Potter made 160 appearances for the Yellows between 2010 and 2015, scoring 21 goals, before spending a brief stint back with AFC Wimbledon, which was quickly followed by a move to Sixfields in May of this year.
Roofe, meanwhile, joined the U’s from Premier League side West Brom in the summer following a highly impressive loan spell at the Kassam Stadium last season. The 22-year-old played six times on loan for Northampton in 2012, failing to find the net once.
Preview: Oxford United came into the 2015/16 season harbouring lofty ambitions with promotion to League One a more than attainable goal for what is, on paper at least, a strong-looking squad, and the early signs are promising for the U’s who currently sit fourth in League Two with three draws and three wins from their opening six games.
But undoubtedly their most impressive outing of this campaign came in the Capital One Cup when they stunned Championship side Brentford with a 4-0 victory at Griffin Park.
Managed by former Manchester United player Michael Appleton, Oxford, who were branded English football’s “most attractive team” by a Daily Telegraph article this week, finished a disappointing 13th last season but a number of excellent acquisitions over the summer, including midfielder Kemar Roofe from West Brom and former Exeter man Liam Sercombe, has prompted the bookies to make them third favourites for the League Two title this term.
Oxford are likely to without those two key players this weekend, though, with Roofe injured and Sercombe suspended, but their problems do not compare to the Cobblers, who could be missing as many as six first team players.
Zander Diamond, Adam Yates, Ricky Holmes, Brendan Moloney and Evan Horwood are definitely out, while the extent of Alfie Potter’s injury is unknown after the midfielder was forced off in the first half of last weekend’s defeat to Dagenham & Redbridge.
Those absentees coupled with the struggles of Josh Lelan and Rod McDonald mean both of Northampton’s two new loan signings, Shaun Brisley and Darnell Furlong, will come straight into the starting line-up.
The absence of Sercombe may pave the way for Oxford’s highly-rated youngster John Lundstram to make his first start of the season. Fellow 21-year-old Josh Ruffels could also come in, with Ireland U21 player Callum O’Dowda likely to replace Roofe.
If recent games are anything to go by, the first goal tomorrow could well prove decisive for a multitude of reasons. Not only are the Cobblers low on confidence having picked up just a solitary point from their last four games compared to an Oxford side who are on a 14-match unbeaten run, they also have a poor record when falling behind this season.
Factor in the ongoing off-field distractions and the planned protest, a home win tomorrow would be just what the doctor ordered.
Prediction: Northampton 1 Oxford 1