Saturday, February 22nd 2014
It’s the start of three home games in a row and the unofficial start of the final straight of the season. Sixteen games remain with ten of them coming at Sixfields so you don’t need to be a mastermind to figure out what needs to be done. Town haven’t won a game at home in 2014 and while only three have been played due to postponements it’s still something that has to change now. The defeat at Fleetwood last time out makes it that bit more imperative that we pick up at least six or seven points from the coming weeks’ football to put us at least back in touching distance with the other relegation candidates, a few of whom we play in the coming fixture back log.
The first of a trio of massive encounters sees Hartlepool United rock up into town with more than a passing glance at the playoffs coming from Victoria Park. The Monkey Hangers sit in ninth place and are six points off the top seven but confidence is building after an unbeaten February so far. That run included an excellent 3-0 win over Newport County last weekend before Tuesday night’s decent 1-1 draw at Roots Hall against Southend United. They had to come from a goal behind in that one as Bradley Walker’s long range volley pegged the Shrimpers back after Barry Corr’s opener just before the break.
Colin Cooper is still cutting his teeth in the hot seat with the appointment last May his first as a full time manager having previously only taken caretaker charge at Middlesbrough and Bradford City. The rebuilding job has been a steady one, though, and it’s a credit to the former ‘Boro, Millwall and Nottingham Forest defender that he’s managed to stabilise the club after last seasons’ relegation from League One. They still harbour hopes of making a return at the first attempt and will be looking for three big points on Saturday.
The Cobblers, though, need to be fired up and have to bring the home support with them. Get it right in the three games at Sixfields this week and we’ll start to believe again that the great escape can be built on the sort of form that saw us clamber into the playoffs this time a year ago.
It’s now or never…
The Cobblers were dealt another blow this week with the news that Lee Collins will be out for the rest of the season with a foot tendon injury. Chris Wilder has worked quickly to bring in a replacement with an emergency loan deal for Burton Albion’s former Scotland Under 21 international Zander Diamond sealed in time for Saturday’s game. Diamond started his career with Aberdeen and after over 200 appearances for the club moved south to Oldham Athletic in 2011 before moving to Burton a year later, playing a big part in their run to the League Two playoffs last season. Diamond goes straight into the squad for this one. Gregor Robertson also comes back into contention for a defensive place after missing out last weekend.
Elsewhere, Emile Sinclair and Alan Connell will be hoping to reclaim starting berths after both were benched in a switch of tactics at Fleetwood.
For Hartlepool, Neil Austin is still struggling to recover from a toe injury suffered when making a goal bound block in a match against Scunthorpe United recently. Austin has missed the last three games and though he’s stepped up his recovery he remains a doubt for the visitors. Apart from that, though, the visitors have no fresh injury worries and could name an unchanged side.
Previous Six Meetings…
23/11/13: Hartlepool 2-0 Cobblers (League Two)
The Cobblers came close to breaking the deadlock earlier this season at Victoria Park when Luke Norris crashed a header against the post but the home side took the lead mid-way through the first half through Luke James. Just after half time the game was made safe when Mathias Doumbe felled James Poole and Simon Walton beat Matt Duke from the penalty spot.
31/08/10: Hartlepool 4-0 Cobblers (JPT First Round)
A comfortable win for the Pools in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in 2010 as goals from Evan Horwood, Anthony Sweeney, Andy Monkhouse and Denis Behan sent them into the Second Round.
16/01/09: Hartlepool 2-0 Cobblers (League One)
Joel Porter’s brace helped the hosts to a good win over the Cobblers back in the heady days of League One.
10/10/08: Cobblers 1-0 Hartlepool (League One)
Karl Hawley’s first half goal was enough to give Town victory at Sixfields in a tight contest in October 2008.
22/02/08: Hartlepool 0-1 Cobblers (League One)
This one looked as though it was petering out towards a goalless draw until Giles Coke popped up with a big goal for the Cobblers to nick the three points with just eight minutes to play.
12/01/08: Cobblers 1-1 Hartlepool (League One)
Just over a month earlier and the sides shared the spoils at Sixfields. Liam Dolman had the Cobblers in front early on but Ben Clark netted on the stroke of half time to earn his side a point.
The man in the middle…
Bond… Darren Bond is the official for the clash at Sixfields. He last took charge of a Cobblers game last January in the 1-0 win over Burton Albion and was last the referee for a Hartlepool back in October as the Monkey Hangers beat AFC Wimbledon at Victoria Park. He’s shown 66 yellow cards and 3 reds so far this season.
Things have got to dramatically change at home if we’re going to avoid playing non-league football at Sixfields next season and I’m really hoping it starts with this Saturday to give the home fans a massive lift. Hartlepool are playing well and getting results as they look to gate crash the playoffs and it’ll take a big performance but we could nick it by the odd goal. 1-0.