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FOCUS ON NORTHAMPTON

28 February 2014

All you need to know about tomorrow's opponents

Bristol Rovers' visit to Northampton Town pits two of the form teams in the Division together, even though you would not believe it looking at the League table.

In their last six games the Cobblers have won 3 drawn 1 and lost 2 (putting them in 6th place), Rovers have won 2, drawn 2 and lost 2 (putting them in 12th spot).

In mid-week the Midlanders moved off the bottom of the table for the first time this year after beating Southend 2-1. It is the first time the team has achieved back-to-back victories this season and although the gap to safety remains five points they are now in good form and starting to build momentum.

After just 7 minutes the home team went in front when Brennan Dickenson fizzed in a low cross that was put behind for a corner by John White. Chris Hackett delivered a whipped ball in that Mathias Kouo-Doumbe met with perfect timing and ferocity at the back post.

Just 10 minutes later the Shrimpers were level after a long run from midfield by Michael Timlin culminated in him slipping the ball past the Cobbler’s keeper Matt Duke.

Just before the hour mark, the Cobblers retook the lead with a goal created by substitute Alan Connell as his pass down the right-hand touchline allowed Emile Sinclair, to get beyond Ben Coker and pick out a pass to Hackett. The winger hammered the ball past Daniel Bentley in the Southend goal.

Speaking after the game Northampton Town manager Chris Wilder said, “It was another great effort by the players. I wanted us to play a little bit more first half - they didn't allow us to get our heads up, but we did in the second half. When the final whistle went, people weren't talking about our league position. 

"It's a valuable three points and if we play with the same commitment and drive that we have tonight, then we'll continue to be a difficult side to play against. I don't think anybody will fancy playing us at the minute.

“It was a tight game against a very good side and it had a little bit of everything really. Southend surprised us with their shape at first and they didn't allow us to play at all in the first half but we got to grips with it and I thought we got better as the game went on. The substitutes we brought into the game managed to put them under a bit of pressure, too.

“Gradually we wore them down and we could have nicked another one in the last 15 minutes of the match but it's a great effort and a very good result for us. We got the crowd off their feet with our committed performance and that is always pleasing as a manager.”

As members of the old Third Division (South) Rovers have a long tradition of games against the Cobblers. There have been some stirring games but perhaps none bring such painful memories than the Cobblers’ 1997/98 Play-off Semi-Final victory. 

In the first meeting between the clubs in 1907/08 season Rovers ran out 1-0 winners at the County Ground on 11 January 1908. In the first four post-World War II meetings between the teams the away team won the lot! 

The 1989/90 Championship season probably summed up the difference between a winning and losing team. In the game at Twerton Park on 29th October 1989, Bobby Brown was running the Rovers defence ragged and the undefeated home record looked in danger. Goals by Devon White and Paul Nixon had the game tied at 2-2. 

Late in the game Devon White was controversially brought down in the box and Holloway converted the penalty to give the Gas an unlikely lead.

Then with the seconds ticking away an unlucky Trevor Quow guided a clearance into his own net to give the final score of 4-2. It was all 6 points to Rovers largely due to their 'never say die' spirit, after another Ian Holloway penalty secured a 2-1 win at the County Ground.

The previous time Rovers had 'done the double' over the Cobblers was back in 1967/68 season. Two goals in the home game by Stuart Taylor secured the points at Eastville. However it was the game at the County Ground that had been so remarkable. 

Rovers’ away record was nothing to shout about, of their first 7 away games they had won 1 drawn 2 and lost 4, the Cobblers had won 5 of their previous 6 games. Converted Left Half (Remember them? They used to wear number 6) Ray Mabbutt had a field day in the County Ground mud.

Frank Large gave the home team an early lead but Rovers were quickly level when a Johnny Williams pile driver was parried by Harvey straight to Mabbutt, who stabbed the ball home.

Soon after Large was brought down in the box and Mackin scored from the spot. It fell to Bobby Jones scoring against his old club to restore Rovers to parity. 

A 30-yard shot from Johnny Williams gave Rovers a 3-2 lead but that man Large made sure things were all square by half time. It was some while into the second-half before the goals started to roll in again, Mabbutt accepting a simple tap in before Large scored the Cobblers fourth goal and completed his hat trick.

Not to be outdone Mabbutt scored once more to complete the only hat trick of his career and to give Rovers an incredible 5-4 away win

In the 1997/98 Play-Off Semi-Finals, having secured a 3-1 home win many Rovers fans were already booking tickets for Wembley. However the Cobblers thought (quite rightly, as it turned out) that their away goal, scored late in the game, would be crucial. So it turned out, the 3-0 reverse at Sixfields was stunning. 

At Sixfields Rovers' last victory was on 6 November 2007, since then they have had a 0-0 draw and lost 3-2 and 1-0 last season. At Northampton of the 43 games played the home team has won 24, there have been 9 draws and 11 Rovers’ victories.

Looking ahead to this weekend Chris Wilder is demanding his team finish off a so far excellent week with a good performance, “We talked about this being a big week and now we need to finish it off, “he said.

“Bristol Rovers are dangerous opponents and the players know that this game will be just as tough if not more so than the games we’ve played. We can be happy and pleased with our performances and results this week and we’ve got momentum in our favour now.
 
“The crowd are unbelievably behind us at the moment which is a brilliant thing because that does give the players a lift and it’s important that we keep that going.

"We’ve worked really hard to be a competitive side with good ability and we’ve got to keep bringing those two things together if we are going to do anything. Everybody has to put their body on the line and that’s what they’ve been doing.”

The Cobblers have no fresh injury worries Joe Widdowson, who sat out the Southend game with an ankle problem, will have a late fitness test on the injury. Defender Lee Collins will be out for the rest of the season after foot surgery, as will Kelvin Langmead (knee), Lewis Hornby (back) and Alex Nicholls (broken leg).

Written by Gerry Prewett.

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