James Heneghan's Mansfield Town v Northampton Town preview
Fixture: Mansfield Town v Northampton Town, Sky Bet League Two
Date: Saturday, December 21, 3pm kick-off
Venue: One Call Stadium
Forecast: 7C, showers
Outs and doubts: Mansfield: Hayden White, Kellan Gordon. Cobblers: none.
Betting: Mansfield 29/20, draw 9/4, Northampton 19/10
Form guide: Stags DLDLLD, Cobblers WLLWWW
Current league positions: 18th v 7th
Possible line-ups: Mansfield (4-4-2): Olejnik; Clarke, Preston, Sweeney, Benning; MacDonald, Bishop, Shaughnessy, Hamilton; Cook, Maynard. Northampton (3-5-2): Cornell; Goode, Turnbull, Wharton; Harriman, McCormack, Lines, Watson, Adams; Hoskins, Oliver.
Man in the middle: Alan Young
Last time out: Crewe 1 Mansfield 1 (Cook); Northampton 1 (Mills OG) Forest Green 0
Most recent meeting: Saturday, April 13, 2019 - Northampton 1 (Foley) Mansfield 1 (Benning)
Record v Mansfield: P74 W24 D14 L36
James Heneghan's preview: If you wanted to measure just how far the Cobblers have come since Keith Curle was appointed as manager 14 months ago, look no further than tomorrow's trip up the M1.
Town's last visit to Mansfield was a memorable one but for all the wrong reasons. Humbled 4-0 by the Stags - and it could easily have been double that if not for goalkeeper David Cornell - they came away from Field Mill lurking dangerously close to the relegation zone and with no end in sight to their long-running troubles.
Enter Curle. Within 48 hours of that defeat, he replaced Dean Austin in the hotseat and Town's improvement since that point is both marked and undeniable.
Progress has not always been obvious and at times it was slow and modest, especially last season, but in recent weeks Curle's team have accelerated at a rapid rate, so much so that three points on their return to Field Mill could see them into one of the three automatic promotion places.
To put it into context, in the 57 league games before Curle took over, Town won 54 points. Of the 57 games since, they've collected a much healthier 85 points.
They've particularly picked up over the last two months, winning six of eight league games, and start Christmas with a trip to one of the this season's surprise strugglers.
It's been all change for Mansfield Town this week and Saturday's game against the Cobblers represents the start of a new era as Graham Coughlan takes his place in the home dugout at Feld Mill for the first time.
The 45-year-old Irishmen was working wonders at Bristol Rovers, transforming them from relegation battlers to promotion hopefuls, but chose to drop down a division to spend more time with his Sheffield-based family.
It will be seen as a coup by Mansfield and understandably so. They have been an ambitious, big-spending club in recent seasons and if anything it was surprising that previous boss John Dempster lasted as long as he did given their torrid start to the season.
They start Saturday's game in 18th place and closer to rock-bottom Morecambe than seventh-placed Northampton but predictions and expectations for this encounter have been thrown up in the air by Coughlan's appointment.
With the Stags hoping for a new manager bounce, the Cobblers must ready themselves for a fast start from tomorrow's hosts. The gameplan will be simple: weather the early storm, take the sting out of it and then look to capitalise on home fans that must be frustrated and a team whose confidence is fragile.
This game also marks the start of the frenzied Christmas period and while it will not be defining, a good return from these four league fixtures - starting at Field Mill - would only enhance Town's promotion cause.
Prediction: Mansfield Town 1 Northampton Town 2