PREVIEW: Luton Town v Northampton Town

Adam Watkins celebrates his winner against Northampton
Adam Watkins celebrates his winner against Northampton

The wheels are starting to show signs of falling off at Northampton ever so slightly after a run of three straight defeats coupled with an ever-increasing injury list.

The Cobblers had been fancied as one of the teams to challenge for promotion despite only just escaping relegation by the skin of their teeth last season, after spending over 200 days in the bottom two.

The campaign started well enough with victory over Mansfield, and then an excellent 3-2 triumph at Wolves in the Capital One Cup.

Four games without a win then followed, including a 3-0 exit at Bournemouth in the cup.

However, it looked like Cobblers were back on track, with five wins and a draw from eight games, including a 5-1 hammering over Hartlepool, although they did also lose a nine-goal thriller 5-4 at home to Accrington.

But a more than decent 1-0 win at Morecambe followed, while they also triumphed 2-1 at Portsmouth in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.

After a respectable 1-1 draw at Wycombe, the results started to go downhill, with three straight league reverses, including 3-1 at home to Oxford on Tuesday night.

A mass of injuries haven’t helped either, with star striker Marc Richards one of the most keenly felt absentees as boss Chris Wilder told BBC Northampton the squad who travel to Luton will be their weakest of the season.

He said: “We’ve got fantastic players that we signed not available, they’d get into the majority of League Two sides.

“We are going to be the weakest we’ve been all season (against Luton), but I stand up for these situations. Maybe that’s where I’ve made my name.

“It’s not how you’re judged when you’re winning games, it’s when things go against you that you show your true qualities. That’s what the players have to do.”

Off the pitch, it’s not been the greatest month for Northampton either as they were fined £1,000 by the Football Association, along with Wycombe, after a scuffle at the end of their 1-1 draw.

Meanwhile, Wilder himself could be suspended from the Cobblers touchline for three games after he was charged by the FA for three counts of improper conduct when he was sent to the stands during the 3-2 defeat at Cheltenham last weekend.

Team news: Hatters’ only real injury worry is Ross Lafayette who continues to recover from his hernia operation.

The likes of Fraser Franks, Curtley Williams and Paul Connolly are all back in training now, although might not be considered for selection just yet.

For Cobblers, Chris Hackett is rated as doubtful, while leading goalscorer Marc Richards, club captain Lee Collins, Zander Diamond, Evan Horwood, Lewis Hornby and Ian Morris are out.

Boss Chris Wilder said: “I think if you were putting together a dream team from the division and you asked the managers of the other clubs who they would pick, a lot of them would pick our injured players.

“Those players are also good personalities and characters too and that’s something else that we lose from having around the squad when they’re not available.”

Top scorers: Hatters: Mark Cullen (8). Cobblers: Marc Richards (8).

Average League Two crowds: Hatters: 8,390. Cobblers: 4,503.

Man in the middle: Darren Sheldrake, referee has made something of a name for himself already this season, showing five reds in just nine games, while brandishing 27 yellows too.

Last year, he booked 118 and sent off seven players, while in one game alone, the Stevenage v Oldham clash in League One, showed a hefty 11 yellows.

Saturday will be the first time he has officiated a Luton Town game though.

In charge: Chris Wilder 47-year-old who started his playing career at Sheffield United, before spells with the likes of Rotherham, Charlton, Brighton, Notts County and Bradford City before retiring in 2001 while at Halifax.

Began his managerial stint at Alfreton in October 2001 and won four trophies in the 27 weeks he was in charge, the Northern Counties (East) League Premier Division, the League Cup, the President’s Cup and the Derbyshire Senior Cup.

Lured back to Halifax in July 2002 to replace caretaker boss Neil Redfearn and was in charge for over 300 games until the club went into liquidation in June 2008, as he then went to Bury, as assistant to Alan Knill.

Stayed at Gigg Lane for less than six months, as he was appointed Oxford United boss in December 2008 and led the club back into the Football League with a play-off final win over York City.

Resigned as the United boss in January 2014 and moved to Northampton on a long-term deal, saving the club from relegation on the final day of the campaign with victory over Oxford.

View from the opposition: Cobblers boss Chris Wilder: “Luton are absolutely flying at the moment and I’m sure the supporters there will be right behind them but I think it’s a great game for us to be involved in.

“It’s a game people looking at it probably won’t expect us to get anything from but I’ll certainly be up for the battle, the staff will be and most importantly I’m sure the players will be.

“I know we will take great support and it’s the right time for us to get a result.

“Long-term expectations of course are going to be effected by the players and characters we’ve got missing but as a manager and players you can only effect the short-term and that is the result on Saturday.”

One to watch: With Marc Richards out injured, much is expected of Kaid Mohammed, who has four goals to his name this season.

The 30-year-old forward penned a season-long loan deal from Port Vale after spending time the second half of last year’s campaign with Bristol Rovers.

Has impressed earlier in his career for Bath City and AFC Wimbledon, where he bagged a hat-trick in the Conference play-off victory over Fleetwood.

Friendly faces: Hatters midfielder Luke Guttridge spent two seasons at Northampton from August 2008 to July 2010 after signing on a free transfer from Colchester.

Played over 50 matches, scoring nine goals in total, before he moved to Aldershot in the summer of 2010.

Meanwhile, defender Luke Wilkinson moved to Northampton on loan from Portsmouth in January 2010 but didn’t make an appearance for the club.

Cobblers youth team coach Craig Hinton had a loan spell with Luton in the 2010-11 season, playing twice in the FA Trophy.

We’ve got form: Luton have a simply incredible record against Northampton at home in the Football League and FA Cup, with an amazing 22 wins, four draws and just one defeat since 1910.

In that time, Luton have only failed to score once, that their only loss, racking up 62 goals and conceding just 23.

The biggest victory has been 4-0, recorded three times, in 1928, 1931 and the FA Cup in 1961 when Gordon Turner (2), Allan Brown and Alec Ashworth all scored.

Town’s one defeat was a League Two meeting in February 2001 as Jamie Forrester and soon to become Hatters legend Steve Howard.

Last time out: Town’s last home game with the Cobblers was viewed as an FA Cup upset, as in the first round back in November 2011, Hatters, then a Conference side, ran out 1-0 winners.

Midfielder Adam Watkins came off the bench on 75 minutes and moments later fired home the only goal of the game.

Hatters: Kevin Pilkington, George Pilkington, Jake Howells, Curtis Osano, Jamie Hand, Janos Kovacs, Keith Keane (Danny Crow 43), Alex Lawless, John Paul Kissock (Adam Watkins 75), Amari Morgan-Smith (Robbie Willmott 43), Aaron O’Connor.

Subs not used: Mark Tyler, Dan Gleeson, Dean Beckwith, Shane Blackett.

Attendance: 4,799.

Referee: Andy D’Urso.