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Northampton Town get back in action on Saturday 10th March as they travel to high flying Bristol Rovers for a League One match.
Northampton have had a mini break recently, as last Saturday’s match away at Blackpool was one of several fixtures postponed following the “Beast from the East”, so a return to footballing action is welcome for the Cobblers. However, they face a Bristol Rovers side who are hitting form at the right time, winning 3 of their last 5 games, and finding themselves just 4 points off Plymouth in the League One playoff positions.
Furthermore, Bristol Rovers were one of only six League One sides to play last weekend, as their fixture against struggling MK Dons went ahead despite the weather, and an Ellis Harrison wonder strike sealed the 3 points for the Pirates and further condemned the Dons to a seemingly imminent relegation.
Its getting towards the business end of the season now for both sides, with Rovers hoping to continue their run of form and fire themselves into the playoffs, whereas Northampton face a tense battle to stay afloat in League One. In terms of the playoff battle, just 4 points separates 6 sides between 6th and 11th.
Plymouth Argyle have made the most of their rivals stuttering form, with their terrific run of 5 successive wins coming at a time where the others hit poor form. Bradford are winless in 5, Peterborough and Charlton have only won 1 of 5 matches and Portsmouth have only won 2 out 5. The other side to benefit from this? Bristol Rovers, whose run of 3 wins and 1 draw from 5 games has seen them fired right into the mix.
If results go Rovers way on Saturday, they could find themselves just 1 point outside the playoffs and in great form. In terms of the relegation battle, MK Dons and Bury both look as though they need miracles to survive, therefore the next two relegations spots are up for grabs. Rochdale also look cut adrift, but with 4 games in hand and an impressive win over Walsall in midweek, relegation for the Dale might not be as forgone as it seems. However, I do believe that they have too much to do, simply because they realistically need 5 or 6 wins in their last 15 games to be in with a chance of survival, and they’ve only managed 6 wins in 31 games this season. In that case, its just the one relegation spot to be decided.
Fleetwood currently occupy that spot, with Northampton and AFC Wimbledon level on points just above them. With Fleetwood appointing survivalist John Sheridan as new manager, they look to give survival a real go, meaning it could go down to the wire for Northampton, who could find themselves in the bottom four with a defeat on Saturday.
So, at both ends of the table, this looks to be a huge game.
There is even more significance attached to this game, as the last two meetings between these sides have been embarrassing for the Cobblers. In January 2017, in the last meeting at the Memorial Ground, Bristol Rovers beat the cobblers 5-0, and followed this up by going one better at Sixfields, winning 6-0 in October, with Ellis Harrison scoring 5 across both games. This result is still fresh in the mind of Cobblers fans, as it came back at the start of Hasselbaink’s reign and was probably the worst performance this season.
Therefore, this game is a chance to see how far cobblers have come under Hasselbaink, as there has been plenty of squad changes since then, the main one being that the two strikers who started that afternoon, Alex Revell and Marc Richards, are no longer at the club.
In terms of team news, providing there’s no injuries it will probably be a very similar line-up for Rovers, with January additions Tony Craig and Kyle Bennett hitting the ground running for Rovers, playing key parts in the win over MK Dons. Likewise, 19 year old midfielder Luke Russe looked impressive in the victory, as he strives to keep his place in the side. If Rovers are to go for it early on, we might see Rory Gaffney come in to partner Ellis Harrison from the start.
For Northampton, its diffcult to predict the line-up, as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink makes changes game on game. January addition Kevin van Veen has been rated as touch and go following a knee injury, and should he be fit, he will be raring to get his cobblers career going. Furthermore, in the wide areas Nottingham Forest loanee Gboly Ariyibi has looked impressive recently, and Legia Warsaw loanee Hildeberto Periera will be looking for his first start following his return from suspension.
There is also the John-Joe O’Toole factor to throw in as well, the ex-Rovers midfielder has been in fine form recently for the cobblers, and would love a goal against his old club.
Northampton’s away form has been much better than the home form in recent weeks, with the way that Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink sets up his side being one reason why, so I expect a tight, cagey affair, a complete contrast to the game back in October, culminating in shared points between the two sides.
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