Boss Chris Wilder is bracing his Cobblers players for a severe test when the ‘outstanding’ AFC Wimbledon arrive at Sixfields for a crucial clash on Tuesday night (ko 7.45pm).
Leading the Sky Bet League Two table by 10 points, the Cobblers are the form team in the division having claimed 31 points from the past 33 available to them, an unbeaten run of 11 games including 10 straight wins.
But Wimbledon aren’t far behind them in the form stakes.
They have won seven of their past nine games, a run that has seen them fight their way into contention for a play-off place.
They were beaten 2-1 at home by third-placed Oxford United on Saturday, but they are still in good shape in eighth place, a point behind seventh-placed Leyton Orient with a game in hand, and only a point behind fifth-placed Portsmouth.
They haven’t lost an away game in the league since October 10, they possess two of the division’s in-form strikers in Lyle Taylor and Tom Elliott, with power to add from the bench with Ade Azeez and someone that will need no introduction at Sixfields, Adebayo Akinfenwa.
It is certainly going to be a tough game for the Cobblers, and Wilder said: “We are at home against a team that have been in outstanding form since the turn of the year, and one that we are really looking forward to.
“I have a lot of respect for (Wimbledon manager) Neal Ardley and their team, especially the two strikers and the two strikers they have on the bench.
“They are a real handful and we are going to have to defend properly, and that is part of the game and the challenge we have to accept when we play different teams.”
The Cobblers boss also isn’t reading anything into AFC’s defeat to Oxford last weekend, saying: “You always get feedback from games, and the feedback I have got from Saturday’s game is that AFC Wimbledon were very unfortunate not to come away with a result against Oxford.
“But Neal has said over the past couple of days that they were fortunate to beat Carlisle, and that is how the game goes.
“They are up there in the table on merit.
“It is a club that has continually progressed, and I think everybody is delighted at the progression they have made after what happened to their football club a few years ago.
“It is always a tough game against them, and they are where they are on current form and will be looking to get into the play-off places and stay there.”
The two sides last met back in September, drawing 1-1 at the Kingsmeadow Stadium, at a time when both clubs were sitting in mid-table.
But things have now changed as both squads have found their form, and Wilder said: “You don’t get promoted when we played them before, back in September, so you have to be patient.
“You have to keep picking your points up, and your team improves.
“From my point of view, has our team improved since then? Most certainly. And I should imagine, without putting words in Neal’s mouth, he would be saying the same.
“That is what you are always trying to do, you are always trying to improve the club in every way, try and improve the players and keep lifting and raising their standards, that is part and parcel of the job.
“Sometimes you have knockbacks and setbacks, but you get up and get going again, and that is what we all have to do.”
While the Cobblers take on AFC Wimbledon, their promotion rivals are also in action, but against teams not involved at the top end of the table..
Second-placed Plymouth Argyle are on the road at 15th-placed Barnet, while third-placed Oxford United are at home to relegation-threatened York City.
Accrington Stanley, 18 points behind the Cobblers in fourth, are at fourth-bottom Yeovil.
Team news for the Cobblers is that John-Joe O’Toole is available again after missing the past two games through injury and illness, while Rod McDonald is a doubt after being forced off the pitch at Hartlepool on Saturday through illness. If McDonald isn’t fit, then Luke Prosser is in line to make his home debut.
Marc Richards (Achilles) and Paul Corry (knee) are both out.