Parity restored…now for a huge Good Friday!

MarquisNorthampton Town 1-0 Burton Albion

League Two

Saturday, April 12th 2014

There were periods of shambolic football. There was sudden hope and light at the end of the tunnel. There was more disappointment. There was the sense that all was lost. And then, suddenly, there was parity and a level playing field after months of torture. The Cobblers are level on points – finally – with the team in 22nd place in League Two and it just so happens that the team occupying that spot, Wycombe Wanderers, are the next opposition.

The Chairboys’ defeat at Newport County brought them to within touching distance of the Cobblers but it was events at Sixfields that created the most buzz and reinvigorated a season that a couple of weeks ago looked all but over. Town scrapped and fought their way to a single goal victory over Burton Albion, a side chasing automatic promotion, and ended up with the prize we’ve been craving since Chris Wilder took over – it’s now all in our own hands.

John Marquis was the man to produce the moment that would edge a tight contest as his shot was fumbled into the net by Burton keeper Robert Lainton with just a couple of minutes left until the break. It was the conclusion of a half that had seen the Cobblers adjust well to a change of shape to accommodate the big absences of Darren Carter and Zander Diamond. There were few chances until the goal but Albion could have been level straight away had Gregor Robertson not denied Shane Cansdell-Sheriff brilliantly in front of goal.

The second half was always going to be a tense, nervous one for the Cobblers but there never seemed huge danger from the visitors with Billy Kee’s cross-shot tipped onto the bar by Matt Duke proving to be Albion’s best effort. The atmosphere temporarily shifted to welcome back Kelvin Langmead from an eleven month absence and he slotted into defence for the last fifteen minutes or so after coming off the bench. Langmead’s recovery has been long and arduous but he may yet have a crucial role to play as we head into four incredible games that will decide our fate.

Saturday was hopefully just the start and it was so, so important to get the supporters, some of whom had given up after the Bury defeat, back into a state of believing once again. The atmosphere was back, the players responded and three points were garnered. Job done, and now four remain – win them all and we’ll be playing League Two football again next season.

That, of course, is unlikely and we know our beloved club well enough to know that during these last three weeks there’s more twists to come. We have, though, put ourselves in the pack and can drag not only Wycombe but plenty of others into big trouble if we win and bring ourselves out of the bottom two on Friday afternoon.

Wycombe will be just as up for it as us, though, so we need to take as many there as possible to create an atmosphere like we know we can do on our travels. We’ve had some unbelievable away days in recent years and if this one ends up with the Cobblers out of the drop zone then it will surely go down on that list of watershed moments.

Our club are dangling that carrot of hope in front of us once again…now is the time to bite!

Northampton Town v Burton Albion: Match Preview

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Northampton Town v Burton Albion

League Two

Saturday, April 12th 2014

A year ago this would have been a crunch game between two promotion chasing clubs. Since then, though, only Burton have taken last season’s form on to challenge for a place in League One again. The importance for the Cobblers is, of course, the fight against relegation this time around and with a monumentally decisive Easter double header coming up against Wycombe and Portsmouth we desperately need three points here.

The visitors come to Sixfields having kept three clean sheets in a row with back to back 1-0 home victories over Wycombe and Plymouth sandwiching a goalless draw at fellow promotion hopefuls York City. They’ve also only been beaten once in nine games and sit just three points off a place in the top three. It’s a very similar position to the one that the Cobblers found themselves in at this stage last season and we can only look in envy as we try to ensure that we get another crack at League Two in August.

The big talking point from a Cobblers point of view is the possible return of Captain Marvel Kelvin Langmead to action after eleven months on the sidelines. Langers has been the biggest absentee this season but with a couple of injury and eligibility issues at the back there’s a small chance that he will play some part after coming through seventy minutes of a behind closed doors game recently. Chris Wilder included him in the warm up last weekend at Accrington and, whilst he’ll be wary of throwing him in too soon (Hi Aidy, how’s it going?!), he’ll be more than tempted to call upon a man who may yet have a big role to play in league survival.

Whether that survival comes to fruition depends on a sterling effort from every single player from here on in though. Sixfields can be quite unforgiving at times and now we have to turn things on their heads and make it unforgiving for the opposition and not just for the players we’re entrusting with keeping our football club in the league.

Team News…

The Cobblers will be missing key duo Zander Diamond and Darren Carter with Diamond ineligible to play against his parent club and Carter suspended after picking up too many bookings in recent weeks which means he also misses the key trip to Wycombe on Good Friday. The aforementioned Langmead may start on the bench with Gregor Robertson the likeliest to come in for Diamond. Ben Tozer is set to come into the midfield in place of Carter with Gary Deegan another option (kind of).

