Fixture: Northampton Town v Millwall, Sky Bet League One
Date/time: Saturday, October 15, 2016, 3pm
Venue: Sixfields Stadium
Forecast: 15C, sunny spells
Outs and doubts: Millwall: Shaun Cummings, Aiden O’Brien, Shaun Hutchinson - all injured. Cobblers: Matt Taylor (suspended - 1 of 3)
Betting: Cobblers 7/4, draw 12/5, Millwall 17/10
Form guide: Cobblers DLLWWL Millwall: WLLLLD
Likely line-ups: Northampton (4-2-3-1): Smith; Moloney, Diamond, Nyatanga, Buchanan; McCourt; Hoskins, O’Toole, Beautyman, Anderson; Revell. Millwall (4-4-2): Archer, Martin, Craig, Romeo, Webster, Williams, Onyedinma, Ferguson, Abdou, Gregory, Morison.
Man in the middle: Ben Toner
Last time out: Scunthorpe 1 Cobblers 1 (McCourt), Millwall 2 (Onyedinma, Morison) Gillingham 1 - Checkatrade Trophy
There didn’t seem to be any kind of hangover for the Lions as they started the season with three wins and a draw in their first five league games, but their season has gone off the rails sinceJeremy Casey
Most recent meeting: Tuesday, October 6, 2015 - Johnstone’s Paint Trophy - Millwall 2 (O’Brien, Gregory) Cobblers 0
Record v Millwall: P87 W26 D17 L44
Opposition view: Manager Neil Harris: “Northampton have good spirit, they’re well organised and have good energy in the team. They’ve got some experienced players, are very dangerous at set-pieces and are scoring goals. It’s a difficult fixture but a really good game for us on the back of beating Gillingham. From that competition we’ve managed to gain some momentum, and with a few players back to full fitness we go there in good spirits.”
Jeremy Casey’s preview: It’s been a season where the Cobblers have been able to be pretty consistent with team selection, but boss Rob Page faces a couple of tricky decisions ahead of Saturday’s date with Millwall at Sixfields.
The first conundrum is in midfield.
Matt Taylor has been an ever-present in the Sky Bet League One campaign to date, but he will be missing for the next three matches due to his sending off in last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Scunthorpe United.
So who will Page hand the responsibility of replacing the former Bolton Wanderers and West Ham United man?
The natural like-for-like replacement should be Joel Byrom, but the former Preston man has found himself marginalised this season.
Byrom was one of the key players for Town in the league two title-winning campaign last season, and has a left foot to very nearly match Taylor’s when it comes to set-piece delivery, but it seems Page isn’t convinced.
Byrom has yet to start a league game this season, and it seems unlikely that will change this weekend.
So without a like-for-like switch, it could be that the fit-again Harry Beautyman comes back into the team to take up an advanced central midfield role to support striker Alex Revell, with John-Joe O’Toole and Jak McCourt behind him.
The other headache for Page is in central defence.
Gaby Zakuani is available again after missing the past two fixtures due to international commitments, but in his absence Lewin Nyatanga staked his claim for a starting role with a strong performance alongside Zander Diamond at Glanford Park last weekend.
The last time Zakuani missed a game due to playing for, and captaining, the Democratic Republic of Congo, he had to make do with a place on the bench, and Page hinted this week that will again be the case saying of Nyatanga ‘if you go into the team and give a good account of yourself, it is over to you to lose the jersey’.
The draw at the league one leaders last weekend has boosted confidence following that last-gasp defeat to Bristol Rovers last time out at Sixfields, and the Cobblers are in good shape as the team heads into the second quarter of the season.
I doubt there is a single Cobblers supporter who wouldn’t have snapped everything off to be sitting in sixth place in the table after 12 matches, having lost just two league games, and they will be confident of claiming three points this weekend.
So what about the visitors Millwall?
Last season’s beaten play-off finalists are struggling, as many teams do after suffering such a disappointment at Wembley - and Cobblers fans don’t need reminding of that, as they were relegated the season after losing to Grimsby in 1998, and very nearly dropped out of the league in the campaign following the loss to Bradford in 2013.
There didn’t seem to be any kind of hangover for the Lions as they started the season with three wins and a draw in their first five league games, but their season has gone off the rails since.
They haven’t won in the league since August 27, they haven’t won in six, they have lost their past four league games and are down in 19th having taken just two points out of the past 18 available.
The Lions did stop the rot with a Checkatrade Trophy win over Gillingham last midweek, and Town boss Page spoke this week of his belief that the under-pressure Neil Harris will definitely turn things round at the New Den.
Page feels the Lions will soon be roaring, and when you look at their squad list it is surely only a matter of time their quality will come through.
In Lee Gregory and Steve Morison they have a strikeforce capable of carving open any defence, although Gregory has yet to find his form this season.
He has scored just three times - all penalties - and it has been ex-Cobblers frontman Morison who has carried the main threat, scoring seven times so far.
Indeed, netting goals is not the problem for this Millwall team that has scored in every league game this season, it is at the other end where their problems lie, with a defence including ex-Cobblers central defender Byron Webster and ex-Town goalkeeper Jordan Archer, really struggling.
Millwall haven’t kept a clean sheet since the opening day win over Oldham Athletic, and have conceded 22 times in the 10 games since.
Once they sort out their defensive problems then surely they will start to climb the league table, but the Cobblers will be hoping they are off the pace for one more week at least.
This is the first league meeting between the sides since March, 2009, and Millwall’s first visit to Sixfields since August, 2008, when they returned to south London with a point following a 0-0 draw.
Current Millwall boss Harris led the forward line for the Lions that day, and he would love to take a share of the spoils this weekend, but I don’t think that will happen, as a confident Cobblers team should be too strong.
Prediction: Cobblers 3 Millwall 1