Cresswell signing a signal of intent

ryancresswellFor the second transfer deadline day in a row, Cobblers fans were on the edge of their seats – a strange position given the amount of times we’ve seen the dreaded “No ins or outs on deadline day” message come out in the past. After January’s last ditch signing of Emile Sinclair, we were once again treated to some big news as the window began to close last night.

At around 8:45pm, a tweet was sent out by the club promising a ‘major signing’ to be announced at 9:30pm – giving those of us on Twitter 45 minutes to speculate and predict who this big name was. No-one came close in the end and it was a very nice surprise when the announcement first came through from Fleetwood Town that we had paid a transfer fee (thought to be up to £150,000) for Ryan Cresswell.

For a centre back with multiple promotions, places on Teams of the Season and a reputation as one of the best defenders at this level it represents fantastic business. There’s an argument that we have plenty of cover in that position but when you consider that Lee Collins is likely to be out for a while, Kelvin Langmead is missing and Gregor Robertson and Ben Tozer are covering the full back positions it makes some sense. In addition to that, though, Cresswell is an outstanding signing for League Two and when you get a chance to bring in a leader of this calibre then you just have to go for it.

Credit has to go to David Cardoza again here – when he’s had the decision to make as to whether to put his hand in his pocket for Chris Wilder he’s done it and hopefully his trust is rewarded in the coming months.

The day had already seen one move in and one out of Sixfields with Alex Nicholls making his expected move on loan to Exeter City. I’d expected the deal to be until January, and that could still happen with an extension, but the month long agreement means that Nicholls can hopefully get some fitness and score some goals and then give Chris Wilder a big decision to make. It’s a great deal for all parties and it’s great to see Nicholls back on a football pitch again wherever he is.

Coming in to bolster the middle of the park is Leicester’s Ryan Watson on a loan deal until January. Watson has apparently been chased by Wilder since the Town boss came to the club so he’s got his man to provide more competition in midfield. I’m intrigued to see how Watson fits into the already bursting melting pot in that position and wonder if there’s any other niggling injuries in there that are worse than initially thought.

What Chris Wilder has done in this transfer window is provide us with a terrific squad to take us through the next few months. Whereas in the past we’ve had to dip into the loan market if a sudden injury rocks us, this time we seem to have ready-made competition already in the squad to step in.

An excellent Deadline Day all in all – now to translate the excitement and hype to the pitch.

Through a child’s eyes…

sixfields

Northampton Town 1-0 Exeter City

League Two

Saturday, August 30th 2014

We all remember our first game…it’s a rite of passage for everyone following the beautiful game and though we’ll always joke that we were made to go and that we’ll never forgive those who took us to The County Ground/Sixfields for the first time the truth is that the moment we stepped into a football ground for the first time was a pivotal moment in our childhood. I remember being in awe of the County Ground (yes, that was possible!) and its unique character (and characters that inhabited it), rendered speechless by the atmosphere and feeling a new sense of belonging.

I’m not sure if any of that happened on Saturday afternoon as my nephew, Harry, took his first ever steps inside Sixfields at the tender age of four but it was hard not to see the game through his innocent eyes – before the matches mean anything, before wall charts and rivalries, before favourite players and even before knowing what wins and losses mean. In all honesty, I was slightly envious!

No matter what the situation, nowadays a match day remains a stressful time – even five games into the season when defeats can be put to one side and you can say “it’ll be better once we’ve signed a couple of players.” Before the season started my wife asked when the first game was because she wanted to know “where my head would be” on Saturday afternoons. She had a point and you can sometimes not realise how much you are involved in supporting your team, especially when it’s from afar as is our situation.

Somehow having Harry with us on Saturday made the game that bit more relaxed. Seeing him looking around the stadium with wide eyes made me reminisce about those brief times at the County Ground when Efad Elad’s winding runs brought me back whenever there was a chance. Good times – before this footballing lark started to mean something and Saturdays were never the same again!

A proud Uncle moment indeed then as the Cobblers welcomed Exeter City, a side littered with injuries and off the pitch problems – this was set up for us to provide the little man with a memorable first game. Early on it looked exactly like that’s where it was heading with Chris Hackett being afforded all the time in the world on the right and linking up well with Ben Tozer to create some early chances that saw the restored Emile Sinclair and loan midfielder Joel Byrom have shots blocked.