Burton have top scorer Adam McGurk back after a hip injury and Phil Edwards and Marcus Holness return to the squad following illnesses.

Previous Six Meetings…

26/12/13: Burton 1-0 Cobblers (League Two)

The sides last met on Boxing Day with Ian Sharps’ header five minutes from time proving decisive in a tight contest at the Pirelli Stadium.

19/01/13: Cobblers 1-0 Burton (League Two)

In an equally close game in January 2013 it was Bayo Akinfenwa’s goal that won it for the Cobblers near the start of a long winning run at Sixfields/

29/09/12: Burton 3-3 Cobblers (League Two)

In a belter of a game at the Pirelli, Calvin Zola put the Brewers in front early on before a Kelvin Langmead own goal made it 2-0. Langmead made amends pretty quickly though by halving the deficit himself and David Artell equalised with fifteen minutes to play. There was still time for more drama, though, as Zander Diamond put the hosts back in front five minutes later and Alex Nicholls produced a stunner to finally take home a point for Town.

20/03/12: Burton 0-1 Cobblers (League Two)

In a massive six pointer at the wrong end of League Two, the Cobblers scored an injury time winner through Kelvin Langmead to move a step closer to survival at the end of the 2011/12 season.

26/12/11: Cobblers 2-3 Burton (League Two)

On Boxing Day of that season there were two goals in two minutes at Sixfields as the Cobblers took the lead through on loan striker Saido Berahino before Cleveland Taylor equalised for the visitors seconds later. Michael Jacobs put Town back in front from the spot but after John Johnson was sent off on eighteen minutes it was an uphill struggle for the Cobblers and Chris Palmer levelled things on the hour. Justin Richards would eventually seal the win for his side with a late penalty to keep us in the bottom two.

05/04/11: Burton 1-1 Cobblers (League Two)

Guillem Bauza gave the Cobblers the lead at the Pirelli Stadium but Aaron Webster equalised for the hosts just before half time.

The man in the middle…

The referee on Saturday will be Carl Berry who last took charge of the Cobblers in September 2012 for the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy win over MK Dons at Sixfields. Later that season he officiated Burton’s 2-1 win at Aldershot and was the referee for their recent 0-0 draw at Portsmouth.

Prediction…

Five games to go, three points from safety. I don’t need to write any more clichés about cup finals or must wins so it’s just all about going for it, getting behind the team and, most importantly, believing. 2-1.

15:07

At 3:07pm this Saturday we will all get a painful but timely reminder that whatever the predicament the Cobblers find themselves in by the end of a football match in the grand scheme of things won’t actually be all that important. Almost 25 years ago, 96 football supporters left their homes to go and support their teams but never came back.

The Football League is joining the Premier League, FA Cup and all other levels of football this weekend by moving their kick off times to seven minutes past their scheduled start time to pay respect to the families and individuals affected by the Hillsborough disaster in 1989.

I wasn’t even aware of the tragedy when it happened and had actually only just started to show any sort of interest in football at the tender age of four and a half but whenever I read an article or watch a documentary about it I can’t help but be deeply saddened.

I’ve been going to matches with my Dad since the early 90′s and never once did I ever imagine that I wouldn’t come home with him too. That was the reality of Hillsborough – families were torn apart, husbands and wives lost their life partners and the game that they loved was suddenly put deeply into perspective.

I’m not in any way qualified to lead an all out attack on the simply appalling cover ups and lies published by a certain newspaper that I cannot even name out of disgust for their coverage at the time – I leave that to the excellent JFT96 campaign who are doing a sterling job of never giving up the fight of achieving some sort of justice for the innocent souls who lost their lives. But what I do feel comfortable in saying is that maybe in the seven minutes between our usual kick off time and the scheduled one on Saturday we can remember how much of a privilege we have to watch our football clubs each and every week.

The Cobblers are of course in danger of losing league status and the Burton game is the first of five cup finals in the coming weeks. But the majority of us will be fit and healthy enough to come back in August no matter what division we’re in. That’s the beauty of football – when all is said and done, we go back because we love our clubs no matter what. On April 15th 1989, 96 loyal supporters couldn’t go back again and I hope this weekend’s set of memorials across the country can not only serves as a reminder to all fans that there’s always another week or another season but also serves as another tribute to our fallen brothers of the game and to those who will not give up the fight for their justice.

