Fixture: Carlisle United v Northampton Town. Sky Bet League Two
Date/kick-off time: Saturday, December 20, 3pm
Venue: Brunton Park, Carlisle
Weather forecast: 7C, cloudy
Outs and doubts: Cobblers: Ryan Cresswell (knee), Ian Morris (knee), Tom Newey (ankle). Carlisle: Steven Reid (thigh), Gary Dicker (leg), Alex Marrow (illness), Mark Gillespie (groin)
Betting: Carlisle 8/5, draw 12/5, Cobblers 9/5
Form guide: Carlisle LLLWLL; Cobblers LLLWLL
Possible line-ups: Carlisle: Hanford, Brown, Anderson, Archibald-Henville, Grainger, Potts, Dempsey, Sweeney, Robson, Asamoah, Beck. Northampton: Duke, Collins, Langmead, Diamond, Robertson, D’Ath, Murdoch, Byrom, Horwood, Banks, Richards.
Last time out: Cobblers were beaten 3-2 at home by Plymouth Argyle, while Carlisle United went down 2-0 at Exeter City
Most recent meeting: March 28, 2009: Carlisle 1 (Lewis Neal 37 mins) Northampton 1 (Luke Guttridge 41 mins)
Cobblers connection: The most obvious connection between the clubs will actually be on the Brunton Park pitch tomorrow, as the Cumbrians’ attacking line will be led by former Cobblers striker Derek Asamoah, a player who was always a fans’ favourite during his stint at Sixfields, but could never quite get the same love from various managers. Over the course of three year as a Cobblers player, Asamoah made a modest 38 starts - but came off the bench a hefty 94 times!
Jeremy Casey’s preview: The festive season may be just around the corner, but it’s fair to say there isn’t too much Christmas cheer around Sixfields.
Last Saturday, the Cobblers were beaten 3-2 at home by Plymouth Argyle, but it wasn’t the fact the team lost that led to a feeling of doom and gloom, it was the manner of the defeat.
Yes, a spirited rally in the final 10 minutes almost snatched a draw for the Cobblers, but that would have been totally undeserved and would have papered over some very wide cracks.
Town were off the pace all over the pitch, second best to the ball in all the key areas, outplayed and outpassed, and as for the defending, well, let’s just say that if the under-15 team that I help to run on a Sunday afternoon defended like that, I would not be happy.
The first goal was a free header from a corner, the second saw Andy Kellett run fully 40 yards from the left wing into the heart of the penalty area with nobody tackling him, and the third saw Lewis Alessandra being handed the freedom of the 18-yard box to pick his spot.
To say it was schoolboy defending is offensive to schoolboys.
So it was perfectly understandable that Cobblers boss Chris Wilder was an angry man after the game, and it was also good to hear the manager taking responsibility as well.
Yes, he criticised the players, but he also accepted that some of the players he has signed haven’t yet played to their potential. He was holding his hand up too.
But last week has has gone now, the Cobblers have to forget it and get their act together, starting at Carlisle on Saturday.
Talk of progress for the club will be scoffed at by most Town supporters who are understandably unhappy, having seen their team lose seven of their past nine league games.
But there has been some progress, even if it hasn’t been dramatic.
With 20 matches played, thanks to a decent start, the Cobblers are six points better off than they were at this stage last season.
And it is those six points that are ensuring the team are 16th in the Sky Bet League Two, and not in the relegation zone as Saturday’s opponents are.
But this is a key game for Wilder and his team.
It’s not in the must-win category, but it’s not far off it.
Grab a win, and the Cobblers will be nine points clear of the relegation zone, can go into Christmas with a smile on their faces, and start looking at catching the teams above them again.
Draw, and it’s a step in the right direction, as Town will still be at least six points clear of the bottom two and have something to build on.
Lose, and there’s no getting away from it, the Cobblers will be in a relegation scrap.
Wilder spoke in the week of repeating the performance at Morecambe earlier in the season when Town won 1-0 thanks to an Ivan Toney goal.
He wants the team to be solid, organised, and hard to beat, but he has to get the balance right.
According to most observers, the team was set up too defensively and too narrow at Southend United in their most recent away game which was lost 2-0, and Wilder has to ensure the team is solid, but also carries an attacking threat against a Carlisle team that has the worst defensive record in league two, and the joint worst defensive record in the country, having conceded 39 goals.
To be honest, after the Plymouth performance and the fallout from it, I have no idea what line-up the Cobblers boss will select tomorrow, but I think it’s safe to say the fit-again Zander Diamond will return in the heart of defence.
That means someone has to drop out of the back four, and Ben Tozer could be the man with Lee Collins being switched to full-back.
A back four of Collins, Kelvin Langmead, Diamond and Gregor Robertson looks pretty solid to me.
In the midfield, Chris Hackett and Kaid Mohamed will struggle to make the cut after they were hauled off at half-time last weekend.
That might mean a start for Lawson D’Ath on the right, and it could be that Evan Horwood is brought in on the left of midfield, as he brings defensive stability to the team, but is also an effective player in attack.
Joel Byrom is also available again, and may come back in for Darren Carter.
In attack, top scorer Marc Richards will lead the line, and it’s whether Wilder partners him with Toney, or plays Ollie Banks in a withdrawn role which hasn’t really worked in his two appearances to date.
But whatever team Wilder does select, the players have to be better than they were against Plymouth.
They have to be sharper and stronger.
If they do that, and play to their potential, they should be able to pick up some sort reward from their trip north.
And that would ensure everybody enjoys their Christmas dinner that little bit more.
Prediction: Carlisle United 1 Northampton Town 1