Boing Boing…

efl-cup-royal-box-16x9304-3149267_1600x900It’s often said that a week is a long time in football – in the Cobblers’ case right now, a few days is all it’s taken to go from relative despair (compared to last season’s antics) to absolute joy and to the setting up of a massive cup tie.

After Saturday’s lacklustre and concerning 0-0 draw with AFC Wimbledon that threw up a whole lot more questions than answers came a cracker of a night on Tuesday night with West Bromwich Albion sent packing as the latest casualty of Town’s early round heroics in the League Cup. Two opposing atmospheres and outlooks you could not have found within the space of four days. Then, to top it all off, Wednesday night’s Third Round draw paired us up with some team called Manchester United who could potentially bring world superstars – and who will definitely bring a managerial superstar – to Sixfields in front of the TV cameras in mid-September.

If you could have summed up Northampton Town in a week, this would be pretty close to being the perfect way to do it. The Wimbledon game was painful in its drabness and sent Town fans home crying out even louder for a front man to lend a hand to Alex Revell, who has hit the ground running (and running) for the most part. I’m convinced that all is not lost with Marc Richards but as a week in, week out striker he’s not the answer for the long term.

Neither is Monday’s signing JJ Hooper – a six month loan from Port Vale – if you base any of your analysis of the striker on his past incarnation in the claret and white. Hooper left Sixfields in 2014 with just three appearances under his belt and after a stint in non-league was signed by Page at Vale Park last year. He caught a few eyes – not least those back here who’d assumed that he’d disappeared into the footballing abyss with Courtney Herbert – with three goals in five games in April but his overall record for Vale of 5 in 31 games doesn’t fill you with massive confidence. Page, though, surely knows what he’s getting and the trust is still fresh from the stands that the Cobblers chief has things under control.

After the Wimbledon draw, then, Tuesday night came even more out of leftfield. Big Zander Diamond showed his worth from set plays and Revell again showed fantastic striker’s instincts to take us to extra time against a side comprising plenty of the team that were beaten by Everton a few days previous. Extra time passed without incident and it was written that we would once again come through against a higher division opponent thanks to a shootout victory that saw Saido Berahino sky his kick into the Northampton night sky and James Morrison seeing his kick saved  by Adam Smith. Kenji Gorre, who is slowly showing more confidence, slotted in to seal it and give us some early season excitement with the men from Old Trafford coming to town.

Until then, though, all focus has to be on getting off the mark in the league – four draws is only a good return if we follow it up with points in threes. The trip to struggling Coventry City on Saturday gives us a chance to have a go away from home again against a theoretically bigger club and hopefully that can work in our favour.

Once again, the Cobblers are keeping us well on our toes!

Steady as we go…

Holmes...kept quiet by Cobblers

Holmes…kept quiet by Cobblers

In the frantic early goings of the season, featuring a game every Saturday and Tuesday for the majority of August, it’s certainly a case of hitting the ground hard and the Cobblers have completed the first stage of the season with a steady return of three draws and yet another humbling of a higher division club in the League Cup.

Victory at Barnsley after extra time was an early indication that the squad has a bit of fight in them and it’s set up a decent Second Round home game with the Premier League’s West Bromwich Albion as a reward next Tuesday at Sixfields. The Baggies are one of those clubs who you’d think would relish a bit of a cup run but they’ve not been near a final since 1970 and only scraped through on penalties against Page’s old club Port Vale a year ago and did the same to League Two Oxford twelve months previous. Under the lights of Sixfields, Page will be well up for sprinkling more claret star dust on the competition.

Back in the league, a hugely creditable draw at Charlton Athletic on Saturday was followed by a scrappier goalless encounter at Boundary Park, Oldham, on Tuesday night. Charlton are likely to be among the front runners in League One and Ricky Holmes thankfully waited until Tuesday night and his new club’s victory over Shrewsbury Town to fully introduce his talents to the Addicks crowd. Holmes wasn’t at his best against the Cobblers and a point was a very good return despite taking the lead through Alex Revell’s first Town goal.

Tuesday night’s stalemate at OIdham is typical of the type of result we’re going to have to grind out this season if we’re to keep our heads above water. It sounded like a bit of a nothing game barring a golden chance for Kenji Gorre near the end but a third draw in a row is no disaster and it keeps the remarkable unbeaten run since the turn of the year alive and kicking.

AFC Wimbledon arrive at Sixfields on Saturday afternoon in what will be a new test for Page. It’s a game that Town fans will be targeting three points from, particularly as the League Two Playoff winners are yet to pick up a point this season. It certainly won’t be easy but it’s a big chance to get a massive three points on the board. Get them in the bag and I think we’ll officially be able to call it a Good Start To The Season.

