Fixture: Northampton Town v Rochdale, Sky Bet League One
Date/time: Saturday, February 3, 3pm kick-off
Forecast: 4C, showers
Outs and doubts: Cobblers: Aaron Pierre (thigh), Aaron Phillips (thigh), Joe Bunney (dead leg). Rochdale: Niall Canavan (ankle), Keith Keane (groin)
Betting: Northampton 6/4, draw 9/4, Rochdale 9/5
Form guide: Cobblers DWWWLL, Dale DLLWLL
Possible line-ups: Northampton (4-4-1-1): O’Donnell; Facey, Taylor, Turnbull, Bunney; Ariyibi, Grimes, Crooks, Foley; O’Toole; Long. Rochdale (3-5-2): Lillis; Daniels, McNulty, Delaney; Rafferty, Cannon, Camps, Kitching, Done; Henderson, Andrew.
Man in the middle: John Busby
Last time out: Blackburn Rovers 1 (Graham) Northampton Town 1 (O’Toole); Millwall 2 (Wallace, Thompson) Rochdale 2 (Henderson, Done)
Most recent meeting: Tuesday, October 17, 2017 – Rochdale 2 (Henderson 2) Northampton 2 (Taylor, Buchanan)
Record v Rochdale: P62 W20 D22 L20
Opposition view: On why he feels his side have struggled in the league compared to the cup this season, Dale boss Keith Hill explained: “The pressure of overachieving has probably weighed heavy on the players. We overachieved to get promotion and for the last three seasons, with the work the players have gone through, I think it’s catching up with them.
“Our cup success hasn’t transpired in the league. With the squad of players we’ve got, it’s affecting performances and the players we’ve brought in haven’t quite matched up to the players we’ve lost. I think it’s just that now we are plateauing out as a group of players and a football club. When you consider the amount of money that’s been spent in League One now, it’s very difficult for us to keep up.”
A combination of an impressive run in the FA Cup, which has taken them to a potential fifth round tie against Tottenham Hotspur, and a series of weather-related postponements has left Rochdale playing catch-up with the rest of League One, particularly the Cobblers whose 11 extra points have come from four more games.
Cobblers connection: Things can change quickly in football. At the start of the year, a mere four weeks ago, Joe Bunney was still a regular in the Rochdale team but, with Cobblers boss Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink eager to sign attacking full-backs, this weekend he will find himself on the opposing side. The 24-year-old started life as a striker and, having gradually worked his way through non-league with Lancaster City, Kendal Town, Stockport County and Northwich Victoria, he was signed by Rochdale in 2013 and it was at Spotland where he spent the subsequent five years, making over 150 appearances under Keith Hill. Converted to a left-back at the start of last season, he remained a regular in Hill’s team right up until his Sixfields switch two weeks ago. With two assists in two Cobblers games already, he’ll be hoping make another contribution for his new club when former side Rochdale come to Sixfields on Saturday.
James Heneghan’s preview: Having not won on the road all season, and without a league win of any kind since mid-November, it would be easy to take a quick glance at Rochdale’s perilous league position and write them off but, given their track record over recent years, that might be a premature and foolish predication to make.
Eleven points adrift of the Cobblers and therefore the fine line between relegation and safety, it’s admittedly a long way back for Dale whose form has tailed off alarmingly this term following three successive play-off challenges, but all is not lost, at least not yet, with Saturday’s game at Sixfields bordering on must-win territory for Keith Hill’s men who’ve returned a pitiful five points from 14 away matches this season.
A combination of an impressive run in the FA Cup, which has taken them to a potential fifth round tie against Tottenham Hotspur, and a series of weather-related postponements has left them playing catch-up with the rest of Sky Bet League One, particularly the Cobblers whose 11 extra points have come from four more games.
So Dale are not quite as doomed as their current league position suggests and while you’d rather have points on the board at this stage of the season, Hill’s side – who’ve played just a solitary league game in 2018, largely due to the weather – will go into tomorrow’s clash, like the Cobblers, buoyed by a host new signings acquired across January, including defender Scott Wiseman and striker Stephen Humphrys on deadline day.
The usually immaculate Sixfields playing surface might also act as something of a leveller bearing in mind Dale’s flowing passing game that is so often hindered by the bobbly, sandy pitch back at Spotland, which has been the chief reason behind their recent postponements.
Dale passed their way around and through Millwall last time out when they came within minutes of a seismic (and deserved) FA Cup upset; leading 2-1 at The Den before Ben Thompson spared the Championship side’s blushes with a late leveller. The winner of the replay, to be played next week, will host Spurs in the fifth round.
The Cobblers picked up an impressive result of their own last weekend when John-Joe O’Toole’s fourth goal in four games extended their unbeaten run to four as they drew 1-1 at Blackburn Rovers, lifting them three points above the drop zone.
January was always going to be the make or break month of Town’s campaign and, on the face of it, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has done an excellent job in refreshing, rebalancing and rejuvenating his previously imbalanced, misfiring squad.
He’s addressed the main areas of concern – those being up front and out wide – by signing players with pace and goals while also giving his defence a whole new look, bar the ever-dependable Ash Taylor.
But there’s little use compiling a squad of such potential if it does not translate to results on the pitch and that is ultimately how January – and the season as a whole – will be judged. Let’s not forget, it was thought that previous manager Justin Edinburgh had assembled a competitive League One squad before it quickly, and alarmingly, unravelled.
It will surely be different this time, though. Not only do the Cobblers have good players, they have balance, potency and a clear direction. If Town’s results match the quality Hasselbaink has at his disposal, they’ll soon be in the safety net of mid-table.
Several debuts have been handed out over the past few weeks but given the effective partnership building between O’Toole and Chris Long, new strikers Kevin van Veen and Boris Mathis may need to wait a little longer for their first start in Cobblers colours.
One of the six loan players must miss out from the squad, likely to be Mathis or Regan Poole, while there are also plenty of options out wide where Hildeberto Pereira and Gboly Ariyibi are still awaiting their first starts. Joe Bunney, providing he’s fully recovered from his dead leg, should return to left-back against his former team.
Northampton versus Rochdale isn’t the only important game at the bottom of League One this weekend. Elsewhere, 20th-placed MK Dons head to 18th-placed Walsall and bottom-side Bury entertain Blackpool, who are level on points with the Cobblers in 19th. Given that at least two of those four sides must drop points, this is a huge opportunity for Town to significantly strengthen their survival prospects.
What’s more, with AFC Wimbledon and Gillingham to come after Rochdale, Hasselbaink’s team will not get a much better chance to put breathing space between themselves and the bottom two than these next three weeks. With new signings on board, momentum turning in their favour and a kind fixture list, things are finally looking up for Northampton, but will that still be the case at 5pm tomorrow?
Prediction: Northampton Town 3 Rochdale 2