Exeter weren’t about to lie down, though, and were playing to their strengths. They’ll likely be the smallest team to play at Sixfields this season until the end of season kids’ finals but utilised a slick passing game to try and prize apart the Cobblers defence. There wasn’t a lot for Matt Duke to do but as the half wore on Town became as disjointed as they looked in the second half against Shrewsbury last week.

John-Joe O’Toole remains a headache in midfield. Lining up as a holding man in the middle didn’t bear any fruit and often led to misplaced parts and frustration from both himself and from the stands. It’s not his position or his strength and the fact that he walks around the pitch with a slumped demeanour doesn’t help his public relations with the two sides of Sixfields that desperately want to see the man who scored fifteen times last season for Bristol Rovers appear here. Chris Wilder surely needs a rethink as to whether he plays him further forward or not at all from the start of games with O’Toole replaced with around twenty minutes to go in this one by the much more suited Ricky Ravenhill.

One man who was making more and more of an impression after the break was Kaid Mohammed. With Ivan Toney also now on the pitch, replacing Sinclair early in the second half, Mohammed was working the gaps provided by Toney’s runs and giving us a hugely needed spark from midfield. A Mohammed header led to Toney smacking the bar mid-way through the half as the Cobblers finally came alive.

Exeter were living on the edge and were relying on England under 20’s goalkeeper Christy Pym to keep them in the game. Pym was at his very best to keep out Toney again, Mohammed and Hackett and it looked as though we were about to be frustrated by a terrific young keeper who was giving a fine performance in the visitor’s goal.

But for the third time in four games there was a late, late twist when Ben Tozer’s long throw was flicked on twice and Marc Richards produced a bicycle kick that Toney himself would have been proud of that flew past Pym and into the net to the sound of relief from a home support not used to this kind of battling to the end spirit.

Exeter were beaten despite their very best efforts and the Cobblers reflect on more points salvaged from out of nowhere. That second half showed a new, vibrant side of Town and this is what we need to see more of, especially at home. The wide men Hackett and Mohammed are going to be crucial with central midfield the only real problem area as to how to fit in O’Toole whilst still giving sufficient cover to the back four.

The win leaves the Cobblers in eighth place with eight points and from the games we were dealt that’s not a bad return at all from a pretty hectic August. As things slow down a little for September we can take a breath between games (thankful for a bye in this week’s JPT First Round) and hopefully build as much space as possible between ourselves and that end of the table that “we’ll never go near again…”

Whatever happens, this was an afternoon not about what happened on the pitch but about a new Cobblers fan joining up and sitting through it all brilliantly. Through Harry’s eyes, this was all about seeing a live match and sharing in a pretty cool family moment – if he goes on to catch the Cobblers bug I hope he remembers this big moment but even if he never joins us in the stands again this was still one that will live in the memory of Uncle Dan.

Beware the wounded Grecian!

IMG_0588.JPGNorthampton Town v Exeter City
League Two
Saturday, August 29th 2014

Saturday’s game with Exeter City provides a realistic chance for the Cobblers to get back into some sort of stride after a late salvation against ten man Shrewsbury and Tuesday’s cup exit at Bournemouth. City have been under a transfer embargo during the summer which has only just been lifted and are without a win so far so on paper it’s a game we need to be looking for victory to stabilise some of the early promise we’ve shown.

But the Grecians possess one or two fine individual players (including Matt Grimes and Christy Pym who were called up to Aidy Boothroyd’s England Under 20s squad this week) and if they’re on their game and up for the fight of getting that first three points they will cause us problems, particularly if we start the game in a similar manner to the second half of last week’s draw. There’ll be no room for any complacency but the reality is that if we want to be challenging at the top end of the table then home games like this need to be won regularly.

The intriguing news on the team front this week has been Emile Sinclair’s transformation from being listed for loan last week to scoring last Saturday and putting in a good show at Bournemouth to being taken off the loan list following the striker’s rejection of a move to Cheltenham Town. Sinclair, to be fair to him, is battling for his place in the face of Ivan Toney’s emergence, Marc Richards’ decent start to his return and the new competition from the likes of David Moyo and Alex Nicholls – though the latter will be sent on loan himself next week it seems.

I would expect Danny Alfei to return to right back after shaking off his injury with Darren Carter also an option to come back into midfield. Just where Carter fits in is a big question. Joel Byrom was solid on his debut and you can’t see John-Joe O’Toole being dropped.

