After both gaining promotion to League One, Northampton and Plymouth Argyle have experienced very different starts to the season. The Cobblers are winless in three games, failing to score in each of those matches. Meanwhile, Ryan Lowe’s side have lost just once, convincingly dispatching Burton Albion 2-0 last Saturday.
Forward Danny Rose looks set to make his first appearance on the road. The 26-year-old arrives at the club from League Two side Mansfield, making his debut in last weekend’s defeat to Peterborough.
Defender Luka Racic was rested against Peterborough but should return to the side to face Argyle. The 21-year-old has only recently returned from a long-term injury.
Midfielder Scott Pollock remains unavailable. The 19-year-old is yet to feature this season due to a groin injury.
Predicted Line-Up (3-4-3)
Racic, Bolger, Horsfall
Adams, Watson, Missilou, Mills
Hoskins, Smith, Rose
Style of Play
Playing in a 3-4-3 formation, Keith Curle’s side look to stretch their opponents by keeping the ball out wide and hitting them on the counter attack. They often look to play the long ball, utilising the impressive passing abilities of Nicky Adams and Joseph Mills on the wing as well as Ryan Watson in midfield. This predictably means that during games that they have a lower rate of possession. The Cobblers currently average 44.9%, ranking them 22nd in League One which means they often have to be clinical when they do generate chances.
Despite scoring a respectable 54 goals last season, Curle’s side lacked a out-and-out goalscorer as midfielder Sam Hoskins and 32-year-old Andy Williams top scored with eight apiece. Forward duo Joe Nuttall (loan) and Danny Rose have joined from Blackpool and Mansfield respectively. Whilst Nuttall’s record is questionable, Rose has notched double-digit goals in three of his last four seasons in League Two for the Stags. However, at just 5ft 6in the 26-year-old isn’t a target man which means that it is likely he will be moved out to the left wing rather than played in his natural position.
At a colossal 6ft 5in, the Cobblers utilise forward Harry Smith as a targetman. Whilst not the out-and-out goalscorer that Northampton are craving, his hold-up play proves vital to the way in which the side operates. His robust frame makes him effective at holding the ball up as well as a threat from incoming crosses and set pieces. Curle’s side will look to use his skillset to their advantage against an Argyle side that have proven themselves to be vulnerable from set plays this season.
Playmaker Nicky Adams has often been used as a right defensive midfielder. The 33-year-old recorded an impressive 12 assists last season, being the only Northampton player to feature in all 37 fixtures in League Two. The former Bury man is vital to how his side play, effectively playing a sitting role. His range of passing, particularly long balls, forces opposition sides to sit deeper in order to combat his influence. On the other side, wing-back Joseph Mills looks to reduce the creative responsibilities of Adams. The 30-year-old recorded an impressive seven goals and six assists for Forest Green in League Two last season. Whilst not the best when it comes to tackling, the former Reading man possesses an impressive range of passing as well as providing a threat from set pieces with his excellent aerial abilities.
Playing with two central midfielders, Christopher Missolou and Ryan Watson are tasked with helping to transition play from defence to attack. Watson provides the physical presence and is impressive in the air. Missolou, a summer signing from League Two side Oldham, is better with the ball at his feet, often looking to make runs and get the ball out wide to the likes of Adams and Mills. Both have been found to lack discipline so far this season, picking up five yellow cards between them. This is something that is likely to be targeted by opponents should it continue.
Nicky Adams is the standout player for Northampton and was the linchpin for their promotion from League Two last season. The 33-year-old returned to action from injury for last weekend’s 2-0 defeat to Peterborough in a season where Curle’s side have found themselves regularly disrupted by absences. He proved instrumental during his side’s Play-Off run, inspiring their comeback in the semi-finals as well as their dominant performance against Exeter City in the final.
The Welshman’s creative presence, even from what is often a more disciplined holding role has been phenomenal, recording 52 appearances in his last five seasons. For what the veteran lacks in pace and physicality, he certainly makes up for with his vision and passing ability. Adams’ 16 assists in all competitions ranked him amongst the likes of Kevin de Bruyne and Mathias Pereira as the highest assist provider in the EFL.
Northampton’s defence played a massive part in their ascent to the Play-Off positions last season. They kept 15 clean sheets, the highest number in League Two. Predictably this attracted much interest in the summer with Charlie Goode joining Championship side Brentford. Fellow defender Scott Wharton returned to parent club Blackburn where he has stayed over the summer. Trio Cian Bolger, Luka Racic (on-loan) and Fraser Horsfall have arrived from Fleetwood, Brentford and Macclesfield respectively but will take time to gel. The Cobblers have conceded nine goals in five games this season. Only Burton (13) and Blackpool (10) have conceded more.
Possession and passing accuracy have proven to be a problem for Curle’s side this season. Their long ball style means that they see less of the ball and play riskier passes, which will cost them against possession orientated sides like Argyle. Their average possession (44.9%), twinned with their pass accuracy (51.7%) can be attributed largely as to why they have struggled in recent weeks, failing to score in their last three matches in League One.
Prediction: Plymouth Argyle 2-1 Northampton
Northampton are likely to come into the game short of confidence, much in the same way that Burton did last weekend. Their style of play will ensure that Argyle are likely to see the majority of possession which will allow them plenty of chances, doubtless we will look to control the game on home turf. The Cobblers are likely to target George Cooper in the same way that they did in last season’s 3-1 victory in Northampton. However, it was clear from that meeting that Sam Hopkins was central to their play, having a hand in all three of their goals. Should Argyle nullify the threat on the right, they will be confident of making it back-to-back victories for the first time this season.