James Heneghan's Northampton Town v Milton Keynes Dons preview
Fixture: Northampton Town v Milton Keynes Dons, Sky Bet League One
Date/time: Saturday, January 20, 3pm kick-off
Forecast: 5C, sunny
Outs and doubts: Cobblers: Aaron Pierre (thigh), Aaron Phillips (thigh). Dons: Joe Walsh (unknown)
Betting: Northampton 6/4, draw 9/4, Dons 9/5
Form guide: Cobblers WWLLLD, Dons DWLWLL
Possible line-ups: Northampton (4-4-1-1): O’Donnell; Facey, Poole, Taylor, Bunney; Powell, Crooks, Grimes, Foley; O’Toole; Long. Dons (4-3-3): Nicholls; Brittain, Wootton, Ebanks-Landell Williams; McGrandles, Cisse, Gilbey; Muirhead, Aneke, Agard
Man in the middle: Brett Huxtable
Last time out: Bradford City 1 (Taylor) Northampton Town 2 (O’Toole, Long); Milton Keynes Dons 0 AFC Wimbledon 0
Most recent meeting: Tuesday, September 26, 2017 – MK Dons 0 Northampton 0
Record v MK Dons: P13 W3 D3 L7
Opposition view: “It’s the same every week,” said Dons boss Robbie Neilson. “We want to win games. We go into another game with another team down there with us. It’s another derby, a massive game for us. We need three points to get going. The players understand the magnitude of it. But we’ve got a new player, and others coming back from injury and suspension so it will give the whole squad a boost.”
Cobblers connection: There’s a strong contingent of former MK Dons men amongst Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s squad and two of those players – Daniel Powell and Chris Long – could start against their old club on Saturday. Long, who scored one goal in four games for Dons while on loan in 2014, is a certain starter up front and Powell, who, in contrast to Long, spent nine years at Stadium MK and made over 250 appearances, will also be in contention providing he’s fully fit. Alex Revell and Dean Bowditch are the other ex-Dons players who Hasselbaink might call upon.
James Heneghan’s preview: Beating a team from just down the road should be all the motivation Northampton need this weekend but if they require more, victory over MK Dons at Sixfields tomorrow would also guarantee them a place outside the bottom four for the first time since before Christmas.
The fickle, ever-changing nature of football has been on full display over these past two weeks with Town having gone from relegation certainties to survival hopefuls but it can quickly change back again so they cannot afford to take their eyes off the ball for a moment. If they did lose this weekend, let’s say, they then face a very tricky game at Blackburn Rovers the following Saturday and the doom and gloom can return as quickly as it left.
For now, though, the mood around Sixfields is one of positivity, certainly far more upbeat than it was at the turn of the year when their League One status was in serious jeopardy. While they remain in the bottom four and still in need of points to allay fears of the drop, back-to-back wins over Southend United and Bradford City have them heading in the right direction again.
The latter in particular was an encouraging result given the manner of their performance and the strength of the opposition as the Cobblers once again demonstrated that, when they’re on it, they’re a match for anyone in the division.
Consistency, or rather the lack of it, has been their underlying issue and the main reason they still have work to do. Town have won successive games on only three occasions this season, something which they must rectify to surge up the table and this weekend presents an excellent opportunity to make it three on the spin.
The one thing Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has in his favour is the fixture list. After Blackburn next weekend, his team have a run of favourable games with the likes of Rochdale, Gillingham and Oxford due to Sixfields surrounded by visits to out-of-form trio AFC Wimbledon, Blackpool and Bristol Rovers. If they can squeeze a minimum of three points from these next two outings, they’ll be in prime position to scuttle well clear of the bottom four.
For Dons, their season has hardly been any better. Eyes on promotion at the start of the campaign, Robbie Neilson’s team have struggled badly to get anywhere near the top half of the table, let alone the top six.
Neilson replaced long-serving manager Karl Robinson midway through the last season but despite a major overhaul of the playing squad in the summer, much like the Cobblers, he’s found himself under increasing pressure in recent weeks. The Dons have won just one of their last 10 league games – though they did upset Championship side QPR in the FA Cup two weeks ago – to sit two places and one point outside the bottom four, and if Saturday yields a home victory, the two sides will swap places. It might also be the end of Neilson.
For the third straight game Northampton could name more than one debutant in their team. After Shay Facey and Hildeberto Pereira against Southend and then Richard O’Donnell and Jordan Turnbull at Bradford, Joe Bunney is the latest name through the Sixfields door.
He could well come straight in at left-back, replacing Turnbull from last week, while Jack Bridge is also awaiting his first appearance after signing from Southend, but given how well his side performed at Valley Parade, manager Hasselbaink will be keen to resist the temptation of making sweeping changes.
Although two wins and an influx of new faces has transformed the atmosphere around the place, it doesn’t take much for the mood to switch back again. For once, it’s the opposition who have more to worry about than the Cobblers but now is not the time to show any mercy. They must keep their foot down.
Prediction: Northampton Town 2 MK Dons 1