It goes on and on and on…

wilder.gif-470993There have been times in the past where I’ve run out of things to write on this blog because runs of form have been so desperate and games have just moulded into one week after week. Indeed two years ago when Chris Wilder took charge, Town were in a position six points adrift at the bottom of the Football League. His appointment seemed more like a preparation for the Conference than a bid to beat the drop, such was the shocking nature of our performances. There was no end in sight.

Two years later and I’m sat here with a bit of writer’s block for very different reasons. This time I’ve already used up all the superlatives, run out of times when I can say what an incredible run it’s been and how it’s a remarkable reversal from almost going out of business in November. Each victory is edging this incredible Cobblers team to new heights of history. You keep expecting the run to end, looking for edgy parts of a day that might bring us down to earth. But every test, as in the windy embers of Sixfields against the league’s bottom club York City on Saturday, is being brushed aside by a group of players that have become heroes this season.

There’s also an element of the season that’s making even the most pessimistic Town fans believe – goal line clearances from York chances, for example, came seconds before our goals on Saturday – that barring an absolute collapse the team that were within days of being torn apart earlier in the season could well be starting next season in League One.

So what more to say? Well, York can be praised for their efforts on Saturday for one – the difficult conditions affected both sides and they could well have come away with something on another day. I’m convinced that they’ll be OK in their own relegation scrap…both ends of the table are looking like having dramatic conclusions and there’s a heck of a lot of points to go for.

The next three games for the Cobblers could well be defining. Trips to Leyton Orient, buoyant under new player/manager Kevin Nolan and to promotion rivals Oxford United in the coming days will royally test our nerve before Wycombe come to town in ten days’ time.

The newly strengthened squad including the final piece in the puzzle in Luke Prosser, signed on loan on deadline day, means that we’re equipped to cope with anything that League Two has to throw at us for the rest of the season.

As the finish line slowly creeps up, there’s always going to be that element of being there to be shot down but after every examination we’ve battled through already this season there’s no sense at all that any set back would affect this squad.

Again, really weird to be so optimistic but seeing the Cobblers on top of a league is something I honestly thought I wouldn’t see for many, many years so we have to ride on the crest of this glorious wave.

Top…of…the…league!

Rod+McDonald+Northampton+Town+v+Birmingham+lXl6kUPquCRlIt’s happened. After weeks of three points being packed into our points bag, the Cobblers are top of League Two as this incredible form continues to show no sign of letting up thanks to a comfortable victory over a Morecambe side who showed little resistence after going a goal behind. This is fast becoming one of those seasons that goes down in folklore and with Town now eleven points clear of fourth spot even a horrible run of form at some point in the remaining nineteen games shouldn’t derail us enough to stop a promotion challenge by the time we get to the final furlong.

There really is something special about this group of players and they showed on Saturday a new side to themselves. Having been beaten at MK Dons on Tuesday in a replay that could have set us up against Chelsea, you’d forgive them for letting it play on their minds but instead it was a determined Cobblers side that took to the field looking to clear those cobwebs in the only way they know how.

The fifth win in a row and tenth in eleven league games looked all but wrapped up by half time thanks to James Collins sweeping home a second in two games since joining from Shrewsbury on the half hour mark and John-Joe O’Toole deflecting in Ricky Holmes’ cross shot. Collins was quiet for most of the game but he’s someone that can have an impact with one moment in a game and such was the case here. O’Toole’s renaissance season goes on meanwhile – who would have imagined that he’d be a shoe in for a starting berth week in, week out when he was being offered around back in August.

Another to completely turn around public opinion is Rod McDonald. At the start of the season, McDonald was being shown up for his rawness and inexperience but since coming in to cover injuries has forced Ryan Cresswell out of the side and offered that bit of pace at the back that was missing. His header at the back post sealed this win a few minutes after the break, showing another new threat to his game at the other end.

Morecambe pulled one back when the bustling Kevin Ellison forced the ball to break to Paul Mullin who finished well to put a few doubts in our minds but this Town side knows how to see out games and snuffed out any further chances.

With Plymouth and Bristol Rovers drawing at the Memorial Stadium, the result gives us this beauty of a picture…

TOP

We go into a couple of week’s break now with scheduled opponents Oxford involved in the FA Cup next weekend but the pressure is on Plymouth going into their game at home to Wycombe which will mean they will have played two games more than us by the time we host York in two weeks’ time.

