As you were (Part Two)…

 dannyeastNorthampton Town 0-1 Portsmouth

 League Two

 Monday, April 21st 2014

The most frustrating part of a tennis match usually comes when the player you’re supporting suddenly gets a series of break points after levelling at deuce but then proceeds to drop them time and again. That’s kind of what this feels like after another round of League Two games saw the Cobblers presented with a perfect chance to jump out of the bottom two when Rochdale were added to our Christmas card list when they beat Bristol Rovers. We needed just a point from the game with the newly safe from relegation Portsmouth to finally escape the drop zone that we’ve made ourselves at home in since late September.

But again we’re not talking about safety in expectation rather than hope and again the main talking point is the lack of a genuine goal threat that could well be the ball and chain that holds us back from getting above that line. Pompey were never in absolute top gear and the Cobblers produced some good moments and a much more believable fight than previous home defeats but at the end of it all we remain in the drop zone on goal difference.

Of all the former Cobblers to revisit Sixfields this season you wouldn’t have found many to name Danny East as one to come back to haunt us but he did just that by scoring the only goal of the game after just a few minutes to settle the visitors and give Town a hill to climb again.           It took us until the half hour mark to get back in the game and start to pose a threat but when presented with an absolutely glorious chance, Emile Sinclair completely missed a glaring header after a good ball in from Evan Horwood. It was a moment that will be replaying with Cobblers fans all evening and into the night and is typical of the form of late from the man who was originally plucked out to try and spearhead the attack of a survival bid.

The scarily more prolific Darren Carter tested Trevor Carson right at the end of the half but it would be Sinclair’s miss that Town fans would be talking about over their half time Bovrils. It clearly affected Chris Wilder’s thinking with Sinclair hauled off in place of young Ivan Toney for the second half in both an act of notice to Sinclair that patience is running out and an act of faith to his replacement who equipped himself well after taking to the field.

Toney put a header just over as the atmosphere started to crank up and John Marquis followed that with an effort that Carson did well to save. The final change for us came when Kelvin Langmead came on for his second appearance since coming back from that long injury and was thrown right into the mix up front in a desperate bid for the crucial point. As we pushed forward there were inevitable gaps opening up at the back and Matt Duke had to be at his very best to keep out Pompey substitute Ricky Holmes.

It wouldn’t matter though as Langmead’s late deflected effort was the best we could muster and the travelling army of Pompey fans went home happy to the south coast.

With Wycombe losing at Fleetwood it’s just about as you were once again and with the Chairboys hosting Bristol Rovers on Saturday we know that nothing will be concluded at the weekend and it goes to the final day no matter what. Just what we need from the Oxford game will be dictated by what we do at Dagenham and with that other huge game between the sides just above us we know that a win at Victoria Park would be pivotal. Scoring the goals that create a victory is another matter though and with such big question marks over the lack of conviction in front of goal it’s not easy to see how we get there.

But get there we really, really must.

A sea of claret is calmed…

seaofclaret

Wycombe Wanderers 1-1 Northampton Town

League Two

Friday, April 19th 2014

A sea of claret descended on High Wycombe last night but the incredible waves that were produced from the Dreams Stand and small sections to its side wasn’t enough to bring home a precious three points for the Cobblers. It wasn’t an afternoon for the footballing purists by any means but when you’ve got a scrap between two of the bottom three teams in the Football League then you don’t go expecting silky football. For both sides it’s just as they were before kick-off and all the hyperbole (myself included) of this being yet another of those “biggest games since 1993” ended up shifting on to the next game at home to Portsmouth on Monday afternoon.

The nerves were kicking in even before leaving Bath on the train and it didn’t help by being held up for an hour in the middle of fields thanks to that old railway classic of signal problems. Still, an away day wouldn’t be the same without an obligatory dash across London and having made up good time by pegging it through Paddington station and up through Marylebone I’d still made it in time to meet up with Mark for his latest honorary Cobbler appearances. There were different kind of nerves in the air from his last Town game (at Wembley) and I think these ones were far worse. There’s just that extra edge to the heart rate when you’re battling relegation, especially out of the Football League completely and a Guinness was in order once we reached Adams Park and made it through the dash for parking spots on the industrial estate.

