Town Host Northampton Aiming to Cut Growing Gap to Play-Offs
Monday, 15th Feb 2021 11:55
The Blues host second-bottom Northampton Town on Tuesday having slipped to 12th in League One, five points off the play-offs following the weekend fixtures with first-team coach Matt Gill admitting that that gap can’t be allowed to grow much bigger.
While Town’s game at Shrewsbury was postponed, Plymouth beat Fleetwood 1-0 at Home Park to move ahead of the Blues. Sunderland’s 4-1 victory over Doncaster at the Stadium of Light saw them move into sixth place which is now a further point away from Town.
Gill, who took this morning’s pre-match press conference with manager Paul Lambert again opting not to take part, was asked if Town could afford for that gap to get any bigger.
“Ideally not,” he admitted. “But there’s lots of football left to play and there were some strange results at the weekend. There’s a long way to go and I think there’ll be loads of twists and turns between now and the end of the season.”
Town go into Tuesday’s match having lost 2-1 at Peterborough in their most recent fixture a week ago, which Gill says was frustrating after two better performances and results.
“Peterborough was disappointing obviously, very disappointing,” he said. “I think after the green shoots of the battling performance away at Crewe [where the Blues drew 1-1], a very decent performance at home against Blackpool [which they won 2-0], it obviously felt disappointing on Tuesday night.
“But I’m not particularly someone who wants to dwell, you have to learn from defeats and try and improve and that’s something we need to take into tomorrow and hopefully those green shoots from Blackpool can continue to grow.”
Of the sides currently above the Blues, only Peterborough and Portsmouth are also in action on Tuesday with Hull City and Doncaster and Accrington playing on Wednesday, the latter pair against one another at the Keepmoat Stadium.
Does a club’s current position have a psychological impact given that there’s so much of the season still to be played and with Town having matches in hand on a number of the sides above them?
“My view is that you’ve got to win the next game,” Gill said. “Ideally we’d be 15 points clear at the top but there’s no point in dwelling on the fact that we’re not.
“You can only affect what happens next and that’s a view I’ve tried to take over my whole career.
“Take responsibility, affect what happens next and that’s what we’re trying to do and that’s Northampton.
“We need to be really positive going into that game and hopefully build on a performance.”
The aim is to gain some forward momentum as Oxford - who are at Portman Road on Saturday - have in recent months with a run of nine wins in 10 which has taken the U’s up to seventh following a disappointing start to the campaign.
“That’s right,” Gill reflected. “The run they’ve been on has been amazing and it’s just shows it can be done.
“We had a similar run at the start of the season where it was really positive, so we know we’re capable of it and it’s about doing everything we possibly can to get on another one.”
Northampton were beaten 2-0 at home by bottom-of-the-table Burton on Saturday and have won just once in their last 11 in the league, a run which saw manager Keith Curle and his assistant Colin West sacked last Wednesday.
They have failed to score in their last five matches and have netted just one in their last eight.
The Cobblers, who have won only six all season in League One, three of those away from home, currently have U18s coach Jon Brady in caretaker charge.
“We’re looking for a very positive performance tomorrow,” Gill said. “They’ve recently sacked their manager, they’re fighting relegation, they’ll be desperately trying to get themselves out of the situation they’re in.
“So it’ll be a tough game but obviously one in which we need to show the initiative and be really positive.”
Asked what it’s like for players to have a caretaker-manager in charge, he said: “I can’t speak for them but they’ll be doing everything they can to put in a performance individually and to help the team.
“We need to be prepared and we’ve prepared normally for the game and go into it with a real positive attitude.”
Gill says it makes it more difficult for Town to assess what might be expected from the Cobblers.
“Obviously that makes it harder," he said. "The lads and ourselves have done a little bit of footage work on Northampton.
“Saturday they approached the game slightly differently against Burton. You have to be flexible, teams are going to be flexible, teams are going to change, so it’s one of those where I would like to think that the majority of the work we do is on us and how we’re going to affect the game and take the initiative.
“They were quite direct under Keith, they had unbelievable success last year getting promoted in a really tough spell for the club, so his work shouldn’t go unnoticed.
“They did try to pass the ball a little bit more than they had done previously with the guy in charge at the moment.”
Town’s preparations have been slightly different than had been planned due to the postponement at Shrewsbury.
“We’d have recovered on Sunday and some of the lads would have had a day off,” Gill continued. “We came in yesterday and trained, had a real good session for the lads to make up for Saturday’s miss.
“We’ll train today, matchday minus one as we call it, preparing for tomorrow’s game. Yesterday was slightly different but the lads are all desperate to do well tomorrow night. We had a good session yesterday.”
Will the same team which was set to line-up at Shrewsbury be the one which starts on Tuesday?
“It could be,” Gill said revealing little of manager Lambert's plans. “We’ve got a lot of competition for places, so it’s three days later than Saturday would have been so that brings other players into the fray. You’ll have to wait and see.”
Boss Lambert will probably stick with Tomas Holy in goal with Luke Matheson and Myles Kenlock expected to return at right-back and left-back respectively.
Skipper Luke Chambers could move to the centre of the defence but Lambert will probably continue with Luke Woolfenden and Mark McGuinness as his pairing with the captain on the bench.
