James Heneghan’s Southend United v Northampton Town preview

Southend boss Phil Brown
Southend boss Phil Brown

Fixture: Southend United v Northampton Town, Sky Bet League One

Date/kick-off time: Saturday, February 18, 3pm kick-off

Venue: Roots Hall

Weather forecast: 10C, sunny spells

Outs and doubts: Southend: Will Atkinson (suspended), David Mooney (ankle), Stephen McLaughlin (ankle), Mark Oxley (fractured elbow). Cobblers: Alex Revell (calf), Luke Williams (knee), Sam Hoskins (knee), Brendan Moloney (knee), Gabriel Zakuani (hamstring)

Betting: Southend 21/20, draw 5/2, Northampton 5/2

Form guide: Shrimpers WLWDWL, Cobblers WWLWLL

Avg. goals scored/conceded per game: Southend 1.5/1.2, Northampton 1.5/1.6

Likely line-ups: Southend (4-4-2): Smith; Demetriou, Thompson, Ferdinand, Coker; McGlashan, Leonard, Wordsworth, Timlin; Cox, Fortune. Northampton (4-4-2): Smith; Eardley, Diamond, Nyatanga, Buchanan; Taylor, O’Toole, Boateng, Anderson; Richards, Smith

Man in the middle: Be warned, Northampton and Southend, because John Brooks is not someone who will have any hesitation in bringing out the cards this weekend. Only one referee in the entire Football League, Keith Stroud, has handed out more than his 133 cautions this season, and that’s in addition to eight reds. Five of those bookings came in his last Cobblers match when he oversaw their 1-0 win at Oxford United in December.

Last time out: Oxford United 0 Southend United 2 (Fortune, Robinson); Northampton Town 2 (Jones OG, O’Toole) Swindon Town 1 (Norris)

Most recent meeting: Saturday, September 24, 2016 – Northampton Town 4 (O’Toole, Revell, Taylor, Anderson) Southend United 0

Record v Southend: P117 W45 D28 L44

Opposition view: “Come Saturday it will be a tough game,” United boss Phil Brown told the Yellow Advertiser ahead of this weekend’s clash. “Justin Edinburgh is in town for the third time this season, albeit with a different side. I think that having looked at Northampton a couple of times, he is playing a diamond formation, he’s playing trying to get it up to the front men early, but lay from there.

Both O'Toole and Revell scored in the reverse fixture

Both O'Toole and Revell scored in the reverse fixture

“They have got threats and we’ve got to be aware of those threats. But the confidence we are showing at the moment and certainly the belief from Tuesday night’s victory. Back-to-back victories would put us in a great position.”

Cobblers connection: With 10 goals and seven assists to his name, former Cobbler Simon Cox has been the catalyst behind Southend’s steady rise up League One this season. The striker has already netted more times this term than in any of his previous six campaigns, striking double figures for the fourth time in his career. He was also in the goals during his very brief loan stint at the Cobblers, netting three in eight appearances during the 2006/07 campaign. The 29-year-old’s most prolific season came two years later when bagging 32 goals for Swindon Town, which was enough to earn him a move to West Brom, who paid £1,500,000, but the switch didn’t work out and following further spells at Nottingham Forest, Reading and Bristol City, he joined Southend in July of 2016.

James Heneghan’s preview: After an encouraging start to his Cobblers tenure, Justin Edinburgh faces his sternest test yet when he takes his resurgent team to Roots Hall where he will pit his wits against Phil Brown’s in-form and promotion-seeking Southend United.

Three wins from five games coupled with a notable improvement in performances have already significantly lifted the mood around Sixfields but return from Essex with three points on Saturday and there will be genuine reason to believe that, under Edinburgh, the only way is up.

Achieving just that will mean no mean feet, especially considering the giant strides Brown’s side have made since their 4-0 drubbing at Sixfields back in September.

Such was their poor start to the season, that defeat left them sitting second from bottom in Sky Bet League One with a measly return of eight points from nine games.

After failing to win any of their first three home games, Southend have lost just once at Roots Hall – and that to leaders Sheffield United – since September, a run which includes impressive wins over Scunthorpe and Bradford.

But fast forward five months and their fortunes have drastically improved. Eleven wins and 41 points from their last 23 games has lifted them to within a point and a place of a play-off spot.

And whilst Southend have gradually climbed upwards, the Cobblers have steadily spiralled south. Goals from John-Joe O’Toole, Alex Revell, Matty Taylor and Paul Anderson saw them up to fifth with victory over the Shrimpers in September, but 28 points gained from their following 24 games has dropped them 11 places.

That said, they have been revitalised of late under Edinburgh’s guidance who, with three wins in his five games at the helm, has helped halt Northampton’s slide towards relegation and rekindled hopes of a top half finish.

It’s not just results or performances that have improved under Edinburgh, but also individual players.

John-Joe O’Toole, with four goals in three games and now nine for the season, looks sharper, fitter and hungrier and is approaching somewhere near his form of last season that won him player of the year.

His midfield partner, Hiram Boateng, has been equally impressive and the two complement each other well, while Lewin Nyatanga and Zander Diamond, helped by the excellent Neal Eardley at right-back, have shored things up in defence.

A big test for Edinburgh and his players now awaits over the next two Saturdays in trips to high-flying sides, both of which which will surely act as far more accurate barometers of Northampton’s recent progress than the feeble quality of opposition in their last three home games

For sure, there are easier places to go as Cobblers chase three successive league wins for the first time this season.

After failing to win any of their first three home games, Southend have lost just once at Roots Hall – and that to leaders Sheffield United – since September, a run which includes impressive wins over Scunthorpe and Bradford.

Leading marksmen and former Cobbler Simon Cox has been a key figure in their steady ascent up the table, chalking up 10 goals and seven assists, and barring any late problems, he will line up against his former club on Saturday.

Edinburgh hinted he may be tempted into personnel changes for this game following Tuesday’s win over Swindon.

He has previously expressed his desire to improve the squad’s fitness, and after two games in the space of three days, Saturday’s trip to the seaside could be an opportunity to rotate his options.

If he does, and with Gabriel Zakuani and Alex Revell back in contention, he has plenty of choices.

Paul Anderson, Gregg Wylde, Jak McCourt and Harry Beautyman have all appeared from the bench in recent games and could feature from the off.

Something else that has hampered Northampton’s progress this season has been their inability to draw matches. It seems it’s either victory or defeat and nothing in-between.

In fact, since drawing their first five matches, they’ve only been involved in one stalemate – and that was way back in October at Scunthorpe United.

If they can end that run on Saturday and return with a point or more from Roots Hall, it’ll cap off an excellent week.

Prediction: Southend United 1 Northampton Town 1