Jeremy Casey’s Northampton Town versus Rochdale preview

John-Joe O'Toole is one of only two survivors from the Cobblers' 2-1 FA Cup defeat at Rochdale two years ago, with the other being Marc Richards
John-Joe O'Toole is one of only two survivors from the Cobblers' 2-1 FA Cup defeat at Rochdale two years ago, with the other being Marc Richards

Fixture: Northampton Town v Rochdale, Sky Bet League One

Date/time: Saturday, December 17, 3pm kick-off

Venue: Sixfields Stadium, Northampton

Forecast: 8C, cloudy

Outs and doubts: Cobblers: JJ Hooper (thigh), Brendan Moloney (knee), Zander Diamond (fractured cheekbone)

Betting: Northampton 6/4, Draw 12/5, Rochdale 2/1

Alfie Potter

Alfie Potter

Form guide: Cobblers LWLLLL, Rochdale WLWLWW

Possible Northampton team (4-2-3-1): Cornell; Phillips, Zakuani, Nyatanga, Buchanan; O’Toole, Taylor, Anderson, Hoskins, Potter; Revell. Rochdale: Logan, Rafferty, McNulty, McGahey, Lund, Camps, Rathbone, Thompson, Henderson, Davies; Bunney

Man in the middle: Eddie Ilderton

Last time out: Stourbridge 1 Northampton 0, Rochdale 3 (Thompson, Rathbone, Andrew) Scunthorpe 2

Most recent meeting: FA Cup first round replay, November 18, 2014: Rochdale (Noble-Lazarus, Lancashire) 2 Northampton 1 (Toney)

Opposition view: Rochdale boss Keith Hill: “It is going to be a very tough game, because Northampton have acclimatised very well to league one. Their recruitment drive in the summer suggested they were going to be a play-off contender, and I think they still will be.

“League one takes a lot of getting used to, there are a lot of pitfalls, and you have to navigate those pitfalls as quickly as you possibly can.

“What you don’t want is a run of bad results and bad performances leading into negative confidence.

“We are confident at this moment in time going into this game, there is no question about that, but I know the opposition and I know what they will try and do against us, and we have to make sure we counteract that with the way we play.”

Cobblers connection: Ian Henderson spent 18 months at Sixfields between 2007 and 2009 and endured a nightmare, failing to score in his 36 appearances for the club before joining Luton Town on a free transfer. After spending a brief spell at Kenilworth Road, the forward spent time with Ankaragucu in Turkey, before a successful spell at Colchester United. In March, 2013, he was loaned to Rochdale and then signed for the Greater Manchester club the following summer, and has been a key man for Keith Hill at Spotland. The 31-year-old plays as an attacking midfieler and has netted 56 goals in 178 appearances for Dale, including six this season. He will be keen to show the Sixfields faithful what he can do, and will be hoping things go better for him on Saturday than they did in his previous return to the club, when he was sent off in the 0-0 FA Cup draw in 2014.

Jeremy Casey’s preview: So should Rob Page stick or twist?

Should the Cobblers manager stand by the players that let themselves and the club down in Tuesday’s FA Cup defeat at Stourbridge, or should he keep the faith?

The back four apart, Page made it clear he was not happy with any of the other players in the midweek defeat, saying they were ‘off their game’ as the non Leaguers secured a shock 1-0 victory.

But how many changes can Page make to truly strengthen the starting XI? Especially with key men Brendan Moloney and Zander Diamond sidelined through injury.

Well, John-Joe O’Toole is available again after his two-match suspension and will surely go straight back into the team.

The supporters player of the year has power, presence, guile and an eye for goal that has been missed, and will surely be handed a place in a midfield that badly misfired at Stourbridge.

It could be that he replaces Jak McCourt, who endured a difficult night at the War Memorial Ground alongside Matt Taylor, who also struggled.

It is easy to forget - especially with that beard! - that the Liverpudlian is still only 21 and this is his first full season in senior football.

He has had a good season, and will be a key player for the Cobblers this campaign and beyond, but it is possible he will be taken out of the firing line this weekend.

But what other changes can be made?

Wholesale alterations are unlikely, because options are limited and the players waiting in the wings are woefully short of match practice.

It was clear for all to see how unfair it was on Joel Byrom to suddenly throw him into the fray at Peterborough United, so I think changes will have to be at a minimum, but something has to be done to breathe life into the team.

If it were down to me, and - thankfully, I hear you say - it isn’t, I would give Alfie Potter a start.

The wide man’s stint at the Cobblers has been plagued by injury (he has made just 20 starts in 18 months), but he has been training this week and is fit and available, and I would give him the chance to show what he can do.

It’s only an opinion of course, but for me, when he is fit, Potter is the pick of the wide players in the current Cobblers squad.

He has decent pace, he can play off either foot, is excellent in possession, carries the ball well, and his work-rate is good, so I would like to see him given a proper run in the team as he has been underused, just being given 10 or 15 minutes here and there.

To accommodate Potter, Town could revert back to the the 4-2-3-1 formation that served the team so well for so long last season, and is a formation that gives the team width in attack and, crucially, offers support to the central striker.

So for what it’s worth, this would be my team for Saturday...

I would stick with David Cornell in goal, with a back four of Aaron Phillips, Gaby Zakuani, Lewin Nyatanga and David Buchanan.

O’Toole can play in the central midfield two alongside Matt Taylor, with an attacking three of Paul Anderson on the right, Sam Hoskins in the middle, where he has been at his most impressive this season, and Potter on the left, supporting targetman Alex Revell.

Whether that will be the team to take on Rochdale I very much doubt it, but it’s the team I would like to see take to field.

Every fan will have their own opinion of who should be be playing, but of course the only person’s opinion that matters is Page’s, and he will be be picking the team he feels can beat Dale.

And with supporter frustration growing, Page is in need of a positive result and performance.

That is not going to be an easy task as Keith Hill’s men are on a great run, and have won 14 of their past 20 games in all competitions.

They were 3-2 winners over league one leaders Scunthorpe last weekend, but they have been vulnerable at times on the road, and Page will be hoping they suffer from a bit of travel sickness this weekend.

The Cobblers are definitely more than capable of securing three points this weekend, just as they did at Port Vale last Saturday, but they are going to have to be at their best to do so - something they most definitely weren’t at Stourbridge.

That result was an embarrassment, a kick in the teeth for the club’s supporters, and was the low point of what has generally been a great 12 months for the Cobblers.

The year 2016 has been an emotional one for Town fans, one that will go down in history thanks to the Sky Bet League Two title win in May.

It is a year that, on the whole, will bring a smile to the face of Cobblers fans,

But things have started to turn a little sour in recent weeks as the team has lost five times in their past six games, and Page will be keeping his fingers crossed that his team can ensure it will be smiles all round after what is the final Sixfields clash of the year on Saturday.

If it isn’t, then it’s fair to say merry Christmas wishes are going to be in very short supply.

Prediction: Cobblers 2 Rochdale 1