Keith Curle's men, 2-0 down, face a formidable defence, says Ian Lamont, and have the firepower to win their League Two play-off second leg, even if they don't win the tie...
"Last Thursday Northampton lined up with six of the players who faced the Robins in February, while Duff used 10 of the same starters. Maybe the big change up was a factor in defeat."
Cheltenham (2) v Northampton (0)
League Two play-off semi-final second leg
Monday, June 22, 20:00
A difficult lead to defend
Northampton manager Keith Curle's remarks after the first leg betrayed his frustration a circumstances: he believed his side could have had three other penalties on top of the one awarded that was saved. Naturally, he said, on another night they might have been awarded. The Cobblers' boss also believes that 2-0, Cheltenham's lead, is a difficult score to defend, because if the team behind them scores first, it unsettles the team with the lead. If. It's a huge word.
His opposite number Michael Duff was of course delighted with the lead, away from home, against "tough" opponents - which Northampton are, generally. Shape and resilience were key, he said, plus the fact they stood up against a barrage of balls into the box. The tie was certainly a lot more action packed than from Colchester and Exeter, with Northampton having 17 shots and six on target to Cheltenham's 10 and four.
Adams needs to be on top of his game to give Cobblers a chance
That 2-0 margin is the reason Cheltenham have been installed as favourites for the game at 2.68/5 with Northampton at 3.211/5 and the draw at about 3.412/5. That is the 90 minute game prices. Therefore, there has to be some value in assessing whether Northampton can win the match, even if they don't progress to the final.On Sportsbook their "to progress to the final" price is 9.08/1 and Cheltenham's at about 1.041/25. On the Exchange, Cheltenham are already 2.01/1 for promotion.
The Cobblers have proved quite capable of rattling in a few goals away from home, such as winning 3-0 at Grimsby at the end of February and at Salford, 2-1, in January. However, Northampton's overall away record is six wins, five draws and seven defeats with a -3 goal difference. A week before the 3-0 at Grimsby, they lost 2-1 at Cheltenham. The wins came from starting the game goalless of course. This is different. They have had a few days to dwell on being behind.
It is also noted that in last Thursday's play-off game Northampton lined up with six of the players who faced the Robins in February, while Duff used 10 of the same starters. Curle had stated that he had two players for each position and while he seems to have started with a genuine clean sheet for most positions, maybe the big change up was a factor in defeat.
Defender Charlie Goode's powerful long throws for Northampton were one of the weapons projecting balls into the box, but defensively he was exposed by Charlie Raglan who found too much space against him. On the other flank, Northampton wing-back Michael Harriman kept attacks at bay much more effectively. Arsenal loanee James Olayinka was most impressive of the midfielders, almost equalising at one point, while Nicky Adams put in plenty of work and crosses, that opposing defenders were in no mood to let through. He really needs to be on his game with quality crosses now.
The media associated with Cheltenham were heard remarking very positively how good the Robins defenders were. An added remark was that it was no wonder the unit - particularly Raglan, Ben Tozer and Will Boyle - conceded so few goals. The defenders probably heard them, such was the lack of noise in the stadium. Local media isn't always so supportive.
On balance, all that indicates that it will be tough for Northampton to overcome the wall in front of them, but they have the firepower to cause problems.
A tight encounter which visitors can edge
Northampton will have to take the initiative and that should make for spaces as they come forward. If they retain possession, a barrier will form in front of them, contracting from the top of Cheltenham's midfield. It is this priority and mentality for defending that Curle hopes to unpick. However, not only do Cheltenham seem good at it - with just two defeats and +18 goal difference at home - it is most likely to mean counter-attacks in the hosts' favour.
Luke Varney didn't even make it onto the field in the first leg, experienced ex-Plymouth man Reuben Reid starting with Tom Nicholls preferred to Alfie May to partner him. All of them are capable of scoring. Ryan Broom might also relish the space in front of him as Northampton throw people forward. The first 20 minutes might be more steady than urgent. The draw at half-time is even money, with a draw at half-time and full-time 14-1, while draw/Cheltenham is 9-2 and draw/Northampton is 11-2.
The two teams have been tightly matched all season and a low scoring game and a draw seem likely, possibly 1-1 in the correct score market which is 7.413/2. However, if Sam Hoskins returns from suspension to the lineup, it might just give the visitors the impetus to nudge a 2-1 win @ 13.012/1. They could win the "fight" as it were, but not the "war" to progress to the final.
Olayinka deserves backing after his chances
I'll take the chance that Olayinka's prowess in the first leg will turn into a goal at some point, backing him to score at any time at 8.07/1 rather than first - his price being 14.013/1 - as a bit of a hedge, but it could be that Northampton score but can't do enough. Olayinka has only played a couple of games on loan from his London parent club.
There's a chance Curle will revert to three forwards with Hoskins, displacing Olayinka. Nonetheless he might also keep in the youngster. It would be a shame if the 20-year-old missed out after his showing in the first leg. Hoskins is 8.07/1 to score first and 4.57/2 to net at any time. He also is the regular penalty taker.
It seems fair that Callum Morton, 20, priced 5.04/1 who is on loan from West Brom at Northampton, or May, 26, who is 5.59/2 top the betting to score first. However, May didn't start the first leg. Midfielder Broom, who has eight this season, also surely owes his manager Duff a goal. He is priced 9.08/1 for first goalscorer and 5.04/1 for any time, which seems slightly on the generous side as he is the Robins' top scorer this season.
Ian Lamont 2019/20 P/L
-11.68pt regular season