Fixture: Northampton Town v Plymouth Argyle, Sky Bet League One
Date/kick-off time: Saturday, April 21, 3pm kick-off
Weather forecast: 16C, sunny spells
Outs and doubts: Cobblers: Kevin van Veen (dead leg), Kevin Luckassen (back), Brendan Moloney (knee), Aaron Pierre (thigh), Aaron Phillips (thigh). Plymouth: Ryan Taylor (ankle), Antoni Sarcevic (groin), Moses Makasi (knee), Simon Church (hip)
Betting: Northampton 11/5, draw 23/10, Plymouth 5/4
Form guide: Cobblers WLLLLD, Pilgrims DWWLWD
Possible line-ups: Northampton (4-4-1-1): O’Donnell; Facey, Taylor, Barnett, Buchanan; Bridge, Crooks, Grimes, Powell; O’Toole; Hoskins. Plymouth (4-3-3): Letheren; Threlkeld, Vyner, Bradley, Sawyer; Makasi, Fox, Ness; Carey, Lameiras, Grant.
Man in the middle: Lee Collins
Last time out: Bury 2 Northampton 3 (Taylor 2, Hoskins); Plymouth 0 Portsmouth 0
Most recent meeting: Tuesday, November 21, 2017 – Plymouth Argyle 2 (Bradley 2) Northampton Town 0
Record v Plymouth: P58 W22 D12 L24
Opposition view: “The game will probably be open,” predicts Pilgrims boss Derek Adams. “Northampton will come at us and we have to then try and pick them off; they haven’t got a situation where they can try and sit in and go for a point, they have got to go for the win. We are likewise, we would like to win the game as well so I can see it being an open encounter.”
James Heneghan’s preview: When Northampton last faced Plymouth Argyle, down at Home Park in late November, the Pilgrims were in a fight to avoid dropping down to the division below rather than challenging to win promotion to the one above.
Four points adrift of the Cobblers at the time, they were second-from-bottom and had just 14 points from 17 games in their first season back in League One following promotion last term.
But their 2-0 victory over Northampton that night, with both goals scored by defender Sonny Bradley, was only the start of their rapid ascent up the table. Since, Argyle have 14 wins and 47 points from 22 games - the division’s third best record in that period - to sneak into a top six spot and, with games in hand over their rivals and a favourable run-in, they look odds-on to stay there.
One defeat in 12 games means they come into Saturday’s clash at Sixfields in good form and high on confidence, seeking to become the latest visiting team to return home with three points against a Northampton side whose last home victory came three months and six games ago.
Plymouth’s barnstorming rise up the League One table has been built around the classy Graham Carey who’s scored or assisted 24 times this season (12 of each), only Peterborough striker Jack Marriott has had a hand in more goals in the division.
Having sat above Plymouth before heading to Devon in November, the Cobblers are now 21 points adrift and one place worse off, although their 3-2 triumph at Bury last time out did at least stop the rot of two months and 10 games without victory.
While there’s still plenty of work to do, Ash Taylor’s late winner at Gigg Lane has handed them a lifeline and if they can back it up with another victory this weekend, the great escape will be very much on ahead of their final two fixtures against relegation rivals Walsall and Oldham.
In midweek, Rochdale’s goalless draw with Oldham was a favourable one for Town and they will be hoping for similarly kind results on Saturday when every team at the bottom is in action. The biggest game of the day sees Wimbledon host Oldham – a home victory would probably suit Cobblers best in that one – while MK Dons visit Southend, Rochdale host Bradford and Walsall go to Scunthorpe.
Caretaker boss Dean Austin has a few selection headaches to ponder. Does he stick with Sam Hoskins up front after his impressive substitute appearance at Bury? Has Shaun McWilliams done enough to start over fit-again Matt Crooks in midfield? And where does John-Joe O’Toole to play?
One problem each of Northampton’s three managers have had this season is striking the right balance, especially in midfield. McWilliams, O’Toole, Crooks and Matt Grimes all bring something different but finding the right combination has been tricky.
McWilliams brings energy, O’Toole adds a physical presence, Crooks injects forward drive and Grimes possesses the most quality in possession, but how do you fit them all in at the same time and not compromise the balance of the team?
If Austin can find the solution, he may just pull off a miracle.
Prediction: Northampton Town 1 Plymouth Argyle 1