James Heneghan's Northampton Town v Bristol Rovers preview
Fixture: Northampton Town v Bristol Rovers, Sky Bet League One
Date/time: Saturday, October 1, 3pm kick-off
Forecast: 12C, showers
Outs and doubts: Cobblers: Jak McCourt (concussion), Raheem Hanley (hamstring). Rovers: Jermaine Easter (suspended), Matty Taylor (hamstring)
Betting: Northampton 7/5, draw 12/5, Rovers 19/10
Form guide: Cobblers WWLLWW, Pirates LWWDDDL
Avg. goals scored/conceded per game: Northampton 1.6/0.9, Rovers 1.3/1.4
Likely line-ups: Northampton (4-1-4-1): Smith; Moloney, Diamond, Zakuani, Buchanan; McCourt; Anderson, O’Toole, Taylor, Gorre; Revell. Rovers (3-5-2): Roos; Clarke, Lockyear, Clarke-Salter; Leadbitter, Clarke, Lines, Boateng, Brown; Taylor, Harrison
Man in the middle: Graham Horwood
Last time out: Swindon Town 1 (Murray) Northampton Town 3 (Beautyman, O’Toole, Gorre); Sheffield United 1 (Chapman) Bristol Rovers 0
Most recent meeting: Saturday, April 9, 2016 – Northampton 2 (Adams, Hoskins) Bristol Rovers 2 (Taylor, Harrison)
Record v Rovers: P97 W38 D28 L31
Opposition view: Speaking to the Bristol Post this week, Rovers boss Darrell Clarke said: “I have a squad in place that is performing well. We are ten games in and are sitting in tenth place and I have snapped your hand off for that if it was offered at the start of the season.
“There are areas of the game that we still need to improve on big style and trying to keep clean sheets and being more clinical in the final third are things we are working hard on at the training ground.”
Cobblers connection: Billy Bodin’s Northampton career was a fleeting one. He started out at Swindon in 2010 before joining Torquay United and then moved to Sixfields where he spent time at the Cobblers during his knee ligament injury rehabilitation. He signed a deal until the end of the season in January 2015 but only made four substitute appearances. The 24-year-old then went on to join Bristol Rovers in July of that year following a successful trial and he remains at the club 15 months on, featuring in all but one of Rovers’ games so far this season.
James Heneghan’s preview: If the Cobblers require any extra inspiration for tomorrow’s encounter, they need look no further than the last time Bristol Rovers rocked up at Sixfields just five months ago
The game itself was an eventful one with Rovers scoring twice in the final 15 minutes to snatch a dramatic 2-2 draw, however it was the Cobblers who were celebrating at the full-time whistle.
The point, coupled with favourable results elsewhere, was enough for Northampton to clinch promotion with games to spare as they secured their place in this season’s Sky Bet League One.
And after Rovers followed Town up just a few weeks later, the two sides do battle again.
Like Northampton, the Pirates have adapted well to the step up in quality and with four wins, three draws and three defeats in their first 10 fixtures, Darrell Clarke’s side are stationed safely in the top half of League One.
Their start is undoubtedly a good one but it doesn’t match that of Northampton who could potentially climb as high as second with three points on Saturday.
Ten games is often the time when the table begins to take shape and not many would have envisaged Rob Page’s side as high as fourth, especially after opening with five successive draws.
The only mitigating factor against Town’s excellent start is the fact that six of their first 10 games have come against sides currently in the bottom seven and they are yet to face a team who occupy a top 10 spot at present.
That’s not to suggest Northampton are in a false position or will necessarily tumble down from the lofty heights of fourth, but the fact is bigger and harder examinations lie in wait, with the current two top, Bury and Scunthorpe, to come in October.
Rovers themselves will pose a stern test, particularly as they should be bolstered by the return of last season’s top scorer Matty Taylor who is expected to be fit enough to at least make the bench following a hamstring injury.
Page has a few selection dilemmas for this game after the impact of substitutes JJ Hooper and Kenji Gorre in Tuesday’s impressive 3-1 win against Swindon Town.
Jak McCourt’s unique skill set should mean he’s an automatic starter in that defensive midfield position and if he is fit to start, Harry Beautyman will likely miss out.
Gorre has gradually improved since signing in the summer and scoring his first goal on Tuesday will only help his confidence, which must make Page tempted to throw him in from the off this weekend.
Otherwise, it’s difficult to envisage many changes to a side who have won four of their last five league games and who look especially strong at home where they are currently defending a 17-match unbeaten streak.
Of all the four newly-promoted sides, it’s Northampton who have adjusted best of all and you fancy them for another three points this weekend.
Prediction: Northampton Town 2 Bristol Rovers 1