Fixture: Portsmouth v Northampton Town, Sky Bet League Two
Date/time: Saturday, May 7, 3pm kick-off
Venue: Fratton Park
Forecast: 16C, sunny
Outs and doubts: Portsmouth: Ryan Fulton (hamstring), Alex Bass (knee), Darryl Flahavan (ankle), Matthew Clarke (groin), Marc McNulty (hamstring), Adam Webster (foot), Kyle Bennett (ankle), Conor Wilkinson (groin). Cobblers: Rod McDonald, Joel Byrom, Brendan Moloney (knee), Marc Richards (Achilles), Paul Corry (knee)
Betting: Portsmouth 6/5, draw 12/5, Northampton 9/4
Form guide: Pompey WWWLLW, Cobblers WDWDDD
Avg. goals scored/conceded per game: Portsmouth 1.6/0.9, Northampton 1.8/1.0
Likely line-ups: Portsmouth (4-2-3-1): Jones; Stevens, Burgess, Barton, Freeman; Doyle, Hollands; Naismith, Roberts, Evans; Smith. Northampton (4-2-3-1): Smith; Lelan, Diamond, Prosser, Buchanan; O’Toole, Rose; Holmes, Hoskins, Adams; Marquis
Man in the middle: Mark Brown last officiated a Northampton game in October 2012 when he dismissed Anthony Charles as the Cobblers were beaten 3-1 at Bristol Rovers. The Yorkshire referee has handed out 102 yellows and three reds this term.
Last time out: Hartlepool 0 Portsmouth 2 (Naismith, Chaplin); Northampton 2 (Diamond, Marquis) Luton 0.
Most recent meeting: Saturday, December 19, 2015 – Northampton Town 1 (Cresswell) Portsmouth 2 (Evans, Chaplin)
Record v Portsmouth: P31 W8 D7 L16
Opposition view: Pompey boss Paul Cook told the club’s official website: “From what Northampton have been through at the beginning of the season with their financial troubles to where they are now is incredible.
“I’m sure it will be a fitting day for them in front of a full house at Fratton Park on Saturday and they deserve to be acknowledged as the best team in this league. Great credit must go to Chris Wilder – who’s one of the good lads in this game – and his staff for what they’ve achieved.”
Cobblers connection: Ricky Holmes is adored by those of a Cobblers persuasion but his time at Portsmouth wasn’t quite so memorable. Despite being named fans’ player of the season in 2014, he struggled the following campaign due to fitness and injury problems and was let go in January by then-manager Andy Awford before joining Northampton on an initial one-month loan. It didn’t take long for Holmes to make his mark at Sixfields as the move soon became permanent, and Portsmouth’s loss has certainly been Northampton’s gain, with the winger firing the Cobblers to the title this term, being named League Two’s second best player in the process.
James Heneghan’s preview: The thought of this weekend’s final-day fixture involving the runaway champions and a team battling for the play-offs didn’t seem quite so far-fetched at the start of the season.
Back then, Portsmouth had been made the odds-on title favourites while Northampton were predicted to push for a top seven place.
But it’s not quite worked out that way and instead it’ll be Portsmouth who perform a guard of honour this weekend ahead when they welcome and acknowledge the team who’ve wiped the floor with the rest of League Two.
When Northampton succumbed to Conor Chaplin’s late winner at Sixfields back in December, not many could have foreseen what was to come.
After that game, Northampton were level on points with Plymouth, only three ahead of Portsmouth and it was meant to have been the moment which acted as a springboard for the pre-season title favourites to make their move.
But 23 games and no defeats later, it’s the Cobblers who have romped away with the title and now go into tomorrow’s reverse fixture with an 18-point lead over Paul Cook’s men, who have had to settle for the dreaded play-offs.
With Northampton going an entire half a season unbeaten, Portsmouth are the only team in League Two who can do the double over Chris Wilder’s side.
Intriguingly, Portsmouth actually have the best record of any side in the division when it comes to a ‘mini-league’ between the top eight having taken 27 points from 13 games against promotion rivals, compared to Northampton’s 20.
But with shock defeats to the likes of Newport County and York City, it’s against teams in the bottom third where Portsmouth have come unstuck, managing the same number of points in those games as against the top eight.
The hunger of this Northampton team, who incredibly still haven’t lost away from home since October, should ensure Saturday’s game is not a typical end-of-season borefest, especially with Portsmouth hoping to build some momentum ahead of the play-offs when they will take on Plymouth.
Paul Cook has something of an injury crisis and could be missing as many as eight first-team players, while Chris Wilder could well stick with the same team who so easily swatted aside Luton last week.
Josh Lelan caught the eye at right-back in that game and this is another chance for the youngster to show what he’s made of as he seeks to impress enough to earn a place in next season’s squad.
Other than that, tomorrow is the final opportunity to sit back, relax and soak it all up as the champions strut their stuff against a team who many thought would be sitting pretty at the top by this stage of the season.
And a jam-packed Fratton Park bathed in glorious spring sunshine seems the perfect setting for the final chapter of this wonderful season.
Prediction: Portsmouth 2 Northampton 2