FA CUP: James Heneghan's Northampton Town v Derby County preview

Fixture: Northampton Town v Derby County, FA Cup fourth round

Friday, 24th January 2020, 9:57 am
Updated Friday, 24th January 2020, 10:00 am
Cobblers reached the fourth round with a superb victory at Burton Albion. Picture: Pete Norton

Date/time: Friday, January 24, 8pm kick-off

Venue: PTS Academy Stadium

Forecast: 6C, cloudy

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Outs and doubts: Cobblers: Alan McCormack, Harry Smith, Shaun McWilliams. Rams: Krystian Bielik, George Evans, Graeme Shinnie, Mason Bennett, Ikechi Anya,

Betting: Northampton 10/3, draw 11/4, Derby 4/5

Form guide: Cobblers DWWWWD, Rams WDWWWD

Current league positions: 6th (League Two) v 15th (Championship)

Possible line-ups: Northampton (3-5-2): Cornell; Hall-Johnson, Goode, Turnbull; Lines, Watson, Anderson, Adams, Hoskins; Oliver, Williams. Derby (4-2-3-1): Roos; Bogle, Davies, Forsyth, Malone; Huddlestone, Rooney; Whittaker, Sibley, Lawrence; Martin.

Man in the middle: Darren England - Usually seen in the Championship but reffed his first ever Premier League game only last week, taking charge of Wolves' comeback win at Southampton. Last Cobblers game he officiated was the goalless home draw with Gillingham in 2017.

Last time out: Leyton Orient 1 Northampton Town 1 (Watson); Derby County 1 (Clarke) Hull City 0

Most recent meeting: Saturday, January 14, 1967 (Old Division Two) - Derby County 4 Northampton Town 3

How did they reach this stage? Burton Albion 2 Northampton Town 4 (Adams, Watson, Goode, Hoskins); Crystal Palace 0 Derby County 1 (Martin)

Record v Derby: P10 W0 D4 L6

James Heneghan's preview: The diminishing magic of the FA Cup is a hot topic of conversation every season but for anyone in need of a reminder of just how special this competition can be, make your way down to the PTS on Friday night.

Amid talk of scrapping replays and forcing lower-ranked teams to play at home, it's nights like this one that are still savoured and cherished by fans of teams in the lower leagues and this time it's Cobblers' turn to bask in the spotlight.

They've earned this opportunity through their impressive early work in the competition, gradually progressing through the leagues with each round getting that little bit trickier - from a trip to tier six Chippenham Town first up to National League Notts County to the best of the lot: League One Burton Albion last time out.

Their reward is the visit of Championship Derby County under the Fright night lights and live on the BT Sport cameras. It might not be Liverpool or Manchester United but the Rams are a massive club and have a certain Wayne Rooney in their ranks, not to mention a Dutch and Barcelona legend as their manager.

Rooney is of course the star attraction but there is also business to attend to and for the Cobblers, this is a realistic chance of making the fifth round for the first time in half a century. Back then, they beat Tranmere Rovers in a replay - almost 50 years ago to the day - before losing 8-2 to Manchester United when George Best famously scored six times.

United also ended Northampton's last run to this stage, winning 3-0 in 2004, but while County are two divisions and 37 places higher on the footballing ladders, the Cobblers will take great belief from their excellent home form and feel they can cause real problems tonight.

They've won eight and drawn one of their last nine games at the PTS and are yet to lose any game in 2020. Of course, Derby County, also unbeaten since the turn of the year, have a squad chock-full of quality and could easily demonstrate that this evening but there is every reason to believe this will be a tight encounter. After all, the Cobblers have form against stronger opposition.

Derby's season has been a disappointing one to date, though they've picked up of late. After Phillip Cocu replaced Chelsea-bound Frank Lampard in the summer, the Rams were hoping to build on last season's play-off final defeat but they're currently 16th, nine points from the top six.

With an important league fixture to come at Luton Town next Tuesday, Cocu must decide whether to risk rotation this evening. Rooney, England's record goalscorer no less, could be one of those players to drop out, though many in attendance at the PTS will be hoping not.

Local boy Jack Marriott is back in training and should play some part while there's also plenty of other quality for Cocu to call upon so it's not as if the Cobblers will can expect an easy ride, whoever the visitors select.

Opposite number Keith Curle has one major selection question: how to cope without key defender Scott Wharton. The Blackburn loanee is set to miss three games, starting tonight, after his red card at Orient on Tuesday so Town's three-man defence, so strong for so much of the season, will be broken up.

Options to replace Wharton include Reece Hall-Johnson and Joe Martin while Curle could also change shape and go to four at the back, something which is easily done given Town's array of full-backs.

Otherwise, the team that's unbeaten in five games in 2020 picks itself. If that's still the case in 12 hours time, we'll be in for quite the ride.

Prediction: Northampton Town 2 Derby County 2