Fixture: Stevenage v Northampton Town, Sky Bet League Two
Date/time: Saturday, February 23, 3pm kick-off
Venue: Lamex Stadium
Forecast: 14C, sunny spells
Outs and doubts: Stevenage: Elijah Adebayo (suspended), Ben Nugent (suspended), Danny Newton (ankle). Cobblers: George Cox (ankle), Sam Foley (back), Marvin Sordell (knee)
Betting: Stevenage 7/4, draw 11/5, Northampton 31/20
Form guide: Boro DLWLWW, Cobblers DDWLDL
Possible line-ups: Stevenage (3-4-2-1): Farman; Henry, Curthbert, Wilkinson; Wilding, Hunt, Timlin, Byrom; Makasi, Chair; Revell. Northampton (3-5-2): Cornell; Goode, Taylor, Pierre; Facey, Buchanan, McWilliams, O’Toole, Bridge; Morias, A Williams.
Man in the middle: Lee Swabey
Last time out: Lincoln 2 Stevenage 2 (Chair 2); Northampton 0 Crawley 0
Most recent meeting: December 15, 2018 – Northampton 1 (Bowditch) Stevenage 1 (Kennedy)
Record v Stevenage: P9 W6 D2 L1
Opposition view: “It is a totally different game to last week,” Stevenage boss Dino Maamria told the club website this week. “Northampton with Keith Curle have turned the corner and they have responded really well to him.
“I have watched them a few times now, they are solid defensively, they do the basically really well and are compact in the middle of the park. It’s a huge game for us.”
Cobblers connection: Joel Byrom was not one of the headline performers during Cobblers’ title success three years ago, but he nevertheless played a valuable part in Chris Wilder’s record-breaking squad. The classy central midfielder made 40 appearances and scored two goals as Town romped away with the League Two title.
Things then went downhill for both the team and Byrom, who became a bit-part player under Rob Page the following season and, having mustered only five appearances in the first half of the campaign, moved to Mansfield in January 2017. Eighteen months later, the 32-year-old rocked up at Stevenage and he remains there to this day, playing in all 33 league games so far this season.
James Heneghan’s preview: It will take something extraordinary for Saturday’s fixture at the Lamex Stadium to match the drama and excitement of the previous time Northampton stepped foot in Stevenage.
With the Cobblers unbeaten in 14 league games and running away with the League Two title almost three years ago, they found themselves stunned by two Luke Wilkinson headers inside the first half-hour as relegation-battling Stevenage threatened an upset.
But, in keeping with their crazy season, Chris Wilder’s men launched a dramatic fightback as James Collins pulled one back, John-Joe O’Toole levelled and then Ricky Holmes unleashed a spectacular stoppage-time winner to send visiting fans wild and keep Cobblers on course for the title.
Sadly, even victory on Saturday would do little to muster excitement among Northampton supporters such is the way their season continues to fizzle out. For Stevenage though, there’s still plenty to play for.
Dino Maamria’s men are having a curious season. Despite struggling with consistency, and despite having a goal difference of -4 – worse than anyone else in the top 14 and the same as the Cobblers – they remain in the race for the play-offs, three places and two points outside the top seven.
One man Northampton will have to keep a watchful eye on this weekend is young QPR loanee Ilias Chair who, one of four deadline day signings made by Maamria last month, produced a remarkable individual display to almost single-handedly earn Stevenage a point at leaders Lincoln City last time out.
Trailing 2-0 with 87 minutes played, Chair rescued a dramatic draw for his side, smashing home two superb strikes, the second of which prompted Maamira to sprint down the touchline in celebration.
Finding a way to nullify Chair’s threat will form an important part of Curle’s gameplan, but the Cobblers boss must also ensure his side strike the right balance after last week’s overly defensive display at home to Crawley.
Five points from three games represents a decent return following Town’s big defeat to Colchester, but if Curle is to win over the sceptics and build a solid foundation for next season, performances need to improve over the final 13 fixtures.
He is at least boosted by the return of up to four players this weekend. Jordan Turnbull and Shay Facey are expected to be fit, while Marvin Sordell and Sam Foley are also close to returning to action. George Cox remains out with ankle ligament damage.
Prediction: Stevenage 1 Northampton 1