That particular race for top spot is a huge bonus with the gap on fourth place the one to watch in the coming weeks. It really is mind blowing after the genuine thought that we were going to our last games watching the Cobblers in their current form back in November. Once again, as superlatives run out, we march on and on and on.

EIEIEIO…

 

The hour I first believed…

Ricky HolmesThere’s certain times in a successful season that you look back and point to as moments when you started to believe that it would be ‘our year’. In 1997, a run of high scoring home wins in January, including a couple in deep snow, in 2000 back to back 1-0 wins at far flung Carlisle and Darlington to rescue a flailing promotion bid and 2006’s win at London Road featuring that slip by Sean St. Ledger. If we’re looking back in May having secured promotion, this last week could well be reflected on as a similar milestone.

Winning at Plymouth last Tuesday night took the campaign to a level not seen by an entire generation of Cobblers fans. Saturday’s effort at Dagenham simply reinforced the feeling that even the most pessimistic Town supporters now must have – that belief is running through the entire club that this is a season like no other.

Gone are the injury time turn arounds, gone are the missed chances, gone are the unlucky bounces and the false dawns.  This squad has something very, very special and anyone that knows me knows that I don’t have this much optimism about the Cobblers easily! We’re brimming with confidence, playing some outstanding football and digging in when we need to. It’s a feeling of invincibility that has to end sometime but there’s every confidence that when the run does come to an end that it won’t last long enough to pull us away from the promotion hunt. After all we’ve been through as a club since the start of the season it’s just incredible.

Every player is doing their bit but having Ricky Holmes back is adding that bit of extra quality to an already blossoming squad. The way he’s taking his goals, the runs he’s making and the little touches that create space are making him the main man, however long he’s on the pitch for. It’s a big thing to proclaim but Holmes is having the type of influence that Martin Smith used to have and (whisper it quietly) may even have that little bit extra. Having the likes of Rico and James Collins ahead of him and the energy of the likes of Sam Hoskins, Lawson D’Ath, Nicky Adams and Alfie Potter alongside him it’s one of the most exciting front lines we’ve ever had. With Rod McDonald now coming into his own, Adam Smith pulling off his own miraculous stops and the back unit now as solid as they’ve been, it’s a team to be proud of and one that’s capturing the imagination of the town once more.

Added to the league form is the small matter of an enormous FA Cup replay at Milton Keynes on Tuesday night. Around 7,000 Town fans are travelling and with the carrot of a home game with Premier League champions Chelsea hanging in front of us, it’s got all the feel of the 2004 epic at Rotherham United. It’s obviously still a massive task but with a backing like that, it can be done.

Just as I run out of things to say when things are awful, the football is rubbish and the manager is clueless, it’s odd to be here thinking what more I can now say about the ridiculous form and performances of my team and the staff who have steered them to the edge of glory. The next few weeks will enable us to see things even clearer but it’s hard not to just sit and take it all in for now.

Bring on more of the same!

Christmas Bonus…

James CollinsSix points, a grip held on second place and a genuine powerhouse of a signing at League Two level – it’s not been a bad Christmas and New Year period for the Cobblers as the home defeat by Portsmouth that derailed the fine run of form was quickly forgotten about with two very different victories.

It’s a stark contrast to twelve months ago when Town headed into the 2015 on the back of five straight defeats. We were two points from the drop zone having collected just 24 points from 23 games. Fast forward twelve months and 2016 begins with us five points clear of fourth place with a game in hand and with more than double the amount of points on the board.

The victories that keep us in touch with leaders Plymouth Argyle and the chasing pack were a good indicator of where we’re at. Fellow promotion hopefuls Accrington were the better side at Sixfields a couple of days after Christmas but an out of sorts performance still ended with us nicking the win thanks to the reliability of the blossoming pairing of Ricky Holmes and Marc Richards, Rico heading in the only goal of a tight games.

Barnet were more straight forward opposition for once and when you brush past the Bees, a perennial bogey team of ours, you start getting the feeling that we’re going to be in with a huge chance of keeping up the pace with a group of sides that are showing no signs of blinking in this huge promotion race.

