Fixture: Oxford United v Northampton Town, Sky Bet League Two
Date/kick-off time: Tuesday, February 16, 7.45pm kick-off
Venue: The Kassam Stadium
Weather forecast: 3C, dry
Outs and doubts: Oxford: Kemar Roofe (groin), Ryan Taylor (groin). Cobblers: Joel Byrom (neck), Alfie Potter (ribs), Paul Corry (knee)
Betting: Oxford 1/1, draw 5/2, Northampton 13/5
Form guide: Oxford WDLLWL, Cobblers WWWLWW
Avg. goals scored/conceded per game: Oxford 1.7/0.9, Northampton 1.9/1.1
Likely line-ups: Oxford (4-4-2): Buchel; Kenny, Wright, Mullins, Skarz; MacDonald, Sercombe, Lundstram, Maguire; Bowery, Hylton. Northampton (4-4-2): Smith; Moloney, Diamond, McDonald, Buchanan; Holmes, O’Toole, Rose, D’Ath; Collins, Richards
Man in the middle: Keith Hill
Last time out: Morecambe 2 (Molyneux, Barkhuizen) Oxford 4 (Roofe, Lundstram, Hylton, Bowery); Leyton Orient 0 Northampton 4 (McDonald, Holmes, Collins 2)
Most recent meeting: Saturday, September 12, 2015 – Northampton 1 (Hoskins) Oxford 0
Record v Oxford: P28 W12 D2 L14
Opposition view: Oxford boss Michael Appleton told the Oxford Mail: “We’ve had a good victory and we want to back it up with a decent home performance. Hopefully it’s good enough to get us some points. Whether that’s one or three, who knows, but I can’t remember ever going into a game trying to get one point.
“I’m sure Chris gets bored of people talking about him coming back to Oxford, I know I do. It’s a game between Northampton and Oxford. They are flying high and we’re not doing bad in third and we’re looking forward to the game as much as they are.”
Cobblers connection: You could take your pick from a whole host of players – Sixfields has been littered with former Oxford names this season – but perhaps a more left-field choice would be defender George Baldock. The right-back spent barely five months at Sixfields, playing just five games in 2011, but he’s been denied the chance to face his former side this week after parent club MK Dons recalled him following an impressive season on loan at Oxford United.
James Heneghan’s preview: Although 16 games and a possible 48 points will still be up for grabs after tonight’s derby, a win for Northampton at rivals Oxford United this evening would surely be a defining step towards promotion.
While the fat lady may not be warming up just yet, it’d take quite some collapse for the Cobblers to surrender what would be a 16-point lead back to fourth place with just 16 games remaining.
And if recent history is anything to go by, a win this evening would also leave Northampton needing just five more to achieve the number of points (82) which has, on average, been enough to win automatic promotion over the past seven seasons.
But Oxford have been the steady eddies of League Two this season – they’ve not been out the top three since early October – and are eyeing up a return to England’s third tier themselves.
Not only is tonight a crunch clash in the race for promotion, or perhaps more pertinently – the title, it also pits two of the country’s most in-form teams against each other, with just five league defeats between them since September 12 when a header from Sam Hoskins saw 10-man Town sink United at Sixfields.
The major difference since then, however, has been Oxford’s inability to turn draws into wins with the U’s taking 43 points, whereas the Cobblers have won 17 of 22 and collected 54 points to open up a nine-point gap over their Oxfordshire counterparts.
Goals shouldn’t be a problem this evening after both sides found their shooting boots at the weekend. While the Cobblers eased past Leyton Orient, the Yellows were also scoring four in a comfortable 4-2 win at Morecambe.
But that did come at a cost when top scorer Kemar Roofe was forced off with a groin injury.
The 19-goal striker, who also missed the fixture at Sixfields earlier in the season, is rated as only having a 50/50 chance of being fit by boss Michael Appleton.
It’s not all plain sailing for Northampton either, for whom Joel Byrom is a doubt after injuring his neck in the warm-up prior to Saturday’s game, although the performance of replacement Danny Rose – another former Oxford face – softens the blow.
We could also see Lawson D’Ath return to the starting line-up for the first time in over a month after his impressive cameo from the bench on Saturday, and Wilder may opt to go with the industriousness of the 23-year-old, whose presence gives the side a more balanced look to it.
That would be harsh on whoever he replaces but that’s the downside of the situation Wilder has created for himself at Sixfields having compiled such a deep squad.
Recent history at the Kassam Stadium doesn’t bode well for Northampton, who’ve lost four of their last five visits to Oxford, but the Cobblers have made something of a habit of ending unwanted bad runs this season and after accelerating their promotion charge at the weekend, they’ll be on the hunt for three more points tonight.
Prediction: Oxford 2 Northampton 2