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Jason Taylor has departed Sixfields this week and joined Eastleigh – who also signed fellow former Town hard nut Ryan Cresswell earlier in the summer. The Spitfires then went and sacked the man who signed him, Chris Todd a day later! Best of luck to Taylor, who was one of the major players in the first revival under Chris Wilder.

Remember ex-Cobblers loanee Aleksander Prijovic? Until this week, the Serbian had been lost in the annuls of time in British football but he popped up again to thwart the plucky Dundalk on Wednesday night – in the Champions League no less! Prijovic, who played ten times on loan at Sixfields from Derby County in 2009, now plys his trade for Legia Warsaw in Poland and scored eight times last season including the winner in the Polish Cup Final. He netted the second of Warsaw’s goals in Ireland to make his side hot favourites to progress into the Champions League Group Stages. He could even come up against fellow ex Cobblers loanee and rejuvenated star Ron-Robert Zieler, who signed for Leicester City over the summer! Who needs Zlatan vs Buffon when you’ve got that showdown?!

The Cobblers are still short of – and being patient about bringing in – a striker and it looks as though the number one target won’t be in until next week now. Being so set on one or two targets at least means that we’re not leaping into the market willy nilly and signing anyone for the sake of it but hopefully it’s not too much longer before Rico and the tireless Alex Revell have a friend to train with and fight for over a starting berth.

That’s all for now – great to be back in the swing of the season!

Up and running!

Alex RevellNorthampton Town 1-1 Fleetwood Town

It’s generally agreed that a draw on opening day is an acceptable start to most seasons so, while the Cobblers’ result against Fleetwood Town at the big kick off wasn’t the perfect beginning, the 2016/17 campaign is up and running in promising fashion. Rob Page needed a result and a performance to match and his new side, boosted by plenty of solid debuts, gave him just that despite a late wilting in the traditional heat of the first day of the season.

Bigger tests than this will follow in the coming weeks, not least the trip to Charlton Athletic next weekend, but Page would have been encouraged by an outing that started with the Cobblers completely on top in the first half and fully deserving of a half time lead given to Town through a combination of Alex Revell’s shot, the post and the back of goalkeeper Chris Neal’s head.

Marc Richards, starting up front with new boy Revell, and Kenji Gorre both had good chances to double the lead and the fact that we didn’t put ourselves in a more commanding position by the break will be one of the only disappointments taken from the game by Page and his enthusiastic and committed team.

Credit to Fleetwood, though, who took advantage of the Cobblers’ rustiness in front of goal to claw their way right back into the game thanks to Victor Nirennold’s header just after half-time. The Frenchman, in his second year in English football following a move from Miami in 2015, got on the end of Bobby Grant’s cross to nod in the leveller and his first goal for the Cod Army.

The game petered out a little as it went on with both sides tiring and both would have been reasonably happy to come away with a point.

The promising debuts of Gabriel Zakuani, a step ahead of our central defensive options from last season, and Matty Taylor, who showed glimpses of real quality with some fine passes and crosses, gives us reason for optimism for the potentially tough season ahead. The worry that Page may have is the strength of the bench which could still do with some tweaking with so many games coming up in the next few months. Page has suggested that there could well be a couple of new additions by the time the transfer window closes with Barnsley defender Lewin Nyatanga a rumoured target to further bolster the back line.

The attacking sphere would also benefit from another pair of legs. While Revell and Rico are old hats at this level, a younger striker who knows where the back of the net is would be massively useful.

We’re off and running, though, and after waiting months for the proper football to return, we’re now thrown into a hefty fixture list that sees us play five more times – starting with the tough trip to Championship Barnsley in the League Cup on Tuesday night – before the end of August.

The claret boots are under the League One table…it’s pretty comfy here!

Major questions still abound with one week to go…

If things had started to look a bit brighter for the Cobblers following decent pre-season showings against QPR and Wolves, then you have to say they took a nose dive this afternoon as Rob Page was handed a pre-season nightmare at Eastleigh with a 4-1 defeat that will do nothing to repel the fears of many that his newly/partly assembled squad isn’t quite there yet.

There’s been better news signings wise in the last few days with an actual FEE being paid for Harry Beautyman’s services with the former Posh man’s arrival a definite step in the right direction followed by a relatively unknown quality arriving in the shape of Kenji Gorre, the attacking midfielder signed on loan from Swansea City. Page doesn’t strike me as the type to make knee jerk reactions based on single games but he surely needs to think about pushing other, similar deals through before the serious stuff starts in a week’s time after this showing.