The fact that the ranks were boosted on Tuesday by a beast of a signing – Shrewsbury striker James Collins on loan until the end of the season – surely makes everyone else sit up and take notice. It’s s statement of intent that means that the attacking options are even more potent than ever. The exit of Dominic Calvert-Lewin would have been disappointing after the youngster made a good impression in his short time here but given that the focus is now on promotion the moves in and out make a lot of sense. Calvert-Lewin certainly has potential but it’s understandable that if someone like Collins becomes available you have to go for him.

Collins’ first involvement will be a top of the table clash at leaders Plymouth on Tuesday night but first comes a rare appearance in the FA Cup Third Round on Saturday. It’s been one of the most dramatic cup runs in recent times with the victory at Coventry drawing all the emotion possible from a travelling contingent that were genuinely believing that it could be the final ever away game for the club and then a remarkable turnaround against Northwich Victoria threw us into the hat.

It’s not the glamour tie it could have been at this stage but the appetite and desire of a squad chomping at every bit of opportunity that comes their way means that there’s a big opportunity for an upset and progression to a stage not reached since 2004.

It’s still ‘pinch me’ territory from where we were before that game at Coventry and whatever happens on Saturday and then on Tuesday, you have to be thankful for this completely opposite style of ‘worry’ we’re facing in the next few days.

As we settle in for this double header, let’s first check out the latest man to tie his flag to the mast of the good ship Cobbler…

Cobblers forced off top but still sitting pretty at Christmas…

wilder.gif-470993The run is over and the Cobblers have been knocked out of the Christmas Number One battle at the very last second of the race. But while Christmas Day is usually spent in a state of apprehension, this year we’re staring down at the majority of League Two after one the most extraordinary first halves of the season in recent memory so second place is nothing to shake the proverbial stick at.

It was all going to come to an end eventually, of course, but this defeat doesn’t feel like the end of something but more of a marker as to how far we’ve come when a late defeat to one of the favourites for the title becomes a bitter disappointment. After an, at times, pulsating encounter at Sixfields there wouldn’t be a lot of people leaving the stadium arguing that the two teams on show won’t be there or there abouts in the promotion race in May.

Portsmouth came and gave as good as they got and this was a clear step up from the opposition facing us in the last few weeks at Sixfields. The fact that we hung with them for the majority of the game should be good enough to keep the spirits high ahead of three big games over the Christmas and New Year calendar which will set the tone for the next phase of the season.

Obviously there are still things to work on and another centre back in the January sales with a bit of pace and a calm head – Shaun Brisley’s return from down the road perhaps – would be welcome but you can’t argue with the attacking flair that Chris Wilder’s men are playing with. It’s arguably the most exciting Cobblers sides in terms of attacking intent, attitude and determination that I’ve ever seen. Previous promotions from League Two in 1997, 2000 and 2006 have come about more from graft than guile apart from the odd flashes of individual genius from the likes of Martin Smith, Marco Gabbiadini and, erm, Dean Peer.

This squad has something special and they must be kept together and even added to by a couple in January – it’s not only the best chance we’ve had of promotion in years but the best chance of going up with a squad capable of competing in League One should they all stay together. Injuries or suspensions could, at the moment, cause a few problems, but Kelvin Thomas has already hinted that some back up may be drafted in during the transfer window.

All in all, we can sit comfortably on Christmas Day 2015 knowing that the club is back in safe hands and the team are in a phenomenal position.

So here’s wishing you all a peaceful and Happy Christmas. Thank you for continuing to read – this blog will be 10 years old in June so let’s hope we’re celebrating the same way we were when I started it…with promotion.

 

Rob Dunkley

I was primed and ready on Monday morning to put together a celebratory blog after the Cobblers shot to the top of the League Two table after an enthralling victory at Luton Town. But as I started gathering my thoughts and browsing social media for snippets of information the saddest of news items began to circulate.

Rob Dunkley, known to many Cobblers fans, tragically passed away just hours after watching his beloved Cobblers produce another remarkable performance to rise to top spot. I didn’t know Rob well enough to even come close to putting together the right words but I’ll do my best based on what I did know about one of the most popular and friendliest Northampton Town supporters there was.

