Oxford United boss Pep Clotet is tipping an ‘effective’ Cobblers team to clamber well clear of the relegation zone this season - but is looking forward to experiencing the ‘history’ and extra edge between the clubs when they meet up on Saturday.
With Oxford ditching the Kassam Stadium moniker, Town and their supporters will travel to what is now called Grenoble Road, a ground where they have enjoyed success in recent times.
The past two visits have ended in 1-0 wins for the Cobblers, with Marc Richards’ penalty securing what turned out to be a pretty decisive win in the Sky Bet League Two title race in 2015, and the same player securing victory with a late, late strike on Boxing Day last season.
Both results were daggers through the heart of the Oxford fans, and in particular their then manager, Michael Appleton.
Appleton, who in the summer moved on to work as assistant manager at Leicester City, seemed to have it in his head that his team was better than Chris Wilder’s Cobblers in that league two campaign that ended with Town 13 points clear of United.
Oxford also failed to win, or even score a goal, in the last four meetings Appleton managed between the clubs, much to their manager’s frustration.
Clotet goes into this weekend’s fixture without any of the baggage Appleton brought with him, but supporters don’t forget that quickly, and there will still be added spice to the atmosphere as there always is when Cobblers face Oxford nowadays.
The Spaniard welcomes that, and is looking forward to it.
“I like that there’s a little bit of history between the clubs: anything that gives that little energy to the players and to the fans is a good thing.” said Clotet, who in the past few years has worked as assistant to Garry Monk at both Swansea City and Leeds United.
“Northampton came up alongside us and I see a similar project. I am sure they will be very solid on Saturday and they are starting to get results and a little momentum.
“They are an effective mix as a squad and eventually they will be higher than they are at the moment.”
Oxford go into the game on a run of five games without a win, and having won just one of their past seven games on home soil.
In the past week, they have been dumped out of the FA Cup, losing 2-0 at league two side Port Vale, and also exited the Checkatrade Trophy thanks to a 4-3 loss to Milton Keynes Dones.
They also lost their most recent league game against Fleetwood, but Clotet belives his team are heading in the right direction and will get out of their current mini slump.
“We could have had a point at Fleetwood but got punished,” said the Oxford boss.
“In such a tight league those are the margins, but to be fair I think the club has come a long way in the last two years.
“This is our second season in league one and we are competing in a top 10 place, and it’s important to keep improving and correcting mistakes.
“We have come through a hard moment before this season and put it right and need to do the same again.”