Fixture: Northampton Town v West Bromwich Albion, EFL Cup second round
Date/time: Tuesday, August 23, 7.45pm kick-off
Forecast: 25C, sunny
Outs and doubts: Cobblers: Gabriel Zakuani (ankle), Marc Richards (knock). Albion: Chris Brunt (knee)
Betting: Northampton 13/5, draw 12/5, West Brom 21/20
Form guide: Cobblers DDDWD, Baggies LW
Possible line-ups: Northampton (4-4-1-1): Smith; Phillips, Diamond, Naytanga, Buchanan; D’Ath, McCourt, Taylor, Sonupe; Beautyman; Revell. Albion (4-4-2): Foster; Dawson, Olsson, Evans, Galloway; Phillips, Fletcher, Morrison, Leko; Berahino, Rondon
Man in the middle: Darren Bond
Last time out: Northampton 0 AFC Wimbledon 0; West Brom 1 (McAuley) Everton 2 (Mirallas, Barry)
Most recent meeting: Tuesday, August 22, 1995 – Northampton Town 2 (Peer, Burns) West Brom 4 (Taylor 2, Hunt, Donovan)
Record v West Brom: P6 W0 D2 L4
Opposition view: West Brom assistant Dave Kemp: “Northampton will think they’ve got a chance of knocking West Brom out and we’ve got to make sure that’s not the case. It’s a good club, they’ve been on the up and I’m sure they will be difficult opposition for us. We’ll have to be on our guard and put on a good performance.”
Cobblers connection: Tipped to play for England at some point in the future, Saido Berahino heads back to where his senior career all began this evening, four years on from his eye-catching loan spell at the Cobblers. The talented young striker was an instant hit at Sixfields where, as an exciting 18-year-old in 2011/12, he made 15 appearances and scored six goals, only to then be whisked off to a higher division, moving on loan to Brentford and Peterborough. His stock continued to rise until his breakthrough season in 2014/15 when he netted 15 Premier League goals for West Brom, a return that attracted the interest of several so-called big clubs. But he remains at the Baggies to this day despite constantly being linked with a move away from the Hawthorns.
James Heneghan’s preview: The visit of Premier League West Brom to Sixfields this evening might be just the tonic Northampton need to kick-start their stuttering season into life.
With four draws from four league games and an extra-time cup win at Barnsley to date, it’s not quite been the start most would have wanted or expected given the ease at which the Cobblers swept to promotion and indeed the League Two title last term.
But life, and especially sport, has a way of keeping you on your toes and throwing down challenges just when everything seems set.
The departure of Chris Wilder, the arrival of Rob Page and the sweeping changes to personnel both on and off the pitch has made the transition from tier four to tier three a much more difficult one, and inevitably there are teething troubles that must be overcome.
But let’s remember the season is still young, players are still settling into life at a new club and there is plenty of time to put things right, and perhaps tonight’s clash has come at an opportune time.
It’s a chance for Page and his men to pit their wits against a Premier League club and an opportunity to release the shackles, play without pressure and try to rediscover their mojo from last season.
The visitors will of course be overwhelming favourites to progress to round three of the EFL Cup, but even so, the result is not the be all and end all, and if Northampton can at least push the Baggies close, it will restore some confidence and self-belief that could go a long way to getting back on track.
After all, the Cobblers have not become a bad team overnight. There are structural issues which have severely restricted creative freedom, but the foundations are there to build from.
It will be interesting to see who Page selects given his comments following Saturday’s disappointing goalless draw against AFC Wimbledon.
With Gabriel Zakuani likely to be rested, Lewis Nyatanga is in line for his Cobblers debut and Emmanuel Sonupe could also start for the first time, while others like Lawson D’Ath, Jak McCourt and Joel Brom are chomping at the bit having barely featured so far.
Coming off a 2-1 home defeat against Everton, Baggies boss Tony Pulis is likely to name a strong team that could include former Northampton loanee Saido Berahino as well as the likes of senior internationals Jonny Evans, Darren Fletcher and James Morrison.
But irrespective of the team Pulis selects, tonight is something of a free hit for the Cobblers and that might be just what they need to rediscover the winning formula, regardless of the result.
Prediction: Northampton 1 West Brom 2