James Heneghan's Northampton Town v Walsall preview
Fixture: Northampton Town v Walsall, Sky Bet League One
Date/time: Saturday, December 16, 3pm kick-off
Forecast: 3C, cloudy
Outs and doubts: Cobblers: Matt Ingram (shoulder), Daniel Powell (hamstring), John-Joe O’Toole (ankle), Aaron Phillips (thigh), Alex Revell (groin), Sam Hoskins (ankle), Shaun McWilliams (growing pains). Saddlers: Tyler Roberts (hamstring), Liam Roberts (hamstring)
Betting: Northampton 9/5, draw 23/10, Walsall 6/4
Form guide: Cobblers LLDLLL, Saddlers WLWWLW
Possible line-ups: Northampton (4-3-3): Ingram; Moloney, Taylor, Barnett, Buchanan; Poole, Grimes, O’Toole; Waters, Powell, Long. Walsall (4-2-3-1): Gillespie; Kinsella, Wilson, Guthrie, Leahy; Chambers, Cuvelier; Ismail, Oztumer, Morris; Bakayoko
Man in the middle: Charles Breakspear
Last time out: Oldham Athletic 5 Northampton Town 1 (Foley); Walsall 1 (Morris) Scunthorpe United 0
Most recent meeting: Saturday, February 4, 2017 - Walsall 2 (Preston, Oztumer) Northampton 1 (O’Toole)
Record v Walsall: P77 W31 D15 L32
Opposition view: “I know Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink because we are on the same LMA course and he will demand a response from last week. We are expecting one of our toughest games of the season. They are fighting and they need a result,” read more from Saddlers boss Jon Whitney here.
James Heneghan’s preview: Ahead of a game against League One’s most in-form team and then back-to-back away trips over the festive period, the Cobblers are bordering on must-win territory going into this weekend’s clash with the mid-table Saddlers.
With tricky visits to promoted duo Portsmouth and Doncaster sandwiched between home games against title-hunting pair Blackburn and Wigan – both of whom top the 10-game form table – the Christmas schedule could hardly look any tougher on paper for Town, which makes getting something out of Saturday’s game, preferably three points, all the more important.
But any fixture against any opposition looks a tough proposition for this stuttering Northampton team in their bleak situation, and tomorrow’s encounter against Walsall, also in fine form having won their last three league games, is no different.
The Saddlers are currently 11th in Sky Bet League One and appear on course to back up last season’s 14th-placed finish with another mid-table effort. Jon Whitney’s side recovered from a shaky start to the campaign – when they won just three of their opening 14 matches – to motor clear of early relegation trouble with victories over Fleetwood, AFC Wimbledon and Scunthorpe in recent weeks, putting them fourth in the form table.
How the Cobblers would dearly love to follow suit in their bid to escape the bottom four but their hopes of doing that appear slim going by recent performances and results, most alarming of which came last time out when they were taken to the cleaners by Oldham Athletic.
Oldham and Northampton are meant to be rivals in the battle to avoid relegation but they seem on very different trajectories on the evidence of last Saturday’s one-sided contest, and now Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink will be desperate to see an immediate reaction in the first of two games at Sixfields.
There were no excuses for that substandard performance at Boundary Park, nor for their largely substandard season, but injuries have not helped matters and once again Hasselbaink has a limited pool of players from which to pick.
In good news, John-Joe O’Toole is willing to play through the pain barrier for his team and should feature on Saturday, as might Daniel Powell although he was initially pencilled in to return almost a month ago and yet remains sidelined by his troublesome hamstring problem.
Goalkeeper Matt Ingram remains a doubt while Sam Hoskins, Shaun McWilliams and Aaron Phillips are all out
Scoring first is obviously beneficial in any football match but even more so when it comes to Northampton: of their 19 league matches in which there’s been a goal, 90 per cent have been won by the team who scored first. And more often than not, it’s the opposition who have hit the front and gone on to win.
This weekend, the Cobblers must change that. If they fail to do so, a winter of discontent awaits.
Prediction: Northampton Town 1 Walsall 1