James Heneghan's Gillingham v Northampton Town preview
Fixture: Gillingham v Northampton Town, Sky Bet League One
Date/time: Saturday, October 21, 3pm kick-off
Forecast: 14C, showers (49mph wind gusts!)
Outs and doubts: Gillingham: Alex Lacey (knee), Ben Nugent (foot), Luke O’Neill (hamstring). Cobblers: Marc Richards (thigh), Aaron Phillips (thigh), Matt Crooks (knee), Leon Barnett (Achilles), Lewis McGugan (knock), Alex Revell (suspended – 3/3)
Betting: Gillingham 13/10, draw 12/5, Northampton 2/1
Form guide: Gills DWLWLD, Cobblers DLLDLD
Possible line-ups: Gillingham (4-4-2): Holy; Clare, Ehmer, Zakuani, Ogilvie; Parker, Hessenthaler, Bingham, Martin; List, Eaves. Northampton (4-3-3): Ingram; Moloney, Taylor, Pierre, Buchanan; Poole, Grimes, Foley; Waters, Smith, Long
Man in the middle: Ross Joyce
Last time out: Gillingham 1 (Eaves) Wigan 1; Rochdale 2 Northampton 2 (Taylor, Buchanan)
Most recent meeting: Saturday, April 30, 2017 – Northampton 0 Gillingham 0
Record v Gillingham: P110 W51 D19 L40
Opposition view: “I want the players to express themselves, work hard and enjoy the games,” Gills caretaker Steve Lovell told the press this week. “You approach every game in the same way. We can’t carry anybody, we are not in a position to do that. In the last two games we have put on a display and I am looking forward to Saturday. We know how they will be feeling so it’s important we start brightly. We need to prepare for all scenarios.”
Cobblers connection: After failing to agree terms on a new deal with Northampton over the summer, Grabiel Zakuani joined up with fellow League One team Gillingham, signing a one-year contract in June. The 31-year-old defender, who’s also played for Stoke, Fulham, Leyton Orient and Peterborough, was impressive for much of his sole campaign at Sixfields but injuries and international duty limited his game-time, and ultimately that was the main reason behind his departure. Having already played 12 times for the Gills this season, he looks set to line up alongside another ex-Cobbler in Lee Martin this weekend.
James Heneghan’s preview: While it might be a tad premature to claim they’ve turned a corner, the Cobblers can at least head to Kent this weekend with an extra spring in their step following Tuesday’s terrific comeback draw at Rochdale.
Buoyed by that excellent late rally to earn a heartening and much-needed 2-2 draw having been 2-0 down, there’s renewed optimism and vigour among a set of supporters who may make the trip south more in expectation as well as hope, something they’ve not done enough of lately.
But if the Cobblers are to belatedly join the League One party this season, they will have to take the 20 minutes of heart and character they showed on Tuesday night and reproduce it on a consistent basis for the rest of the season, starting this weekend.
Chasing their first away win of the season and only a second of 2017, Town can take great confidence from the manner in which they fought back and earned a point from Dale on a night when they also ended their seven game for goal.
Saturday provides them with an excellent opportunity to prove it was no fluke as they head to Kent and a Gillingham side who are experiencing their own mini-resurgence of late.
Since sacking manager Ady Pennock at the end of September, the Gills have won away at Peterborough, via a fine strike from former Town man Lee Martin, and held title-chasing Wigan Athletic to a 1-1 home draw in midweek, only denied another major scalp by Sam Morsy’s late strike.
Despite that, though, they remain only one place and two points above the Cobblers in the Sky Bet League One relegation zone, and their overall record this season remains iffy at best, having managed the same number of wins – two – as their visitors this weekend, with the addition of two extra draws.
Gillingham were tipped for relegation by many observes before a ball had even been kicked and they have produced little evidence so far to indicate that they are in for anything other than a season-long battle against the drop.
Chairman Paul Scally, who purchased the club for £1 back in 1995 to save them from liquidation, revealed this week he’s down to four candidates for the permanent manager’s job, with current caretaker Steve Lovell and former Peterborough boss Graham Westley thought to be among those in the frame.
It’s not far-fetched to suggest that many of Northampton’s issues last season all stemmed from this fixture when, back in November with the Cobblers flying high in the play-off places and Justin Edinburgh’s team languishing near the bottom, Town were beaten by Jay Emmanuel-Thomas’ last-minute winner and subsequently went on a run of 12 defeats in 15 matches, culminating in Rob Page’s sacking.
This time around, Northampton head to Priestfield in very different circumstances. Still second-bottom on just nine points from 14 games this season, they will be hoping that, in contrast to last year, a positive outcome at Gillingham will be the catalyst for a rise up the table.
The presence of a natural, mobile striker who possesses the pace and strength to trouble defences was a clear positive for Town on Tuesday as Chris Long made his return from injury.
After playing 81 minutes at Spotland, the Burnley loanee should be in from the start again on Saturday while Billy Waters, vibrant on the right side of Town’s front three, and Sam Foley, a bustling figure in midfield, also provided manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink with positives.
As did Regan Poole who continues to impress in a central midfield role, while Ash Taylor and David Buchanan will hope to build on their goalscoring exploits after the former finally laid the demon of Town’s seemingly never-ending goal drought to rest.
There was no mistaking the importance of Tuesday’s much-needed draw, but now comes the trust test. If the Cobblers are serious about hauling themselves out of danger, performances like those are Spotland must become the norm, not the exception.
Prediction: Gillingham 0 Northampton Town 1