James Heneghan's Stourbridge v Northampton Town preview

Fixture: Stourbridge v Northampton Town, FA Cup second round

Saturday, 3rd December 2016, 10:21 am
Updated Tuesday, 6th December 2016, 1:04 pm
OFF TO A FLYER: Paul Anderson is congratulated after his screamer gave Cobblers the perfect start against Harrow in the first round. Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds

Date/time: Sunday, December 4, 2pm kick-off

Venue: War Memorial Athletic Ground

Forecast: 5C, sunny

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Outs and doubts: Stourbridge: Jordan Archer (cup-tied), Brad Birch (knee). Cobblers: JJ Hooper (thigh), Brendan Moloney (knee), John-Joe O’Toole (suspended – 1/2), Zander Diamond (fractured cheekbone)

Betting: Stourbridge 13/2, draw 18/5, Northampton 2/5

Form guide: Stourbridge WWWDWD, Cobblers LLLLDW

Possible Northampton team (4-3-3): Cornell; Phillips, Zakuani, McDonald, Buchanan; McCourt, Taylor, Hoskins; Anderson, Potter, Richards

Man in the middle: Andy Davies

Last time out: Stourbridge 5 (Benbow 2, Archer, Duggan, Brown) Workington 0; Northampton 0 Bolton 1

Opposition view: Stourbridge boss Gary Hackett told the Stourbridge News this week: “We need to stay relaxed and really embrace the whole occasion and enjoy ourselves. These games don’t come along very often so it’s important we enjoy them.

“The players are capable of causing real problems for the opposition even though we will be massive underdogs. It will be important that we start quickly and really get the fans behind us again.”

Cobblers connection: A current first-team coach at Mansfield, Karl Hawley spent his final full season as player with Stourbridge where he made 46 appearances in 2015/16. In a career that spanned 16 years and 14 clubs, Hawley, a striker by trade, also made 11 appearances for Northampton when on loan at the club in 2008, scoring two goals. Steve Taylor and Mark Turner are the only two other players to have featured for both Stourbridge and the Cobblers.

James Heneghan’s preview: When all is said and done at the end of the season, this Sunday’s visit to Stourbridge might be looked back upon as a defining moment in Northampton’s campaign, one way or the other.

Without a win in five and tumbling down Sky Bet League One, a shock FA Cup upset against non-league opposition would only heighten the scepticism among an already agitated fanbase who are growing more and more frustrated as the defeats continue to tot up.

That is something Rob Page and co cannot afford in these troubling times, especially with a difficult run of league fixtures to come in December that includes the likes of Sheffield United and Oxford.

A convincing victory, by contrast, would be the first step to diverting the Cobblers ship away from increasingly choppy waters and allow them to experience that winning feeling once again, something which has eluded them since their last FA Cup outing almost a month ago.

That 6-0 demolition of Harrow Borough in round one was the perfect way to avoid a seismic cup shock, and a similar performance this weekend would be just what the doctor ordered, except this time the Cobblers must do it away from the comforts of Sixfields and at the very non-league surroundings of the War Memorial Ground.

For the second successive season and the third time in four years, Stourbridge are the lowest-ranked team left in the FA Cup second round, and they are also the only one of the near-600 clubs from below the top five divisions of English football to have made it to this stage, quite an achievement for a Level 7 club.

The Glassboys, who lie 87 places below Northampton on the football ladder, have already played six games just to reach this stage of the competition – including a 3-0 win over Conference North Whitehawk in the previous round – and started their campaign all the way back on September 3.

Unlike the Cobblers, Stourbridge are also a team in-form and go into Sunday’s second-round tie high on confidence thanks to a seven-game unbeaten run, including a thumping 5-0 victory over Workington last time out.

It will come as no great surprise that these two teams have never previously met in any competitive fixture, making Sunday’s encounter a historic occasion.

During the week Rob Page praised the attitude and professionalism of his fringe players, and they may well be called upon this weekend given that he will be without several first-choice options.

Zander Diamond and Brendan Moloney are injured while John-Joe O’Toole serves the first of his two-match suspension for picking up 10 yellow cards already this season.

Aaron Phillips and Rod McDonald have both filled the breach admirably when called upon in recent games against Bradford and Bolton, and both deserve an opportunity to further stake their claim this Sunday.

But other than those enforced changes, Page will no doubt select his strongest available team to minimise the risk of national humiliation and a major shock as he tries to steer his side into the third round stage where a draw against one of England’s best awaits.

Among their ranks, Stourbridge have the Evo-Stik League’s top scorer in Luke Benbow who has notched an impressive return of 15 goals in 19 games this season, making him the danger man for Northampton’s visit.

Without a win in five and up against an in-form team who have nothing to lose, the Cobblers look ripe for a giant-killing. But, on the flip side, it’s also an opportunity to get their season back on track.

Prediction: Stourbridge 1 Northampton Town 3