 

Cobblers clinging on after huge win at Accrington

Hackett...match winner

Hackett…match winner

Accrington Stanley 0-1 Northampton Town

League Two

Saturday, April 5th 2014

The Cobblers live to fight another day. League safety is still the same distance away as it was at the start of the day but the victory over Accrington Stanley at the Crown Ground was absolutely pivotal given that both Wycombe Wanderers and Portsmouth, the two teams directly ahead of us before kick-off, also picked up three points. You could see it as another weekend of frustration with those results going against us but had we not picked up a morale boosting victory of our own those curtains would start to close.

It was the best possible response to a week that featured an outpouring of emotion from Cobblers fans after a shocker of a performance at home to Bury last weekend. And it took just a few minutes to produce something clinical to hang on to for the rest of the afternoon as Chris Hackett raced onto a through ball, knocked it around goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli and finished from a tight angle. There was just three minutes on the clock but if Chris Wilder asked for his players to come racing out of the blocks then he most certainly got his wish.

With limited chances at either end of the pitch, it was down to Darren Carter to give us the other significant talking point of the first half as he picked up his tenth booking of the season which now means a two match ban for a man who has become as influential as anyone in recent weeks. Carter has had a renaissance in the second half of the season and his absence from the Burton home game and what is now looking like a season definer at Wycombe is a massive blow.

There was one final chance in the opening forty five for the Cobblers as Emile Sinclair took the ball around Bettinelli but was denied by a defender tracking back for the hosts. That could have given us significant space to play with in the second half but as it was we were all on tenterhooks once again and just willing the clock to tick down.

It was becoming more and more apparent that those above us weren’t going to give an inch so we had to dig in and try to hang on to what we had. Leon McSweeney made a massive saving tackle on the hour mark as Stanley threatened before John Marquis hit the post with a late header. Then it came down to the final few minutes and the home side were throwing more and more at us as expected.

Tom Aldred forced Matt Duke into a good stop as Cobblers fans’ hearts were tested once again – thoughts turned to the crushing blow of Wimbledon’s leveller at Sixfields deep into stoppage time and we couldn’t afford for that to happen again. A couple of late flurries tested our nerves but this time we clung on to three gutsy and priceless points to breathe fresh and much needed life into our survival bid.

The away form this year is the unexpected fuel to that bid with Sixfields instead holding us back at the moment. Town have won four out of eight away from home since the turn of the year, drawing three and losing just once. Chris Wilder has continued his winning formula on the road having come through the first half of the season with Oxford unbeaten away from home and it’s becoming an unexpected safety net after more frustrating home results.

The main relief is that we’re still fighting and have arrested the ill feeling from last weekend when it looked like everything may be slipping away. The challenge now is to bring that away form and the connection being felt between player and fan back to Sixfields. The barriers of fans turning up and waiting to be entertained, grumbling when we go behind, is hard to break but it’s not impossible.

There is still time. There is still hope. And, most importantly, there’s belief once again. Over to the players to keep it going against Burton to set up what is set to be a monumental game at Adams Park on Good Friday.

Hang on in there!

Accrington Stanley v Northampton Town: Match Preview

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Accrington Stanley v Northampton Town

League Two

Saturday, April 5th 2014

The tunnel is getting darker and darker and it’s getting increasingly difficult to see that light at the end of it – the Cobblers are in deep, deep trouble and are not in any way playing the type of football or showing the desire needed to make a great escape. There are, however, six games to go and there’s still just about time for something drastic to happen to change our outlooks.

It’s perhaps a blessing in disguise that we’re away from home this weekend with Sixfields becoming a melting pot of exasperation in recent games and the players simply not performing in front of their home support. On the road we’ve actually become more effective and it’s no surprise that Chris Wilder forged a playoff push this season with Oxford United on the back of results away from home.

The bad news for us is that we only have three away games left out of six so the need for the form to continue is absolutely huge as we head to face an Accrington side that have climbed to 15th in recent weeks and are nine points clear of the Cobblers. Their thoughts will all be geared towards beating us and claiming what would be a position almost guaranteeing safety by 5pm on Saturday.

A single goal was enough for Stanley last weekend with Kayode Odejayi’s strike earning all three points at Exeter and they’ve lost just once in seven games coming into this crunch game.

If there is to be that piece of magic or moment that turns our emotions on their head then it needs to happen right now – we can ill afford anything like the performance of last weekend to happen again. If it does, then the light becomes a flicker rather than a ray of hope…

Team News…

Accrington have no new injury concerns ahead of the game and a near to full strength squad has trained this week. Defender Adam Buxton came off during last weekend’s win at Exeter with a rib injury but has recovered and should start. Laurence Wilson and Marcus Carver are still missing but they’re the only absentees for the home side.

