Jefferson Lake’s Northampton Town versus Tranmere Rovers preview

Fixture: Northampton v Tranmere Rovers

CLEAROUT - the defeat at Tranmere in December proved to be the final Cobblers appearance for both Danny Alfei and Kelvin Langmead
CLEAROUT - the defeat at Tranmere in December proved to be the final Cobblers appearance for both Danny Alfei and Kelvin Langmead

Date/kick-off time: Saturday, March 14, 3pm kick-off

Venue: Sixfields Stadium, Northampton

Weather forecast: 6C, rain

Outs and doubts: Cobblers: Ian Morris (knee), Kaid Mohamed (broken metatarsal), Ben Tozer (knee), Joel Byrom (suspended), Marc Richards (Achilles). Tranmere: None

Betting: Cobblers 11/10, draw 5/2, Tranmere 3/1

Form guide: Cobblers LWWWDL, Tranmere LLLLWL

Possible line-ups: Northampton (4-2-3-1): Duke; Moloney, Cresswell, Collins, Horwood; Carter, Taylor; Holmes, O’Toole, D’Ath; Toney. Tranmere (4-4-2): Fon Williams; Donacien, Dugdale, Thompson, Taylor; Power, Koumas, Jennings, Myrie-Williams; Gardner, Odejayi

Last time out: Cobblers lost 2-0 at Plymouth, Tranmere lost 3-2 to Dagenham (Gardner, Power)

Most recent meeting: Saturday, December 28, 2014 - Tranmere 2 Cobblers 1 (Richards)

Cobblers connection: Sam Aiston arrived at Sixfields as winger of great capabilities - at least according to manager John Gorman - in the summer of 2006 but managed just 15 starts in two years before being shipped out on a free transfer. He played almost twice as many games as that in the preceding season, at Tranmere, where he scored three of his 10 career goals.

Jefferson Lake’s preview: Things looked very bleak indeed for the Cobblers the last time they played Tranmere and their transformation since that dark December day has been nothing short of exceptional.

Town lost 2-1 at Prenton Park three days after Christmas in what was their 12th loss in the space of 15 matches, a run which dragged them to within two points of the league two drop zone and saw the pressure mount on manager Chris Wilder.

In the theme of that period, two defenders - Zander Diamond and Gregor Robertson - were lost to injury in the first half an hour of the game and although Marc Richards restored parity with a well-taken equaliser, Rovers won the game with a curling shot from substitute Jake Kirby.

In the closing stages, Emile Sinclair failed to head a cross into an empty net, the ball rebounding off his shoulder and skimming the outside of the post, and shortly afterwards Wilder gave a frank and honest assessment of the state of play at Sixfields.

The message was clear - some of the players had used up their last life that day, and as “Auld Lang Syne” faded into the background and the dust settled on 2014, deep cuts were made to the squad, both on the playing side and among the support staff.

Eleven players left Sixfields for the final time, some of them because their loans ended (or were ended early), some to contract expiry and some to terminations of their current deals. Three were brought in - Jason Taylor, Ricky Holmes and Brendan Moloney - and the team simply hasn’t looked back.

They have been the best team in the division based on the results of 2015 and can still challenge for a place in the play-off places. There are 11 games to go, which represents almost a quarter of the campaign and there will be plenty of twists and turns to come.

Perhaps the biggest factor, both this weekend and in the coming weeks, will be how well they cope without Richards, who as well as being their leading goalscorer is also a very well-liked member of the dressing room and an immaculate example to the younger players in how he trains and prepares himself.

A lot will rest on the shoulders of Ivan Toney but perhaps more responsibility will fall to John-Joe O’Toole, who was signed as a marquee player in the summer and needs to get back to the form he was showing prior to his disastrous sending-off at Mansfield.

The team badly missed Joel Byrom at Plymouth as both a set-piece specialist and manager of the game, and Darren Carter has to improve on his contribution at Home Park.

But there is no reason to think Northampton can’t get back to winning ways on Saturday. Tranmere are in the relegation places and have lost five of their past six games.

Prediction: Cobblers 3 Tranmere 1