DERBY DAY: Cobblers defender Zakuani looking forward to London Road return
Gaby Zakuani is hoping for a happy homecoming on Tuesday night, one that involves a good reception from Peterborough United fans and three points for the Cobblers.
The two are probably incompatible, but the centre-back has always been an optimist.
Zakuani is excited about returning to the ABAX Stadium for the first time since crossing the murky divide to Sixfields after more than 250 appearances for Posh.
But he’s also extremely serious about upsetting fans who worshipped him during two league one promotion campaigns.
“Of course I’m excited,” said Zakuani ahead of Tuesday’s eagerly-anticipated first derby clash since 2009.
“It was obviously the first fixture I looked for.
“Posh are a club close to my heart.
“You can’t experience what I experienced there, all the highs and lows, and not have a lot of affection for the place.
“It will be strange going to the away dressing room, but I can’t wait to meet old friends before the match starts.”
Zakuani is hoping to win a recall to the Cobblers starting line-up after he was an unused substitute in Saturday’s 3-1 Sixfields defeat to Millwall.
The 30-year-old had to sit that game out after Lewin Nyatanga impressed in the draw at Scunthorpe while Zakuani was on international duty with the Democratic Republic off Congo, and kept his place.
The fact Town struggled so badly defensively against the Lions could open the door for a recall for Zakuani, and if that happens he admits he is not certain what sort of reaction he will get from the London Road faithful.
“I’m not sure what to expect from the Posh fans,” the Cobblers man told the Peterborough Telegraph.
“I just hope they remember the commitment I gave on the field and the service to the communtity I offered off it.
“They should know I hold their club in the highest regard.”
Zakuani signed on at Sixfields in the summer after he was released by Posh manager Grant McCann, and he admits he wasn’t fully aware of the fierce rivalry that exists between the two sets of supporters.
“It wasn’t a difficult decision to move to Northampton after Posh let me go as I had to look after myself and my family and they made me a good offer,” he said.
“I honestly thought Cambridge were Posh’s biggest rivals!
“There were a few Northampton die-hards who didn’t take to me straight away because of where I had come from.
“There was a bit of banter, but they saw what I was all about in the first five matches and they’ve been so good lately they’ve started singing the song the Posh fans used to sing.”
Both teams go into Tuesday night’s game on the back of defeats, with Posh slumping 2-0 at Fleetwood on Saturday, but Zakuani knows form will go out of the window come kick-off at London Road.
“It should be a good game,” said the central defender. “We’ve taken to league one really well.
“We’d settle for being where we are after a quarter of the season. League one hasn’t really taken shape yet which is unusual for this stage of the season, but both clubs could be challengers in May.
“Our manager has built a really experienced side. We were very resilient at the start of the season and when we started scoring goals we moved quickly up the table.”
Posh are currently below ninth-placed Cobblers in the Sky Bet League One table, and Zakuani believes he has some key inside information that he hopes will ensure that remains the case once the game is over on Tuesday night.
“It looks like we will be facing Shaquile Coulthirst and Tom Nichols and I’ve seen enough of them both in training and in matches to know how good they are,” said Zakuani.
“Shaq is very quick and aggressive, while Tom seems to get on the end of everything that comes into the penalty area.
“I’ll be giving our defenders a few tips on how to deal with them though.
“We know we are in for a tough game. By all accounts Posh have played a lot better than their recent results suggested.
“It’s going to be a great night and our club and the fans are really up for it.
“The atmopshere should be right up there with the best nights I’ve experienced at the ABAX.”