Here’s where Wycombe have got everything spot on for away fans and why it’s constantly my favourite away game in the calendar when we’re in the same division. A huge marquee was in place right outside the ground containing a bar an ample room for a pre match atmosphere to really get into gear. Next to that were family activities like a bouncy castle and an organised kick about with a mini five a side pitch in place. It sounds very simple but designating an entire outdoor area to visiting fans gives you the warmest of welcomes and immediately makes you feel comfortable and unthreatened. The stewards had smiles on their faces and instead of looking glum and just doing the basics of shepherding in the fans shouted out to us that they hope to see us back in League Two next season – again very, very simple but fantastic in terms of outlook from the powers that be who put them in place. We could learn a lot from them and it makes good business sense to try and encourage away fans to come early and enjoy the build up at the stadium – surely it’s worth considering.

Getting into the ground wasn’t quite so smooth. Having bought tickets in the Dreams End behind the goal you would expect to be able to sit there but a group of Town fans all turned up saying the same thing but found the doors shut dead on 3pm. The stewards said that the end was “sold out” and they were letting no more fans in…cue chaos outside with a huge group charging through the disabled entrance when a steward made the mistake of opening them up. There was nothing for them to do and it led to plenty of our fans standing on the steps in the aisle once they were inside. How on earth a stand can be sold out when there’s a good 30-50 people outside holding tickets to sit in it is beyond me but in the end we were guided to the stand on the side of the pitch having missed the two goals in all the confusion!

We missed Ricky Ravenhill’s  high cross being fumbled into the net by Wycombe keeper Matt Ingram that sent the 2,300 away fans wild and we missed the equaliser a few minutes later from Aaron Pierre as he got on the end of a Matt Bloomfield free kick. In between times, Alan Connell had struck just over from a second good Cobblers chance.

When we had finally been seated, Connell had another good effort well saved by Ingram from a free kick before the home side made claims for a penalty at the other end with Andy D’Urso having none of it.

Town started the second half looking more in control of the game but for all their possession weren’t creating anything clear cut in front of goal and were nearly punished when Jo Kuffour, usually prolific against us, headed against the bar. Mid-way through the half, Connell brought the ball down well in the area and flashed a volley over the bar.

A worrying looking injury to Zander Diamond delayed the game and would force ten minutes of stoppage time to further build the tension. And there was room for one last piece of drama. A Wycombe free kick was fired towards goal by Max Kretzschmar and Matt Duke brilliantly clawed it onto the bar. The ball was swept into the net and hearts sunk in the away end until the lifesaving linesman’s flag was raised and the goal was ruled out.

Right or wrong, that could be one of the defining moments of the season – on first viewing from the highlights the first ball in looked as though it could have seen a Wanderers forward offside but there will be questions over the second phase. All I know is that flag could be so, so important come the final outcome of the season!

The full time whistle was accepted graciously from both sides and the relief is that we’re still on terms with Bristol Rovers also now level on points going into their game at Portsmouth on Saturday afternoon.

Overall it was a bitty performance from the Cobblers who are crying out for an end product up front. The fight and determination can’t be doubted but the quality needed to be clinical and to kill teams off just isn’t there. Emile Sinclair hasn’t ever properly lived up to his two goal salvo at Torquay and Alan Connell always seems better suited to build up play then actually finishing off moves. John Marquis is the only one of the front three with a real presence and he just needs to get someone with a goal scoring instinct running off him. With three games to go though, we have what we have.

One of the best moves of the game saw Evan Horwood cross in beautifully to a prime spot in front of goal but it summed up the afternoon when only one claret shirt (Marquis) was anywhere near it. That perhaps says a lot about the type of afternoon it was and how a point was more valuable than going for it and ending up three behind again.

It’s a real toss up at the moment still and these next three games are going to test our heart rates to the limit. The twelfth man yesterday in the away stands undoubtedly kept the side going and were, in the majority, a credit to the club again in its most desperate of times. We all live to fight another day and that was by far option number two of outcomes we would have wanted coming into the day.

I’m pretty sure it’s going to the wire folks!

Wycombe Wanderers v Northampton Town: Match Preview

Adams ParkWycombe Wanderers v Northampton Town

League Two

Friday, April 18th 2014

Two teams locked together on 46 points. Two sets of supporters on the edge of their seats. Two league places hanging in the balance. For any winner of this dual at Adams Park there is the promise of a three point gap between them and league safety. For a loser, it’s back to square one with just three games following this one to make amends and to drag themselves out of trouble.

Wycombe Wanderers have been a proud member of the Football League since 1993 when Martin O’Neill inspired them to a Conference and FA Trophy double. As they began their rise to prominence, the Cobblers could easily have gone the other way had the miracle at Gay Meadow not occurred on May 8th of the same year. As it was, Pat Gavin’s backside intervened and we were safe against all the odds and while this game twenty one years on isn’t quite a match in terms of importance for that one, it’s still a monumentally crucial one.

