Fixture: Northampton Town v Rotherham United, Sky Bet League One
Date/time: Saturday, March 17, 3pm kick-off
Forecast: 1C, sunny spells
Outs and doubts: Cobblers: Matt Crooks (suspended - 1/3), Kevin van Veen (knee), Aaron Pierre (thigh), Aaron Phillips (thigh). Millers: Darren Potter (Achilles) Jamie Proctor (knee), Joe Mattock (knock)
Betting: Northampton 13/5, draw 23/10, Rotherham 21/20
Form guide: Cobblers DDDLWL, Millers LLWWWW
Possible line-ups: Northampton (4-4-2): O’Donnell; Facey, Taylor, Turnbull, Bunney; Powell, O’Toole, Grimes, Ariyibi; Long, Luckassen. Rotherham (4-4-2): Rodak; Cummings, Ajayi, Wood, Mattock; Forde, Towell, Vaulks, Newell; Ball, Smith.
Man in the middle: Ben Toner
Last time out: Bristol Rovers 1 Northampton Town 1 (Luckassen); MK Dons 3 Rotherham 2 (Ajayi, Taylor)
Most recent meeting: Saturday, September 30, 2017 – Rotherham United 1 (Moore) Northampton Town 0
Record v Rotherham: P41 W14 D9 L18
Opposition view: “It was a disappointing result and we have lost the last two games by one goal, against two teams fighting for their lives,” said Millers boss Paul Warne after Tuesday’s loss to MK Dons. “It’s not a crisis but we need to get back to winning ways very quickly.
“We set up to win games. We will tell them where they went wrong and I want them to have more confidence on the ball. “We’ll pick them up and then I’ll pick the 11 freshest to go on Saturday, so there might be some changes and there might not. We look at everything we can to win this game.”
In essence, the Cobblers must surely win at least one of these next two games – or come away with a minimum of two draws – to not fall behind others at the bottom.
Cobblers connection: Goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell sat on the bench for Rotherham United when they beat the Cobblers 1-0 earlier in the season, but on Saturday he’ll be hoping to get one over on his previous employers. The 29-year-old was a teenager during an early loan spell in South Yorkshire but he returned to the club nine years later to make 27 appearances across 12 months, with 12 of those coming in the Championship last season. After suffering relegation with the Millers at the end of that campaign, he’ll be desperate to avoid the same fate this time around.
Heading back to Sixfields a year on from his loan spell is striker Michael Smith. The 6ft 4in frontman, who scored twice in 14 games for the Cobblers, swapped Bury for Rotherham in January and four of his six goals this season have come in the past seven matches.
James Heneghan’s preview: While hardly a walk in the park, this Saturday’s home game against Rotherham United looks a little less daunting now than it would have done had it taken place just eight days ago.
Before playing host to Rochdale last Saturday, the Millers were flying. Seven successive wins had made them the EFL’s most form team and catapulted them from play-off outsiders to serious candidates for automatic promotion.
However, since getting themselves into a position from which they could threaten the stranglehold of League One’s top three, United’s charge up the League One table has stalled in this past week having suffered surprising back-to-back at home to Rochdale and then away at MK Dons, two of Town’s rivals at the bottom.
From Northampton’s viewpoint, you could look at it two ways. The optimists might say that Dale and Dons have shown there is nothing to be afraid of when it comes to Paul Warne’s high-flying Millers, whose confidence and momentum must also have suffered.
Conversely, United will also go into Saturday a wounded team desperate to avoid a third straight defeat to a side in the bottom five as they attempt to get their stuttering promotion challenge back on track, with an immediate return to the Championship not out of the question.
Either way, it’s certain to be a difficult encounter given Northampton’s recent home woes and while you would usually say this type of game – and the same applies to Tuesday’s against Shrewsbury Town – is a free hit for a team in Town’s sticky situation at the bottom, the proximity and form of their rivals and the need for points as time runs out dictates that they can’t afford to write off any of their remaining 10 fixtures.
In essence, the Cobblers must surely win at least one of these next two games – or come away with a minimum of two draws – to not fall behind others at the bottom. There are more winnable matches, on paper at least, to come later in the season but taking points off those at the other end of the table is a must given that five of their final 10 games are against teams currently in the top eight, including in-form Plymouth and rivals Peterborough.
Even at this late stage of the campaign, it’s difficult to be sure what the points target should be but as each passing week goes by, it becomes more and more likely that 50 will not be enough, even 51 might not do it. If the aim is 52, Town have to find four wins and one draw from somewhere, and Saturday is as good a place to start as any.
On the team news front, striker Kevin Luckassen might not be quite fit enough to start but his presence on the bench, and that of the returning Kevin van Veen, will give manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink the type of attacking, forward-thinking options he has not always had this season.
Matt Crooks serves the first of his three-game ban and therefore Matt Grimes will need a new partner in midfield, potentially one of Shaun McWilliams, Regan Poole or Sam Foley. Alternatively, John-Joe O’Toole could return to that position having regularly featured much higher up this season.
Despite recent results, Rotherham are still a good team with dangerous players, but as Rochdale and MK Dons have shown, they are far from unbeatable. On Saturday, it’s the turn of the Cobblers to prove it.
Prediction: Northampton Town 1 Rotherham United 1