Exeter are likely to start with an unchanged team with Tisdale’s hand forced by a number of injuries to an already small squad. Jordan Moore-Taylor, Danny Butterfield, Tom Nichols, Jamie Reid and Christian Ribeiro are all missing at the moment so it’s set to be the same eleven that took to the field for the 1-1 draw with York City last weekend.

Despite all of that, we all know the Cobblers well enough to know that nothing’s ever that straight forward…

Out of jail at the death…

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Northampton Town 1-1 Shrewsbury Town

League Two

Saturday, August 23rd 2014

For the second time in seven days the Cobblers have escaped a game with a point when all looked more lost than Alistair Slowe on a team sheet.

This was my first look at the team this season and from the first half display against a fancied Shrewsbury Town outfit I was more than confident that we at least won’t be struggling at the wrong end of the table again this time out. The key difference, by a long way, was the organisation of the side that twelve months ago looked incoherent and aimless. Everyone seemed to know exactly what they were doing and when balls were cleared into touch it was noticeable how immediate shape was restored to our ranks.

It was these small differences that were giving me that dreaded emotion when watching the Cobblers – hope – as a first half bereft of clear cut chances moved on. The Cobblers were building up attacks well and all that was lacking was an illusive final touch in front of goal from a relatively quiet front two of Marc Richards and Ivan Toney.

Shrewsbury were content to soak up pressure and play on the break like many sides travelling away from home in this division, ourselves included, will do in the coming months. They certainly weren’t looking the dangerous force I’d predicted in the build up to the game until the big turning point that should have tipped the game in our favour worked only to highlight the visitors’ determination whilst also shining a light on our shortcomings that hadn’t yet been examined properly so far this season.

Liam Lawrence – he of playoff irritation whilst at Mansfield Town in 2004 – went in late on the impressive debutant Joel Byrom in the middle of the pitch and was shown a red card hastily by that most notorious of lower league referees Darren Deadman. Deadman was in the bad books of Shrews fans for the rest of the half whenever a decision went against them but despite a couple of decent openings and a long range effort from Byrom their side still had parity come half time.

This was where things started to go wrong. The Shrews came out firing after the break with substitute James Collins proving to be his usual menacing self and it was the man who returned to Shropshire in the summer who would provide most of his sides’ best moments.

On the hour mark, Jordan Clarke smacked the Cobblers bar from twenty five yards but we didn’t heed the warning. The second half Cobblers performance was disjointed and, at times, desperate and we could have no complaints when Shrewsbury took the lead. Ben Tozer, restored at right back in place of Danny Alfei, made a big mistake with a back pass and Collins needed no second invitation as he repositioned himself and finished with the aplomb of a man clearly ready to make an impact in his second spell with the club.

So a goal down and the Shrews had something even bigger to hold out for. The Cobblers were struggling to break them down, though, and all that early organisation went out the window in place of long balls, changes in formation and substitutions including Emile Sinclair on for Toney.

After the clock ticked down to what seems inevitable defeat all hope seemed lost with the away side holding up play as much as possible as well they might. But Sinclair – put up for loan this week and subject to an apparent approach from Cheltenham Town – snatched a point back when Lawson D’Ath, himself a substitute, crossed beautifully for the former Macclesfield man to nod in on his third goal for the Cobblers since joining in January.

Incredibly, we could have won it when Kaid Mohammed curled in a late effort that went just wide. If getting a point was lucky, that would have been daylight robbery of the highest order, though, and we settled for a point.

Shrewsbury will be hurt by the late goal but will still come away perhaps the happier of the two camps after showing real grit and mettle, particularly at the back. For the Cobblers, there’s more lessons to learn going forwards.

There was a disturbing change at half-time in the way we played. Players who had shown real promise in the first half disappeared from the game and only time and more tests like this will show whether that was entirely to do with us or whether Shrewsbury were just tactically better.

Toney could do with a break from this showing – the young man thrust into the limelight could do with being taken out of it for a couple of weeks. The worst case scenario is that we pile too much on his shoulders and his situation needs to be well managed by Mr Wilder.

Sinclair and Alex Nicholls could both end up out on loan by this time next week with the latter having trained with Next Saturdays opponents Exeter City over the last couple of days. It would be a strange one to let both go out with just Richards, Toney and David Moyo the only other recognised out and out forwards left but perhaps the loans being talked about are short term deals designed to get them both games quickly before they return to fight for their places again.

The squad does look in decent nick and points are coming in where a year ago we would have been dead and buried so progress is slowly but surely being made on this viewing. Forty five minutes of poor showing against a battling front runner for promotion will be forgotten in the long term as long as we can come back next week and pick up three points in an altogether more winnable game against Exeter City.

