James Heneghan’s Northampton Town v Shrewsbury Town preview

TONE-SETTER: Town's last-gasp defeat to Shrewsbury on the opening day was a sign of things to come. The two teams have gone in opposite directions since. Pictures: Sharon Lucey
TONE-SETTER: Town's last-gasp defeat to Shrewsbury on the opening day was a sign of things to come. The two teams have gone in opposite directions since. Pictures: Sharon Lucey

Fixture: Northampton Town v Shrewsbury Town, Sky Bet League One

Date/time: Tuesday, March 20, 7.45pm kick-off

Venue: Sixfields

Forecast: 3C, cloudy

Outs and doubts: Cobblers: Chris Long (back), Regan Poole (international duty), Matt Crooks (suspended – 2/3), Aaron Pierre (calf), Aaron Phillips (calf). Shrewsbury: Ben Godfrey (hamstring), James Bolton (ankle), Junior Brown (knee)

Betting: Northampton 5/2, draw 21/10, Shrewsbury 6/5

Form guide: Cobblers LDDDLW, Salop WWWWDL

Possible line-ups: Northampton (4-4-1-1): O’Donnell; Facey, Taylor, Turnbull, Bunney; Powell, Grimes, McWilliams, Ariyibi; O’Toole; Luckassen. Shrewsbury (4-1-4-1): Henderson; Hendrie, Nsiala, Sadler, Beckles; Payne; Whalley, Nolan, Ogogo, Rodman; Morris.

Man in the middle: Andy Davies

Last time out: Northampton Town 0 Rotherham United 3 (Smith, Ball, Towell); Scunthorpe United 1 (Morris) Shrewsbury Town 2 (Nolan, Payne)

Most recent meeting: Saturday, August 5, 2017 – Shrewsbury Town (John-Lewis) Northampton 0

Record v Shrewsbury: P52 W20 D10 L22

Opposition view: “For my players I will certainly be into them about expecting a tough game because I think they’ve got a couple of players that can cause problems,” said Shrewsbury boss Paul Hurst in Monday’s press conference. “They’re not where they want to be in the league, but I tend to reverse things a lot, so for me they are due a win and I don’t want that to be against us.”

Cobblers connection: Just two months and three games long, it’s fair to say Ryan McGivern’s stay at the Cobblers was brief one. Signed on a free transfer after leaving Shrewsbury last November, the defender made just two starts and one substitute appearance before being released by Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, eventually finding a new club in Swindon Town this month. Before his move to the Cobblers, McGivern played 18 games for Shrews during the 2016/17 campaign.

What we don’t want to do is go into the game and give them a bit of a leg up, start sloppy, ease them into the game and allow confidence to come back.

Shrewsbury Town manager Paul Hurst

James Heneghan’s preview: Little did anyone know it at the time but when Shrewsbury Town grabbed a dramatic late victory over Northampton way back on the opening day, it was only the first chapter of one of the more remarkable stories in the EFL this season.

As it turned out, Town’s seriously below-par showing at New Meadow and the manner of Shrewsbury’s thrilling victory, achieved through Lenell John-Lewis’ injury-time winner, set the tone for both of their respective campaigns.

While the Cobblers have spent the intervening eight months desperately trying to get themselves out of a pickle at the bottom of the table, Shrewsbury have been embroiled in a battle at the other end, defying all of the pre-season odds to keep pace with the division’s two big boys as they fight it out with Wigan Athletic and Blackburn Rovers for the two automatic promotion spots.

Paul Hurst’s side, favourites for relegation before a ball had even been kicked, began the campaign with a superb 15-game unbeaten run and have not looked back since. Even a brief wobble in the Autumn, losing three in four, and then again last month, managing just one win in four, has not put them off their stride.

Many, understandably, would have expected Wigan and Blackburn, relegated from the Championship last season, to eventually pull away and jostle for the title but three successive league victories, the latest of which came in impressive come-from-behind style at Scunthorpe United on Saturday, have returned Shrews back into the top two, one point behind Rovers with a game in hand.

What is most impressive about their unlikely title tilt is the character they’ve shown to win tight games – 17 of their 22 wins have been by just one goal – and the remaining fixtures must surely make them favourites for promotion. After tonight’s game at Sixfields, six of Shrewsbury’s nine remaining games are against AFC Wimbledon, Rochdale, Oxford, Bury, Blackpool and MK Dons

Not content with that, they also have a Wembley day out to look forward to after beating Yeovil in the Checkatrade Trophy semi-finals earlier this month. All in all, it’s not been a bad campaign for Hurt’s men.

The same, sadly, cannot be said for the Cobblers. Saturday’s 3-0 defeat to Rotherham left them in the relegation zone and with just eight games to go after tonight, time is running out to collect the points required to stay up.

It was no surprise to hear that Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink intends to make changes for this evening’s game. The experiment of Hildeberto Pereira in midfield will likely only last one match with Shaun McWilliams long overdue a start while Gboly Ariyibi and Shay Facey may also return to the team.

By all possible measures, Shrewsbury go into this game as strong favourites but Town, somehow and somewhere, need points, and with Rochdale playing Fleetwood in the only other League One game, a positive result tonight would be an unlikely but very welcome place to start.

Prediction: Northampton Town 1 Shrewsbury Town 2