THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Face fellow strugglers Bristol Rovers

icon relegation121 March ~ With 32 games played in League Two, Northampton Town's season may finally have flickered into life. Their midweek home win against play-off chasing Southend marks the first time that Cobblers have won two on the bounce this season, and saw them move off the bottom of the Football League, above Torquay, for the first time this calendar year. Today will tell if they have the stomach for survival. Opponents Bristol Rovers are in 19th place, just six points above them, but are having a recent resurgence of their own.

When the two sides met at the end of August, few would have predicted what how Northampton's campaign would develop, though the signs were there. A scrappy 1-0 win for Rovers, which saw the only goal come in the second minute and a red card for Northampton striker Roy O'Donovan, was the club's s fourth loss in their first five opening games. What was deemed a "hangover" from their play-off final defeat last season slowly developed into a coma, which eventually saw manager Aidy Boothroyd sacked just before Christmas.  

Under Chris Wilder, who wasn't appointed manager until late January after leaving promotion-chasing Oxford, Northampton are now starting to look like a different team – not least because there is a completely different set of players. Wilder has made eight new signings, five being loanees, since taking over. And while the desire of a team packed with loan players from higher-league parent clubs is always questionable in a relegation scrap, this latest intake appear genuinely enthused.

Today's match is unlikely to be a goalfest – Northampton's main problem this season has been scoring. The club holds the worst scoring record in League Two with just 27 goals in 32 games, and they will be looking to new attacking signings Emile Sinclair (who has already scored twice since joining), Alan Connell and John Marquis to help change that. Bristol Rovers have only gone marginally better, sharing the joint second-worst record of 31 goals all season with Torquay.

Northampton have picked up nine points from their last four matches and, perhaps more importantly, have shown resolve in an away win over fellow strugglers Torquay before the victory against Southend. Rovers, in comparison, have eight points from their last four – a run that has notably included formidable opposition in Burton, Oxford and Scunthorpe, three teams challenging for automatic promotion. Today's match could prove the tipping point in either team's fight for league status survival. Tom Shepherd

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