Before that is the League Cup Second Round tie at Bournemouth on Tuesday where we’ll return to a position of underdogs which could help one or two get their groove back in a pressure free environment ahead of that second consecutive home league game.

I’m staying positive. There’s signs of something half decent here…

York fans set ‘Ride to Northampton’ target

York-city-club-badge-jh-md-deWe were fierce opponents on Saturday afternoon but come February and ahead of our next meeting with York City we’ll all see a different and refreshing side of football as a group of Minstermen fans will be cycling from York to Northampton. This isn’t just your standard fundraiser, either, as it all came about after the tragic death of Cobblers fan David Henderson following last season’s fixture between the clubs at Sixfields.

All money raised from the bike ride – which has already confirmed ten City fans to be taking part – will be donated to the British Heart Foundation in Mr Henderson’s memory.

Ian Jones, one of those taking part, explained:

The idea for the fundraiser was first sparked by seeing the events that followed last season’s fixture at Sixfields first hand and was something that touch all fans of both teams, not just myself. We all have our stories of how we have been influenced into the game or any sport, and usually it comes from a family member taking us to our first game and the following addiction begins. My dad has played a huge part in my love for my club and the game, and it only felt right to do something in honour and memory of Mr Henderson. When we were on the way back up north after the game, I had the idea in my head which is where it stayed for a while until I looked into it and then began to ask around friends who were at the game and also witnessed the events. They also jumped on the idea of a bike ride and from there it’s really started to take off.”

The ride will take place over three days in the build up to the Cobblers – York game on 21st February and Ian says they’ve set some clear targets in terms of distance per day as well as hoping to break their fundraising target.

“In terms of targets,” he said, “we’re looking at cycling 50 miles a day over 3 days which means setting off from Bootham Crescent on the 19th February to be in time for this year’s fixture at Northampton on the 21st of the month. In terms of donating, we really didn’t know how much we would get or how much we deserve, so we set the target at £1000 but without sounding greedy or big headed, I think all involved would love to smash that target and make as much as possible.”

“Training has already begun for some of us! Personally I’ve got 45 miles under my belt over the past three weeks which isn’t that impressive but saying I hadn’t ridden a bike in over three years it’s a start. We’re planning on getting all riders together at some point in the near future and having a day out to see what it’s like riding in a pack and sorting out a pace that we can all stick to.”

At the time of writing, the fundraising has reached £343 and Ian goes on to explain how you can get involved in following the project and donating:

“We have a twitter account (@ycfc_2_ntfc), which people will be able to keep up to date with all promotional work we do across all forms of media and also the progress the riders are making through the coming months. To donate, we have a Justgiving page here

On behalf of all Cobblers fans, thank you to everyone involved from York City and to all who have donated so far. The football family is alive and well thanks to class acts such as this.

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Rico leaves it late to keep Town unbeaten

Rico

York City 1-1 Northampton Town

League Two

Saturday, August 16th 2014

Oh I do love a last minute goal to celebrate! When the Cobblers lined up a free kick in the dying seconds at Bootham Crescent on Saturday most of my negative nerves were screaming out that it was going over the stand, into the wall or well wide of target and that we’d be suffering defeat for the first time this season. But, for some reason, this season hasn’t begun like our normal stuttering style and Chris Wilder just won’t lie down away from home. Marc Richards stepped up, curled the ball past the wall and into the net without York’s keeper Jason Mooney even moving to stop it.

That strike meant that York had conceded three times in three games in stoppage time after a 1-1 draw against Tranmere last weekend and a 1-0 defeat at home to Doncaster on Tuesday night but the Cobblers had no sympathy and walked away with a point dragged back from a situation that looks all but lost. There had been hardly an attack from Town in the twenty minutes since they fell behind to Anthony Straker’s first goal for his new side.

Straker may not be able to completely claim the goal after his corner evaded everyone including a scrambling Matt Duke to nestle into the corner of the net mid-way through the second half but he’ll have as much thought for Duke as we did for his team late on. It had been a pretty even game up until that point with Town making occasional breaks through Ivan Toney – starting with Marc Richards up front with John-Joe O’Toole also playing at the tip of a three man midfield – causing plenty of problems.

Our old friend John McCombe was in the thick of the action on the half hour when it seemed like he pulled down Toney. It looked like McCombe was set for another red card against us until referee Darren Handley whipped out a yellow card for the Cobblers striker instead.