Cobblers defender Gregor Robertson could be in line for a return after pulling out of last weekend’s defeat against Bury through illness in the hour before kick-off. Joe Widdowson is still missing, though, with the ankle injury that’s kept him out of the last few weeks and he could struggle to make another appearance this season. Kelvin Langmead played his first game since May this week in a behind closed doors friendly with Watford but it’s unlikely that he’ll be risked in the final few games of the season either.

Previous Six Meetings…

30/11/13: Cobblers 1-0 Accrington (League Two)

Loanee Stuart Dallas won the Cobblers the match last time out with the only goal of the game at Sixfields on the half hour mark.

09/03/13: Cobblers 2-0 Accrington (League Two)

Chris Hackett and Roy O’ Donovan struck in the first half of last season’s Sixfields encounter with the Cobblers recording an important victory on the road to the playoffs.

10/11/12: Accrington 2-4 Cobblers (League Two)

Bayo Akinfenwa hit a stunning hat-trick including a memorable diving header to earn a big three points for the Cobblers at the Crown Ground. The big man had given us the lead early on before George Miller and Romy Boco turned the game in the home side’s favour. But substitute Jake Robinson equalised before Bayo took centre stage to score the two goals that won it for Town.

17/03/12: Accrington 2-1 Cobblers (League Two)

Jamie Devitt put Stanley in front just before half-time before loan striker Brett Williams looked to have earned us a point. But Craig Linfield popped up with three minutes to go to win the game for the hosts as the Cobblers battled relegation at the end of the 2011/12 season.

06/08/11: Cobblers 0-0 Accrington (League Two)

The opening day of that season saw the sides cancel each other out on a frustrating afternoon. Jake Robinson went closest for Town with a turn and shot that was cleared off the line in the first half.

02/04/11: Accrington 3-1 Cobblers (League Two)

Accrington took a three goal lead into half-time through Ian Craney’s double strike and Sean McConville. Michael Jacob’s second half goal wasn’t enough to prevent a big defeat at the Crown Ground.

The man in the middle…

Taking charge at the Crown Ground will be Fred Graham who was the official for Town’ 2-1 win at Newport County in December. His last Accrington game was their 0-0 draw at Plymouth Argyle back in September.

Prediction…

It’s getting towards the point of no return but while there’s time on the clock and games to play I’m not giving this up. Away from home we seem to play with a bit more freedom at the moment and that’s understandable given the home pressures. So I’m going for it this week – 1-0 to the Cobblers.

Stand up and be counted before it’s too late…

standup

I’d like to say it couldn’t get any worse than this. A comprehensive defeat at home to a supposed relegation rival is pretty low and if the Cobblers carry on in this manner than no-one above the relegation zone will need to worry a jot in the next few weeks. Chris Wilder seemed to have everything in control and had been snapping away at the gap between ourselves and those whom we’re chasing but the last couple of performances have taken us back to those dark days where it all looked a certainty that we would be going down.

What’s more upsetting than the result, as bad as that was, is that the majority of the side don’t seem to properly understand that they’re in a relegation fight. Whether it’s down to half of them being safe in the knowledge that they won’t be here next season is one to debate but quite simply a professional football should be playing for all he’s worth no matter how long the contract.

The players drafted in should be seeing the likes of Kelvin Langmead, Lewis Hornby, Lee Collins and Alex Nicholls on the sidelines and fighting for THEM. They’re all helplessly watching their side drift closer and closer to the drop. There’s a manager who’s been entrusted to keeping us in the division – they should be fighting for HIM. But most of all there’s thousands of Cobblers fans around the country and, in some cases, the world who live and breathe Northampton Town, who embrace each other through the highs and shed a tear with each other through the lows – they should be fighting for US.

I commented on the demise of Barnet when we sent them down at Sixfields last season and particularly mentioned the apathy being shown by players and fans alike. Their team had just been sent to non-league and plenty of them hardly batted an eyelid but instead just shrugged it off as if it were expected that much. How miserable it would be if we end up in six games time in the same state.

But that’s the reality we’re facing if this carries on.

I know a lot of people who have completely given up and any sane person who saw the Bury defeat would absolutely agree with them. But personally, and despite all the evidence pointing against it, I can’t concede that my team are going into the Skrill Premier that easily. While there’s time on the clock and games to play I simply can’t accept it – football has a funny way of turning around in the most desperate of times.