Defensively we’ve looked vulnerable away from home in pre-season and we have to hope and pray that it’s simply cobwebs being blown away or we’ll soon be shown up in League One. We may go into the season on the back of a 24 game unbeaten run and as League Two champions but as soon as that whistle goes on opening day every team goes back to being equal.

First opponents Fleetwood Town have been through the mill themselves in the last couple of weeks with Steven Pressley resigning in the midst of their own negative pre-season results and they’ll be looking to new boss Uwe Rosler to set the tone for their season and his tenure when he takes charge of the Cod Army for the first time next weekend at Sixfields.

It’s all smoke and mirrors usually when it comes to pre-season and let’s hope that’s the case this time around too. If we end August with a couple of wins under our belt and a fuller squad that’s looking cohesive and together as a unit then we’ll have forgotten all about this shaky month of warm up games. Fleetwood will be hoping for exactly that too and both teams will be going into that opening game thinking that they can come away with a morale boosting first three points of the season.

One thing’s for sure – in exactly a week’s time, one way or another, the debates can begin, the Saturday afternoons of worry and nerves can return and another chapter in the life of Northampton Town will commence.

Bring it all on again!

The first chinks of light

Alex RevellIt’s been a pretty slow, concerning pre-season so far truth be told with the Cobblers squad being slowly chipped away at and poor old Rob Page trying to appease the situation with hopeful interviews and calming messages. So it was with a bit of relief that Page’s latest test, a friendly against QPR that in other pre-seasons wouldn’t have come under half as much scrutiny, was somewhat overcome thanks to a solid rear guard showing and a well taken goal from one of his new recruits.

It’s always a bit of a funny period in the build up to the big kick off but if we’re going to despair in the 4-2 defeat to Brackley then surely we should herald the merits of a draw with a decent Championship side. At the same time, if we don’t care too much that we shipped four goals on Saturday, we shouldn’t be getting overly excited by a strong defensive showing on Tuesday.

Either way you look at it, the QPR performance was an improvement and two new signings – at each end of the pitch – look decent acquisitions based on the feedback so far. Gabriel Zakuani has settled well at the back and Alex Revell continued a decent run in front of goal with an eye catching finish in front of the home crowd for the first time.

In the middle of the park, 17-year-old Shaun McWilliams provides a hope for a piece of home grown talent in the build up to the season. Having signed his first professional deal in May, McWilliams is now fully involved and by all accounts didn’t look out of place on Tuesday night. If his development kicks on it’ll be a massive bonus in a season when every place in the squad counts.

There are still questions on attacking intent with the obvious Ricky Holmes shaped hole just begging to be filled. Anyone looking for a direct replacement in terms of flair, creativity and style will likely be disappointed but if Page can pull a rabbit out of the hat in the form of a winger even close to Holmes’ ability then the first eleven will start to look more than capable of holding their own.

Port Vale’s player of the year Anthony Grant is the only target officially rotating around the Cobblers rumour mill as things stand with the midfielder the subject of an offer from his former boss that was described by Vale chairman Norman Smurthwaite as one that wouldn’t fuel his car for a year. Until we know what kind of motor Smurthwaite rolls around Burslem with we won’t know the true value of our offer but the point is that it was far beneath what Vale would require.

There’s surely plenty bubbling along under the surface but credit to Page for not rushing out and signing any old Tom, Dick or Harry just to appease the impatient among us (myself included!).

On the pitch, Tuesday night was a welcome relief and hopefully now that we’re well into the pre-season campaign some of the niggles will begin to iron out.

The final furlong – two weeks to go until the season starts – is upon us this weekend!

Ten years down!

stock-photo-25724593-number-ten-10-chocolate-birthday-cakeA couple of days late this may be but this here blog has just passed its TENTH ANNIVERSARY!

In the absence of the ability to share cake and party hats with you all, instead I’ll celebrate by bringing you a retrospective of sorts with some hopes and dreams for the future of Northampton Town Football Club for the next ten years.

We head into 2016/17 going back into League One off the back of a majestic promotion winning season, one of scintillating football at times, battling qualities at others and uncertainties about the very future of the club at extreme. But the summer has begun in not so celebratory mood with the departures of a highly rated manager and a star player amongst others. As I started this blog ahead of the 2006/07 season things looked pretty similar, barring the title win and off the pitch shenanigans, with promotion followed by Colin Calderwood leaving for Nottingham Forest and Martin Smith leaving a giant football genius shaped hole in the Sixfields turf. John Gorman was brought in to steady the ship but ended up leaving by December with Stuart Gray picking up the reins and the form to steer us to mid-table.

