James Heneghan's Blackburn Rovers v Northampton Town preview
Fixture: Blackburn Rovers v Northampton Town, Sky Bet League One
Date/time: Saturday, January 27, 3pm kick-off
Venue: Ewood Park
Forecast: 8C, showers
Outs and doubts: Rovers: Peter Whittingham (calf), Corry Evans (thigh), Marcus Antonsson (ankle), Harry Chapman (hamstring), Darragh Lenihan (foot), Ben Gladwin (knee). Cobblers: Aaron Pierre (thigh), Aaron Phillips (thigh)
Betting: Blackburn 4/9, draw 7/2, Northampton 6/1
Form guide: Rovers WWLDDW, Cobblers WWWLLL
Possible line-ups: Blackburn (4-3-3): Raya; Nyambe, Downing, Mulgrew, Williams; Bennett, Smallwood, Conway; Dack, Graham, Samuel. Northampton (4-4-1-1): O’Donnell; Facey, Taylor, Turnbull, Bunney; Pereira, Grimes, Crooks, Foley; O’Toole; Long.
Man in the middle: Anthony Backhouse
Last time out: Fleetwood 1 (McAleny) Blackburn Rovers 2 (Dack, Smallwood); Northampton Town 2 (O’Toole, Long) MK Dons 1 (Gilbey)
Most recent meeting: Saturday, December 23, 2017 – Northampton 1 (Foley) Blackburn 1 (Dack)
Record v Blackburn: P11 W3 D2 L6
Opposition view: Rovers boss Tony Mowbray has been hailing the improvement in his squad this week, telling the Lancashire Telegraph: “The strength of character, the team spirit and the camaraderie is so much stronger than it was at the start of the season when there were a few doubts and uncertainties about whether they would still be here at the end of the summer window. At this moment I’m happy with the group, they’re working extremely hard to try and get in to the starting XI.”
James Heneghan’s preview: A trip to Ewood Park is about as tough as it gets for any League One side this season but the Cobblers should head up north this weekend with a little more expectation and a little less hope than they might have done this time last month.
Despite what the bookies say – Northampton’s odds of 6/1 are the longest they’ve been to win a match all season – an away victory tomorrow can’t completely be removed from the equation because this is an upwardly mobile team who travel to Lancashire with two of those most highly sought-after commodities in sport: confidence and momentum.
An upturn in results, improved performances on the pitch and a raft of exciting new signings off it have all contributed to a happier times around Sixfields and now Town’s mini-renaissance will be put to the stiffest of tests against arguably the best side in the division, at least based on present form.
Blackburn Rovers are currently on a 16-game unbeaten run which has taken them from outside the play-offs, past several teams, including long-time leaders Shrewsbury, and into second place, within sight of leaders Wigan Athletic where many would have expected them to be before a ball was kicked.
Relegated from the Championship only last term, Blackburn were expected to mount a serious challenge for promotion – favourites among the bookies – and, after a slow start, it looks like their exile from England’s top two divisions will be kept to just one season if their current form is maintained for the rest of the campaign.
You have to go way back to the early 1980s to find the last time Rovers, Premiership champions only 20 years ago of course, were in the third tier but their relegation to Division Three was immediately followed by promotion back to Division Two, and it seems history might be about to repeat itself.
However, not content with his side’s excellent form and seemingly unstoppable charge back to the Championship, boss Tony Mowbray, much like counterpart Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, has been busy bringing in reinforcements this month with Fleetwood defender Amari’i Bell, Huddersfield’s Jack Payne and Newcastle forward Adam Armstrong among those already signed and more expected over the closing few days of the window.
Bradley Dack, the jewel in Mowbray’s crown, was on target for Blackburn in December’s 1-1 draw and Town will hope to do a better job of keeping him in check at Ewood Park. Of the 11 goals he’s scored this season, only three have come at home.
Rovershave the best record of any team in League One in the five games since playing at Sixfields, registering three wins and 11 points, but with nine points themselves, Town are not far off the pace.
With players back from injury and new signings getting up to full speed, the Cobblers will take a strong squad to Lancashire where there could be full debuts given to Gboly Aryibi or Hildeberto Pereira, but it’s improbable both will start given Hasselbaink is likely to favour a more pragmatic approach that will see the hard-working Sam Foley keep his place on the left side while Regan Poole is another option should the Town manager want some extra steel in midfield.
A John-Joe O’Toole opener, followed by a Chris Long second, has been the pattern of Northampton’s last two wins and you feel they are once again hugely reliant on those two players to produce a shock result tomorrow.
The last time the Cobblers recorded three straight league victories to get out of the bottom four, they failed to win any of their next six to drop right back in it, and while defeat on Saturday would hardly count as a catastrophe, they cannot afford for there to be a repeat otherwise it’d be curtains.
At various points of during the season this game at Blackburn would have been a daunting prospect with a big home win very much on the cards but now there is more justification for believing the Cobblers can make a game of it. However, the upward trajectory they’ve been on of late will need to reach new heights if they are to take down Mowbray’s red-hot, title-hunting team.
Prediction: Blackburn Rovers 2 Northampton Town 1