It won’t happen by magic, though – the players, temporary and permanent, need to clear the air and remember how to win football matches. They need to remember that their futures and reputations are on the line and that there are thousands of fans out there whose lives they will affect in the next few weeks. This game is a matter of life or death to so many and it should mean just as much to the players who are picking up a hefty wage each and every week because we’ll be there long after they’ve gone and if they have any pride whatsoever in their work then the next six games should become the biggest of their lives.

They’re definitely going to be the biggest of ours…

Northampton Town v Bury: Match Preview

sixfieldspanorama

Northampton Town v Bury

League Two

Saturday, March 29th 2014

Having come so close to drawing level with those above the relegation zone’s ever thinning line on Tuesday night, the Cobblers welcome Bury to Sixfields on Saturday afternoon looking to drag the Shakers right into the relegation battle once again.

Bury were on the way out of danger about a month ago but March hasn’t been kind to them with no wins from seven games in a run that’s seen them draw five times and lose twice. That’s left them four points ahead of the Cobblers who themselves have been suffering from too many draws in recent weeks having also shared the points on five occasions in March.

There are now four ex Town players in the Bury squad to add extra spice to this game after Hallam Hope signed on loan this week and he joins Clive Platt, Lewis Young, and Nathan Cameron to make their returns tomorrow. Another man facing his former club is Cobblers assistant manager Alan Knill who was the top boss at Gigg Lane between 2008 and 2011 before he moved on to Scunthorpe United.

Plenty of handshakes and reunions then but there’s no room for niceties in an absolutely massive relegation clash that the Cobblers simply have to win after that late heartache on Tuesday night. Time to hold those nerves again for another emotional Saturday afternoon…

Team News…

The Cobblers welcome back John Marquis after the striker returned on loan from Millwall this week and he goes straight into the squad. Only five of our six loan players will be allowed in the squad though with Marquis, Zander Diamond, Cristian Lopez, Evan Horwood, Emile Sinclair and Brennan Dickenson all vying for those spots.

Bury have signed former Cobblers loan striker Hallam Hope until the end of the season and also brought in Barnsley striker Danny Rose on a similar deal with both players pushing for starts. Elsewhere, midfielder Tom Soares is hoping to be fit after a hamstring injury.

Previous Six Meetings…

14/12/13: Bury 1-1 Cobblers (League Two)

David Flitcroft’s first game in charge of Bury ended in a draw back in December after Dean Howell’s own goal handed the Cobblers a point. Daniel Nardiello’s spot kick had given the hosts the lead a few minutes earlier after a Ricky Ravenhill foul on Craig Jones,

09/04/11: Cobblers 2-4 Bury (League Two)

Bury stunned the Cobblers in April 2011 by going four up inside an hour thanks to goals from Ryan Lowe, Damien Mozika and two from Nicky Ajose. Shaun Harrad’s brace got us back some pride but the points went back to Gigg Lane as Bury took a giant leap towards League One.

21/08/10: Bury 1-1 Cobblers (League Two)

Steve Guinan’s penalty put the Cobblers in front on the half hour mark but David Worrall’s second half goal meant that the points were shared.

08/05/10: Cobblers 1-1 Bury (League Two)

On the final day of the 2009/10 season and with the Cobblers chasing an unlikely playoff berth, Ryan Lowe’s goal on the stroke of half time sunk any hopes of a dramatic end to the campaign. The second half saw Bury’s James Poole sent off before Bayo Akinfenwa scored with his final touch of the ball in that spell as a Cobblers player to give us a draw.

10/10/09: Bury 2-2 Cobblers (League Two)

An excellent fight back from Town in October 2009 as David Worrall and Ryan Lowe’s goals were cancelled out by second half strikes from Courtney Herbert and Bayo Akinfenwa.

28/01/06: Bury 0-2 Cobblers (League Two)

The Cobblers had this game sealed before half time as an own goal from Andy Parrish and an Andy Kirk effort gave us the lead before the sending off of Bury’s Nathan Jarman gave us the platform to ease through the second half and claim an important three points.

The man in the middle…

In charge at Sixfields on Saturday will be Stephen Martin who was the official for this season’s FA Cup First Round game at Bishop’s Stortford in November. At the end of that month he also refereed Bury’s 2-2 draw at Exeter. Martin has showed forty nine yellow cards and two red so far this season.

Prediction…

The good money is on the draw for this one if our recent form is anything to go by but if the crowd are behind us from the off then I can see us getting in front and frantically trying to hold on at the end. Nerves will be jangling but I’m staying positive…1-0.