Saturday’s match at Sheffield United could be the last in a Cobblers shirt for as long as six weeks for defender Gaby Zakuani as he heads off to Gabon to play for DR Congo in the Africa Cup of Nations.
DR Congo do not play their opening group game of the tournament until January 16 when they face Morocco, but their squad is getting together next week and they are scheduled to play a warm-up friendly against Cameroon next Wednesday.
That means it is going to be touch and go as to whether Zakuani, who is the DR Congo captain, will be allowed to turn out for the Cobblers in their Sixfields showdown with Bradford City on Monday (Jan 2).
“We definitely have Gaby for the Sheffield United game, and we are in discussions at the minute as to whether or not we can keep him for the Bradford game as well,” said Cobblers boss Rob Page. “Then he will go off to the Africa Cup of Nations.”
If Zakuani is not allowed to play against the Bantams, it means the Cobblers could be without the central defender for as many as six games in Sky Bet League One, with the final of the tournament not being staged until February 5.
Even if DR Congo - who qualified for the tournament as winners of their group - don’t get any further than the group stages, Zakuani is unlikely to be available for the Cobblers until the trip to Walsall on February 4, as his nation’s final group game against Togo is on January 24, just a few days before the Sixfields date with Coventry City (Jan 28).
DR Congo’s other group game sees them take on the Ivory Coast on January 20.
Page admits it is going to be a blow to lose the summer signing from Peterborough United, but feels the squad has adequate cover in Lewin Nyatanga, who is on a season-long loan from Barnsley, Zander Diamond and Rod McDonald.
“Gabs has been a key player for us, and I thought he was excellent on Boxing Day at Oxford,” said the Cobblers boss.
“He has made three or four blocks from long-range efforts and that is his game, he loves defending, and that is why I brought him here.
“He is a great defender, a warrior, and he will be missed.
“But we have people lIke Zander, who has been excellent before his injury, and he is back in contention and was on the bench on Monday.
“I think what Zander brings to us is a presence in the changing room as well, which is excellent, and then we have Rod, who stepped into the team against Bradford and gave a good account of himself.”
The Town boss didn’t rule out the centre of defence being an area that he might look to strengthen in the upcoming January transfer window though, saying: “We do have that strength in depth, but it is an area we might be looking to add to, depending on the length of time we lose Gaby for.”