As many reading this would have, I first met Rob on an away day. His biggest quality was making you feel like you were best mates within seconds of meeting him and there was a gentle warmth about him that was as genuine as you’ll find on any terrace or pub. From then on, whenever I’d see Rob at home or away games, he’d come over and have a chat and also get talking to anyone else I’d brought along for the day.

Rob was a wealth of information on the match day referee, previous meetings between clubs and everything in between and loved his football club, following them up and down the country no matter what the financial or footballing set back.

More importantly, Rob was a gentleman and a friend to anyone he came into contact with. Northampton Town were lucky to have him. We were lucky to share great highs and lows with him.

Rob was at Kenilworth Road for his final game and he leaves this world with the club and people he was so loyal to not only saved but sitting on top of the league. If there is any solace at all to take from this awful news, it’s knowing this.

There will be a minute’s applause in the 35th minute for Rob during Saturday’s game with Portsmouth.

Rest in Peace our friend xx

The magic…

FA_Cup_logo_(2014)Northampton Town 3-2 Northwich Victoria

FA Cup Second Round

The magic of the FA Cup is often measured by how big a giant killing is, how obscure a player scoring a winning goal is or how far a minnow can travel through the rounds. But today at Sixfields we saw magic of a different kind. Yes, Northwich Victoria are some ninety league places below the Cobblers but that made what happened in the final few minutes no less enthralling and no less of a cup moment for a Cobblers side for whom everything is falling at the moment.

Northwich will be heartbroken this evening and with every reason. The Evo-Stick Division One league leaders gave every single ounce of themselves in effort, heart and application and go home with nothing but rightful pride in a performance that on most other days would have been making back page headlines.

The visitors soon let Town know that we were in a battle and settled the better of the two sides in the wind at Sixfields. There were no real clear cut chances but Northwich were forcing the issue more than a Cobblers side without the experience of Marc Richards, who was dropped to the bench in favour of Dominic Calvert-Lewin. The youngster was struggling to take hold of the game and help the team to control the ball up front as Rico does so well and the first period became more and more disjointed.

Northwich, then, deserved their shock lead which came in sloppy circumstances at the back. Zander Diamond failed to clear properly twice and Jimmy Ball finished well with a controlled effort from the edge of the area. The away fans were dreaming and won’t have seen anything in our play to suggest that it was to be a smash and grab effort. Ryan Cresswell’s header that was well saved was our only moment in front of goal before the opener and the non-league side were deservedly in front at the break.

It was the introduction of Rico at the break and then of Ricky Holmes on the hour mark that started to finally give us some hope with Holmes’ return from injury in particular creating a buzz around the ground. But it was Northwich who struck again to completely stun Sixfields when Brian Summerskill robbed an unusual hesitant David Buchanan and chipped the ball over Adam Smith onto the bar and Richard Bennett tapped in.

As seconds ticked by, all hope of even being in the hat with a draw looked more and more lost. But then the sprinkle of magic was spread and a ten minute period, not to be forgotten for a long, long time I’m sure, began.

First, Nicky Adams’ shot took a lucky deflection off Sam Hoskins and arrowed into the corner of the net. Game on and a much needed platform to build on for the final few frantic minutes of the game for the Cobblers. Then, a free kick from the left hand side just seconds later was met by the head of Jason Taylor and the ball nestled into the other corner for 2-2. The visitors were crestfallen and were cruelly beaten in the next couple of minutes.

Taylor fed Holmes on the right and his right footed cross with the outside of his foot found Calver-Lewin’s head for the most dramatic of winners.

Alex Byrne still had time to bring a fantastic close range save from Smith in the Cobblers goal but we held out for a victory that puts us in the Third Round draw for the first time in ten years. 2006 saw us go out in that Third Round to Crystal Palace but was also the year of a second place finish and promotion to League One.

For Northwich, they earned a lot of respect this afternoon and go out with their heads held high. They’ve lost just once in the league this season and will surely use this momentum to push for a promotion of their own. They looked a side well above their level and have a manager in Jim Gannon who knows exactly what he’s doing. Good luck to them.

The Cobblers go into Monday’s draw as Number 50 and it’s going to edge of the seat stuff with heavyweights like Leicester City thrown into the mix. Being in that hat is nothing short of a miracle after the events that gave us our own piece of FA Cup magic.