Only Portsmouth boast a better shot ratio than John Coleman’s men over the past 16 matches, their 63.5 per cent shot ratio dwarfing the Cobblers’ 52.2 per cent, yet it’s an imbalance that isn’t accurately reflected by the league table with eighth-placed Stanley seven points adrift of their hosts in third.
The played column has plenty to do with that. Accrington’s rained-off clash with Carlisle on Saturday was their third postponement of the campaign, and they have two games in hand on Northampton, who were forced to turn back down the M1 having already started their journey up to York.
But missing matches account for only part of the difference. Northampton have been on a phenomenal run, picking up 36 points from a possible 45 prior to their 2-1 home defeat against Pompey the weekend before last, results made all the more remarkable for the much-publicised financial crisis behind the scenes.
Full credit must go to Chris Wilder for not only steadying the ship throughout such a turbulent period, but actually galvanising the players to perform way above expectations. Now the natural assumption is that the Cobblers go from strength to strength on a sound financial footing following the recent takeover by Kelvin Thomas and his associates, but that’s not necessarily the case.
Whatever motivational fuel Wilder was using, a lot of emotion has been invested over the past three months and the underlying data suggests a regression to a fairly modest mean is more likely. According to the numbers, Northampton are essentially a borderline play-off team at best. We should probably give them a bit more credit than that, but it still doesn’t equate to the standards Stanley have been setting.
The Reds won’t be fearful of the Cobblers’ current standing, they’ve won four out of six away matches against top-half opposition, conceding just once every three hours across those matches and they arrive in fine fettle having picked up 14 points from the last available 18. According to my tissue, the visitors should be no bigger than 11/8.
Meanwhile, Wycombe are back in the play-off places having landed notable scalps in their last two matches but they are crying out to be opposed as odds-on favourites for the visit of under-rated Crawley. Gareth Ainsworth’s men revel as underdogs, which goes a long way towards explaining wins over Oxford and Luton, but they’re not the sort of team you want to be trusting at 4/5.
Crawley have been transformed since late September, yet the layers seem reluctant to forget a dismal start of one win from the first nine matches. No team should really be 19/5 at this level on the back of eight wins in 14 matches, yet that’s the price chalked-up next to the Red Devils ahead of the trip to Adams Park. It’s too big.