James Heneghan's Northampton Town v Blackburn Rovers preview
Fixture: Northampton Town v Blackburn Rovers, Sky Bet League One
Date/time: Saturday, December 23, 2pm kick-off
Forecast: 10C, cloudy
Outs and doubts: Cobblers: Matt Crooks (suspended – 1/2), Matt Ingram (shoulder), Daniel Powell (hamstring), Aaron Phillips (thigh), Alex Revell (groin), Sam Hoskins (ankle). Blackburn: Peter Whittingham (calf), Harry Chapman (hamstring), Ben Gladwin (knee), Darragh Lenihan (foot), Elliott Bennett (suspended)
Betting: Northampton 4/1, draw 11/4, Blackburn 4/6
Form guide: Cobblers WLLDLL, Rovers WWWDWW
Possible line-ups: Northampton (4-4-1-1): Cornell; Moloney, Taylor, Pierre, Buchanan; Foley, Poole, Grimes, McGugan; O’Toole; Long. Blackburn (4-3-3): Raya; Nyambe, Downing, Mulgrew, Williams; Smallwood, Evans, Conway; Samuel, Antonsson, Dack.
Man in the middle: Gavin Ward
Last time out: Northampton 2 (Long 2) Walsall 1; Blackburn Rovers 2 (Best OG, Graham) Charlton 0
Most recent meeting: Thursday, January 30, 1975 – Blackburn Rovers 1 Northampton Town 0 (League Cup)
Record v Blackburn: P10 W3 D1 L6
Opposition view: “I have started looking at Northampton and they have a lot of big names in their team, players who have played at a higher level and must have been a big expenditure for them,” Tony Mowbray told the Lancashire Telegraph this week. “When I looked at the table I thought ‘this is a game we should go there and win’ yet when I looked at their teamsheet I think it’s one that we have to be very wary of and prepare right for.”
Cobblers connection: Having been on the books at Manchester United for six years between the age of 10 and 16, it’s probably fair to say that Raheem Hanley’s career hasn’t taken off in the way he would have hoped. The 23-year-old’s time at Old Trafford came to an end in 2010 when he moved to Blackburn Rovers following a successful trial, however despite four years at the Ewood Park club, Hanley did not actually play first-team football at Rovers, nor did he manage that at following club Swansea City. After two years in Wales, the left-sided player eventually got a taste of professional football when moving to Northampton, although his appearances have been limited to just eight in 18 months and the prospect of another one against his former club this weekend appears remote.
James Heneghan’s preview: Blackburn Rovers will become the first Premier Division champions to face the Cobblers in a league game this weekend and judging by their recent form, the Lancashire outfit could be adding another title to their collection by the time May comes around.
On a run of six successive league wins and within striking distance of top spot, Rovers embark on the long trip south this weekend finally looking like the team that many expected them to be at the start of their first campaign in England’s third tier for almost 40 years.
Only Pep’s Manchester City in England’s top four divisions can live with the blistering pace currently being set by Rovers who are quickly turning a sluggish start into an expected challenge for the League One title.
At the start of November, the pre-season title favourites, on the back of relegation from the Championship last term, had mustered only 22 points from 16 games to sit a disappointing 12th in the table, 15 points off leaders Shrewsbury.
But fast forward two months and it’s all change. Bury, Oxford, Bristol Rovers, Blackpool, Peterborough and Charlton have all fallen victim to Tony Mowbray’s team in the past five weeks and they will be confident of claiming another scalp this weekend.
Those six wins – plus another over Crewe in the FA Cup – have given the League One table a very different complexion with Rovers now third and only five points adrift of table-topping Wigan Athletic. Their away form is impressive too, collecting 23 points from 11 games and scoring more goals on the road than any other team in England bar Man City and Liverpool.
Though not quite as big, the Cobblers too have a spring in their step following last weekend’s crucial home win over Walsall and they can head into Saturday with the pressure off because all the expectation, including plenty among the home contingent at Sixfields, will be for an away victory.
That said, and despite their difficult season, Northampton have not always rolled over the big boys so far this season, pushing the likes of Rotherham, Wigan and Bradford all the way before succumbing to 1-0 defeats while their opening-day loss to Shrewsbury, the pace-setters for so long, only came in the last-minute.
Their big defeats – Oldham, Bristol Rovers and Peterborough – have instead mostly come against teams currently between eighth and 16th in games where they have shown more attacking ambition but failed to find the right balance between attack and defence, which has therefore left too much space for the opposition.
Under Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Town have showcased more than enough times already this season that they are a team capable of being well-organised, well-drilled and difficult to break down, and they will need to be all that and more to halt Blackburn in their tracks for Saturday’s 2pm kick-off at Sixfields.
With Daniel Powell out, Matt Crooks suspended and Matt Ingram doubtful, the injury situation continues to be a source of frustration and it means that Hasselbaink is likely to stick with the team that overcame Walsall, aside from Crooks whose silly red card against Walsall rules him out for this game and Boxing Day’s encounter at Doncaster. Youngsters Regan Poole or Shaun McWilliams could come in.
Prediction: Northampton Town 1 Blackburn Rovers 2