In midfield, Flynn Downes will be in the deeper role with Andre Dozzell and Alan Judge probably ahead of him.
Troy Parrott will be the lone central striker with James Norwood presumably playing a part from the bench at some stage.
Out wide, Lambert could start with Freddie Sears on the left, with Gwion Edwards having a minor calf problem, and Luke Thomas on the right.
Cobblers caretaker-boss Brady says he’s trying to change the mentality among the players at Sixfields.
“We're trying to change the mindset because we came in on Thursday and the players are berating each other and they're on at each other," Brady told the Northampton Chronicle and Echo.
“Yes, we're desperate to score but there's a way to talk to people to get the best out of them. I think they're down on themselves enough but you need to change the mindset and support each other and be more positive.
“It's only through the will of wanting to score and wanting to do well but I felt the body language on a few wasn't good and that's something which needs to change.
“The way they talk to each other also needs to change because it can come across quite negative instead of being positive.
“If your mate misses the target when he's shooting and you're on at him and hammering him, is that really going to help? If someone at work is hammering you day in, day out, is that really going to help you? No, it won't. That's what we mean about changing the mindset and freeing the players up a little bit.
“I've only had two one-hour sessions with them so we need a bit more time but at the end of the day, all I'm trying to do is get the team back on track first and foremost for the club.
“That's the issue and that's what we're trying to do because everyone wants to maintain our League One status.”
Brady says that Saturday's display was a step forward even if it ended in defeat.
“Things don’t happen overnight but we’re not too far away," he told his club's official site. “I believe there was a positive change on Saturday and you will see that again on Tuesday night.
“We are ready to go again and we’ll be taking the game to Ipswich. I’m looking forward to the opportunity, we’ve got a real focus on what we can do better and one thing I would say is that we’ve been indecisive in important moments and there won’t be any more of that.”
Forward Mickel Miller and defender Alan Sheehan are on the way back after knocks but Tuesday’s game will come too soon for them.
Historically, the Blues have won 12 games between the teams (nine in the league), eight (seven) have been draws with Northampton winning 11 (10).
The teams last met in a Carling Cup first round tie at Portman Road in August 2011 when the visitors came from a goal behind to won 2-1.
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas put the Blues ahead with a first half cross-shot but goals from Ben Tozer and Paul Turnbull either side of half-time sealed the Cobblers’ place in round two.
The clubs have drawn one another in the League Cup on three other occasions in its various guises since their last league meeting with the Blues going through each time.
In October 2010 Town won 3-1 at Portman Road under Roy Keane, a two-legged tie in September and October 1987 saw a 1-1 draw in Suffolk and a 4-2 Blues victory at the County Ground, to leave the aggregate score 5-3 to John Duncan’s side, and Sir Bobby Robson’s team smashed the Cobblers 5-0 at home in August 1977.
The most recent league meeting between the teams was back in April 1967 when sub Mick McNeil was on target for Bill McGarry’s side in a 1-1 draw at the County Ground.
In the previous October in the last league game between the sides at Portman Road, the Blues thrashed the Cobblers 6-1 with Frank Brogan netting a hat-trick and Ray Crawford, Gerry Baker and Charlie Woods netting the goals.
The Cobblers last beat Town in the league in September 1964 when they defeated Jackie Milburn's Blues 3-2 at the County Ground in the old Second Division, while their most recent league success at Portman Road was a 1-0 defeat of Sir Alf Ramsey's side in Division Three South in March 1957.
Town skipper Chambers started his career with Northampton, making 129 starts and 20 sub appearances, scoring once, between April 2003 and January 2007 when he moved on to Nottingham Forest.
Blues keeper Dai Cornell moved to Portman Road in the summer having left Northampton after four years. While at Sixfields the Welshman made 107 starts and one sub appearance.
Midfielder Emyr Huws made 12 starts - including his senior debut - and one sub appearance in a loan spell with the Cobblers in a loan spell from Manchester City in the first half of the 2012/13 season.
Tuesday’s referee is Darren Drysdale from Lincolnshire, who has shown 46 yellow cards and one red in 19 games so far this season.
His last Town game was the 1-1 draw with Coventry at St Andrew’s in December 2019 in which he booked Woolfenden, Edwards, Jackson and one home player.
The match boiled over in the 57th minute when a clash between Edwards and Sam McCallum close to the dugouts led to both sets of players, including keepers and some subs, becoming involved in a melee.
Both clubs subsequently pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to ensure their players conducted themselves in an orderly fashion with Coventry fined £2,700 and Town £3,750.
Prior to that Drysdale was in charge of the 2-1 home win against QPR at Portman Road on Boxing Day 2015 in which he booked Tommy Oar and two of the visitors.
Earlier that season he was in charge of the 5-2 win at Rotherham in which he booked only one Millers player.
Before that Drysdale took control of the 2-0 away win at Brighton in March 2014 in which he booked Tommy Smith and one home player. Earlier that season he was in charge of the 1-1 draw at Birmingham.
Squad from: Holy, Cornell, Matheson, Ward, Kenlock, Chambers (c), McGuinness, Woolfenden, Dozzell, Downes, Nolan, Judge, Huws, Harrop, Bishop, Lankester, Thomas, Sears, Edwards, Parrott, Norwood, Jackson, Drinan.
Photo: Matchday Images
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