James Heneghan's Northampton Town v Port Vale preview
Fixture: Northampton Town v Port Vale, Sky Bet League Two
Date/time: Saturday, February 8, 3pm kick-off
Venue: PTS Academy Stadium
Forecast: 8C, overcast
Outs and doubts: Cobblers: Harry Smith, Shaun McWilliams, James Olayinka, Jordan Turnbull, Alan McCormack. Vale: Adam Crookes, Manny Oyeleke, Jake Taylor
Betting: Northampton 21/20, draw 12/5, Vale 11/4
Form guide: Cobblers LWWDDW, Vale DWLWLW
Current league positions: 5th v 10th
Possible line-ups: Northampton (3-5-2): Cornell; Jones, Goode, Wharton; Watson, Lines, Anderson, Adams, Hoskins; Morton, Oliver. Vale (4-3-3): Brown; Gibbons, Legge, Brisley, Montano; Burgess, Conlon, Joyce; Amoo, Bennett, Worrall.
Man in the middle: Charles Breakspear - Town's nemesis with the whistle is back! He's sent off seven Cobblers players in the last eight games he's been in the middle, the latest being Harry Smith at Stevenage earlier this season. He's also shown red to Buchanan, O'Toole, Pereira, Foley, Barnett and Crooks over the past couple of seasons. This season alone he's already dished out red 12 times.
Last time out: Derby 4 Northampton 2 (Adams, Hoskins); Port Vale 1 (Burgess OG) Salford 1
Most recent meeting: Saturday, August 10, 2019 - Port Vale 1 (Amoo) Northampton 1 (Watson
Record v Port Vale: P71 W29 D21 L21
James Heneghan's preview: Now the dust has settled on their thrilling adventure in the FA Cup, Cobblers can fully concentrate on the serious stuff and they return to league action with a couple of crunch home matches.
Port Vale, still not out of the play-off battle, and long-time leaders Swindon Town both visit the PTS Academy Stadium over the coming days, and as we enter the business end of the season, Cobblers can't afford to take their foot off the pedal.
A gritty 1-0 victory at Macclesfield last weekend made it five wins in six league matches since losing badly at Crawley on Boxing Day. That fine run has consolidated Town's place in the play-offs whilst also raising hope of a push for an automatic promotion spot.
Two wins from these next two would only strengthen the belief that Keith Curle's men are capable of going straight up without worrying about the play-offs this season, and given their superb home form, returning six points over the next four days is certainly not out of the question.
It's now over four months since Northampton were beaten at the PTS and only table-topping Swindon, who've played an extra game at the County Ground, have won more home points this season.
As for Saturday's opponents, Port Vale have been locked in 10th position for the last two months but despite their inconsistency troubles, they remain on the outskirts of the play-off battle and a win this weekend would be a statement of intent.
Manager John Askey has done a fine job since taking over exactly one year ago, lifting the Valiants from relegation candidates at the back end of last season to promotion hopefuls 12 months later.
Vale's away record, in general, is nothing to write home about but they've still picked up some impressive results on the road this season, winning at promotion challengers Crewe and Bradford and also taking down Cheltenham in the FA Cup. They also won at the PTS last season.
So the Cobblers are in for another stern examination this weekend, although they are boosted by the return of three of their four January signings. Lloyd Jones, Mark Marshall and last week's match-winner Callum Morton are all back in contention after sitting out the FA Cup defeat in midweek, while Jordan Turnbull is also fit again.
James Olayinka remains sidelined for at least another week but otherwise Curle is suddenly spoilt for choice in a variety of positions, including defence and up front. He will have some tough decisions to make in these final three months of the season.
Curle's done a fine job of steering his side into promotion contention, now they must see the job through. These next two matches will give us a clear indication as to just how high the Cobblers can aim.
Prediction: Northampton Town 2 Port Vale 1