As soon as last weekend’s results – Wycombe losing at Newport and the Cobblers holding their nerve against Burton – were confirmed, all eyes turned to this one as Town closed the gap to just goal difference between themselves and safety (i.e. Wanderers themselves). With 2,000 Cobblers fans likely to be pouring into the away end it’s set to be an incredible atmosphere with nerves at absolute fever pitch.

This has all the potential to be one of those away games we lock away in our memory banks for years and years…let’s just hope it’s for all the right reasons!

Team News…

Wycombe boss Gareth Ainsworth hopes to have both Matt Bloomfield and Max Kretzschmar available to face the Cobblers after their recent injury blows. Bloomfield missed the Newport County defeat last weekend with a hamstring problem while Kretzschmar limped off in that game with a dead leg. Paris Cowan-Hall (ankle) and Anthony Stewart (hamstring) have trained this week but the game may come too early for them both. Jon-Paul Pittman will also miss out after pulling his quad in last weekend’s warm up and Gary Doherty remains out with an arm injury.

The Cobblers have Mathias Doumbe and Zander Diamond back in the squad for the trip to Adams Park…Doumbe has recovered from the injury that kept him out of last week’s win against Burton while Diamond was ineligible for that game. Darren Carter is missing again as he serves the second of a two game suspension but Kelvin Langmead may be given more game time from the bench after seeing some action for the first time in eleven months against the Brewers.

Previous Six Meetings…

21/12/13: Cobblers 1-4 Wycombe (League Two)

Earlier this season, Aidy Boothroyd paid the ultimate price for some poor form and a hammering at home by Wycombe as he lost his job as Town boss following a 4-1 reverse. Jo Kuffour set the tone for the afternoon by scoring after just thirteen seconds to put the Chairboys in front before Kortney Hause made it 2-0 on fifteen minutes. Izale McLeod tapped in to halve the deficit but Wanderers sealed the win late on with goals from Stuart Lewis and Dean Morgan. News of Boothroyd’s sacking came through just an hour after kick off.

16/04/13: Wycombe 0-0 Cobblers (League Two)

A rearranged game because of a waterlogged pitch in the originally planned game ended in a goalless draw that effectively put the Cobblers out of last season’s race for the top three.

17/11/12: Cobblers 3-1 Wycombe (League Two)

Earlier that season the Cobblers got the better of Wanderers with a good home win thanks to Bayo Akinfenwa’s double, one a penalty, and Chris Hackett’s second half strike. Joel Grant’s spot kick looked to set up a nervy conclusion but Town held out for an important three points.

16/04/11: Wycombe 2-2 Cobblers (League Two)

An entertaining encounter at Adams Park saw Shaun Harrad give Town the lead from the penalty spot on twenty minutes before Guillem Bauza doubled the advantage. But second half goals from Scott Donnelly and Leon Johnson earned Wycombe a point en route to their eventual promotion.

28/08/11: Cobblers 1-1 Wycombe (League Two)

Andy Sandell looked like he had claimed all three points for Wanderers after netting in the first half but the Cobblers won a late penalty which was converted by Kevin Thornton to give us a share of the spoils.

01/09/09: Wycombe 2-2 Cobblers – After extra time, Cobblers win 3-0 on pens (JPT First Round)

A back and forth JPT First Round tie saw Ryan Gilligan hand Town the lead from the spot before John-Paul Pittman levelled via the same method. Steve Guinan thought he had won it when he scored four minutes from time but Pittman equalised again in stoppage time. After a goalless period of extra time, though, Wycombe contrived to miss all of their penalties in the shoot-out. The Cobblers scored all three of their kicks and headed through to Round Two.

The man in the middle…

Taking charge at Adams Park is Andy D’Urso – a name familiar to most supporters in the game but not always for the right reasons! He last officiated a Cobblers game in our 2-0 win at AFC Wimbledon back in October. Earlier in the season he had been the referee for Wycombe’s 2-2 draw at Oxford, during which he sent off the Chairboys’ Charles Dunne.

Prediction…

The Cobblers have a good history of turning up for the big away games and with a large backing from the away support the battle could be just as intense off the pitch as it is on it. Something tells me that we’ll still be biting plenty of finger nails after this one though….I’m going for a high scoring draw to keep us both on edge. 2-2.

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

sixfieldspanorama

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!