James Heneghan's Oxford United v Northampton Town preview

Fixture: Oxford United v Northampton Town, Sky Bet League One

Friday, 10th November 2017, 12:56 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 1:14 pm
FOND MEMORIES: The Cobblers have won 1-0 on their last two visits to the Kassam Stadium with Marc Richards on target both times, including this dramatic winner on Boxing Day last year. Picture by Kirsty Edmonds

Date/time: Saturday, November 11, 3pm kick-off

Venue: Kassam Stadium

Forecast: 9C, cloudy

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Outs and doubts: Oxford: Mike Williamson (knee), Gino van Kessel (hamstring), Ricardo (calf), Agon Mehmeti (hamstring). Cobblers: Sam Hoskins (leg), Alex Revell (groin), Aaron Phillips (thigh), Regan Poole (intentional duty), Leon Barnett (Achilles).

Betting: Oxford 17/20, draw 11/4, Northampton 3/1

Form guide: United LLLDD, Cobblers DDWWDL

Possible line-ups: Oxford (4-4-1-1): Eastwood; Ribeiro, Nelson, Mousinho, Tiendalli; Henry, Ledson, Ruffels, Mowatt; Payne; Thomas. Northampton (4-3-3): Ingram; Moloney, Taylor, Pierre, Buchanan; McWilliams, Grimes, O’Toole; Waters, Powell, Long

Michael Appleton was replaced by Pep Clotet after leaving his post as Oxford manager in the summer

Man in the middle: Kevin Johnson

Last time out: Oxford United 3 (Payne 2, Hall) MK Dons 4; Northampton Town 3 (Foley, McGugan, Taylor) Southampton U21s 3

Most recent meeting: Saturday, March 25, 2017 - Northampton Town 0 Oxford United 0

Record v Oxford: P31 W14 D3 L14

Matt Crooks could be in the squad this weekend after making his return from injury on Tuesday

Opposition view: “Northampton came up alongside us and I see a similar project,” Pep Clotet, Oxford United’s manager, told the club website this week. “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. 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.”

Cobblers connection: Now riding high in the Championship with boyhood club Sheffield United, Chris Wilder first came to people’s attention when he led Oxford United from mid-table in the Conference to the top of League Two. Wherever you look and however far back you go, Wilder’s record as a manager stands up to just about anyone, so much so that, from first club Alfreton Town in 2001 to the Blades in the present day, he has never been sacked. Whatever he goes on to achieve in his career, however, it will take a lot to beat his achievements at Northampton where he took a club from the brink of extinction to title-winners by 13 points.

James Heneghan’s preview: After back-to-back cup draws and three successive games at Sixfields, the Cobblers make their return to league duties with tomorrow’s trip to a ground that brings back fond memories from recent years.

Michael Appleton was replaced by Pep Clotet after leaving his post as Oxford manager in the summer

The Kassam Stadium has set the scene for two of their most famous and thrilling wins over the past couple of seasons, and if they can complete the hat-trick at the home of out-of-form Oxford United on Saturday, it will represent a significant step forward on their steady path to recovery.

Though those wins may have been similar in style, with second-half goals from Marc Richards the difference in both, including a dramatic stoppage-time winner on Boxing Day of last year, their importance in the context of Town’s seasons were in stark contrast.

First time around, the skipper’s emphatic spot-kick fired Town to another victory en route to the title two years ago, while last season’s victory, achieved in thrillingly last-gasp fashion, helped arrest their steep descent down the League One table and turned out to be the final win of Rob Page’s tenure at Sixfields.

With Oxford again failing to net in the following meeting – a goalless draw in April – they come into Saturday’s game without as much as scoring against their cross-border rivals in nearly 400 minutes of football, suffering three 1-0 defeats in succession prior to April’s drab affair.

There is a difference this time around, however, and that is the man in the opposing dug out.

The absence of Michael Appleton, who took charge for all four of those previous games against Northampton, will be keenly-felt by both sets of supporters, not least for his often amusing, spicy pre and post-match comments.

Matt Crooks could be in the squad this weekend after making his return from injury on Tuesday

Appleton left in the summer to join Craig Shakespeare at Premier League Leicester City, with Spaniard Clotet going the way way; from assistant at Swansea and Leeds to manager in his own right.

The 40-year-old is still relatively young in the world of management but he’s already at his sixth club having started at Spanish third division outfit Cornellà in 2001, and his arrival at the Kassam Stadium has so far coincided with a rather odd season for Oxford that is not immediately straightforward to make sense of.

They started like a train, losing just one of their first six league games to enjoy a very brief stint as League One’s top dogs, but a subsequent run of no victory in four, including three straight defeats, sent them tumbling down the table, only for three consecutive wins to propel them back up again.

Once again, however, their form has tailed off and they go into Saturday’s game against the Cobblers without a win in five games in all competitions, sitting 10th in Sky Bet league One, including cup defeats to MK Dons and League Two Port Vale in their latest two outings.

In contrast, Town are unbeaten in five having somehow salvaged a draw against Southampton U21s on Tuesday when three goals in 18 minutes saw them come from 3-0 down and nick a 3-3 draw.

After a previous win over Blackpool and a draw against Scunthorpe United, both teams who, like Oxford, were in the top 10 at the time, there is reason for confidence in the Cobblers camp heading into Saturday, and Cotlet too is certain they’ll be higher up the table come May.

The injury situation provides further optimism. John-Joe O’Toole, Matt Crooks and Brendan Moloney are all in line to at least be in the squad tomorrow, although Regan Poole (international duty) and Alex Revell (groin) are absent.

That might mean Shaun McWilliams, impressive at right-back of late, is pushed back into midfield to take Poole’s role with Moloney slotting into the back four.

The loss of Poole, such a key and effective figure in midfield of late, is a blow but it is one softened by the tantalising prospect of O’Toole and Crooks finally playing in the same team. So far this season, either one or both have been injured, robbing Hasselbaink of the chance of pairing arguably his best two players together.

The duo have the guile, physicality and quality to significantly strengthen any team in this division, and both also have the potential to provide important goals from midfield, something that is much-needed given the persistent struggles of Town’s strikers.

A month ago tomorrow’s clash between Oxford and Northampton would have been a foregone conclusion in favour of the home side but, such has been the turnaround in both teams’ form since, this game is now a tough one to call.

Both teams will view it as a window of opportunity: the Cobblers to keep their run going and get out of the bottom four; Oxford to end a five-game winless streak.

Prediction: Oxford United 1 Northampton Town 1