After the break, the home side were back on the ascendancy with Michael Coulson rattling the post before Straker’s bizarre corner floated all the way in. The Minstermen were looking like the more likely to score the second and kill us off but when the late free kick was given on the edge of the area there was that slither of hope that usually only works in giving you false optimism of happy ending to a Saturday afternoon.

Rico had other ideas of course and he’ll be the most relieved man in the side that the net rippled thanks to his effort. He took months and months to break his duck in his last tenure with the Cobblers, hitting the bar and post on numerous occasions and having his first goal erased from the record books after the “great winds” of the Huddersfield home game that had to be abandoned after he put us a goal in front. He’s returned a more experienced player and hopefully this is the start of him picking up where he left off.

The fixture clog up of early August continues on Tuesday evening with a trip to Portsmouth who will surely be amongst the front runners in League Two this season. Pompey are a different beast since their troubles of last term and if we remain unbeaten after that one then we’ll have done very well indeed at Fratton Park.

Wilder, though, is a stubborn opponent on the road and won’t let his side go down without the sort of fight we’ve already shown in the early goings so far.

York City v Northampton Town: Match Preview

York City Bootham Crescent

York City v Northampton Town

League Two

Saturday, August 15th 2014

If the Cobblers are to complete what would be one of the best opening weeks of a season in recent memory by beating Saturday’s hosts York City then we’re going to have to pull something pretty special out of the bag. The Minstermen haven’t lost a regular league fixture since a 2-0 defeat at home to Chesterfield on January 28th with only the playoff semi-final reverse against eventual winners Fleetwood Town and Tuesday’s cup loss against Doncaster Rovers blotting the copybook of a remarkable run of results that took them from relegation candidates to within a game of Wembley last season.

City’s story so nearly had a happy ending but for that Fleetwood defeat in the first leg of the semis but Nigel Worthington’s men have reacted well in the summer to that set back and to key defender Lanre Oyebanjo joining Crawley Town. Worthington has brought in Marvin McCoy who racked up over ninety appearances for Wycombe Wanderers over four years as a replacement for Oyebanjo whilst also strengthening across the squad with Barnet’s Jake Hyde and Southend’s Anthony Straker coming in as well as the likes of Femi Ilesanmi from Dagenham and Redbridge, Luke Summerfield and Dave Winfield both from Shrewsbury Town and Jason Mooney from Tranmere Rovers.

The first two games of York’s season have both been all about last minute goals. On the opening day last weekend they were moments away from an impressive three points at Tranmere until James Rowe’s volley recused a point for the League Two newbies. Then, on Tuesday night in the Capital One Cup, League One’s Doncaster Rovers left it until stoppage time to nick a winner at Bootham Crescent.

It’s back in the league that York are so hard to stop, though, and as they prepare to try and repeat last season’s 1-0 win over the Cobblers on the opening day of the season (which came about thanks to their own last gasp winner following Darren Carter’s red card), Town will be hoping to round off what’s been a really positive first seven days of 2014/15.

Team work and inspired substitutions have been the order of the day so far from Chris Wilder and both will be called upon again once more at a ground where the Cobblers have won just once in their last eight visits, that being a 1-0 success on Bank Holiday Monday in August 1999.

There’s plenty of battles for places in the starting line-up for Wilder to consider. Chris Hackett, Darren Carter and Emile Sinclair all look to be over the injuries that kept them out of the Wolves game while Lawson D’Ath’s brace at Molineux after coming off the bench will have given his boss food for thought. There’s also the issue of whether Ivan Toney keeps his place after a strong cameo against Mansfield and a solid showing and goal at Wolves with Marc Richards and John-Joe O’Toole also vying for position.

All very good problems to have though, especially considering that York have one or two injury worries up front. Striker Ryan Jarvis will be out for up to three weeks after coming off against Doncaster on a stretcher thanks to an ankle injury and he’s added to a list that contains Josh Carson on the absent list. The good news for the Minstermen is that Wes Fletcher has completed two weeks of training and could feature and Jake Hyde could also make his debut. Sixteen year old Ben Hirst is also chomping at the bit for a starting place and could get the nod to partner Michael Coulson up front should Fletcher and Hyde not be available from the start.

Plenty to ponder, then, for both managers ahead as the season kicks well and truly into gear. If the Cobblers can end this long unbeaten streak then it’ll have been the perfect start to a long season.