So what’s changed in the ensuing ten years since I first put fingers to keys in an attempt to chronicle the fortunes of my beloved Cobblers? On paper, not a lot – we’re back where we started, about to make an assault on League One with uncertainties abound over what the squad will look like. Away from the simple league placing, though, this club has certainly been through the ringer – takeovers, dodgy owners, seven full time managers, many flirtations with our very existence (through league position and incompetence at the top) and Leon Constantine.

My favourite Cobblers related moment of those ten years? Without a doubt, THAT night at Anfield. How a group of League Two players could not just go to one of the most famous arenas in the world and come away victorious but also look like they completely belong alongside full internationals still gives me goose bumps. I’ve never had a feeling at a football match quite like that night and the fact that a true Cobblers legend like Sammo could lead us through it as manager just made it that bit sweeter.

There have, of course, been numerous moments that would attempt to make us all forget that incredible night but what you learn in following your team across the country is that any collection of disappointments become completely worth it once something historical happens once in a while.

‘Off the pitch’ so to speak, I was just coming out of university when this blog began. Ten years later I’m a husband, a father to two and as much of a Cobbler in exile as I was all those years ago, albeit now living in beautiful Somerset. Has being distant in miles made me distant in thought? Never. Has it meant that I can’t get to as many games as I’d like to? Of course. But what many who follow the Cobblers (or any team for that matter) from afar will tell you, you feel every kick, header, booking, tackle, goal and moment just as hard as if you were live watching your heroes do their thing.

I’d be lying if I said I haven’t thought of stopping the blog a few times over the last few months. Ten would be a nice number to end on, a nice chronology in a neat package to look back on. But something about that thought niggled away at me. What if something extraordinary happens again? What if the Cobblers (unlikely as it may be) propel themselves up the leagues? What if indeed we ended up going the other way? And all of that with only my brain to rely on? I don’t think I could justify it to myself. What I love about having this is occasionally being able to look back on how I felt during certain matches or time periods and I’m not quite ready to stop trying to put words to this crazy journey of ours.

The blogs may be getting more sparse and there are others around the great Interweb who can likely give much more of an up to the minute account of proceedings but while I’m still able to and while I’m not getting comments telling me to quietly disappear into cyber space, I want to keep this going.

So where do Northampton Town go from here?

There’s plenty of work to be done in the close season. Ricky Holmes has by no measure been replaced and we arguably need an additional winger to give us confidence at League One level. Defensively I still don’t feel 100% comfortable and another younger striker would be nice. That’s the short term, though, and it’s vital that we at least stay up this season.

From there it’s a case of establishing ourselves outside the basement division as a club that players want to come to and a place where young talent wants to stay rather than being linked to supposed ‘bigger’ sides. We must get issues with Sixfields sorted, a proper East Stand back in place and a long term plan for not just surviving but for taking ourselves to the next level.

Of course, football is never that easy and I could end up being back here in ten more years in exactly the same place again. But however it works out, we’ll enjoy the moments, the joy, the laughter and the tears together. I love every one of you who continues to read this blog and thank you for your thoughts, comments and support over the years.

Onwards to another ten!

Papering over the cracks as Town return!

Ricky HolmesIt’s been a summer of uncertainty for The Cobblers so far – one that started just days after the final whistle was blown and the last bus on the celebration parade turned off its engine. Chris Wilder’s departure can only, at this point, be seen as the catalyst for what’s been a concerning pattern of key players deciding that their own futures also lay elsewhere.

Ricky Holmes was always going to be the most high profile negotiator and once the mercurial winger had put his cards on the table and handed in a transfer request there was no stopping him making the move to Charlton Athletic. Coming after Danny Rose joined Portsmouth and Nicky Adams also dropped back to League Two with Carlisle United, it meant that three big components of the team spirit forged by the outgoing Wilder gave Rob Page his first headaches since joining the club.

You have to feel sympathy for the tough job that Page now faces so soon after making a leap of faith by leaving relative comfort at Port Vale for Sixfields. But the rebuilding has begun and while new signings haven’t been ‘household names’ there’s plenty of reasoning behind each new addition that means we should have a great shout of at least a season of consolidation back in League One.

Alex Revell, while never a 20-goal-a-season striker, brings huge experience and knowhow of this level and beyond while Gabriel Zakuani will do the same at the other end of the pitch. Admittedly I don’t know a lot about Jak McCourt or Raheem Hanley – both in their early twenties – but both appear to be squad players who’ll look to give competition to the established first team that are left of the championship winning side.

David Cornell rounds off the summer incomings so far with the keeper joining from Oldham Athletic. Ryan Clarke’s departure was perhaps the least damaging to Page’s plans and the instant swoop for Cornell tidied that problem up pretty quickly. He’ll need to do a lot to dislodge Adam Smith of course, a man who gives us hope (as long as he stays) that our rear guard will be in good shape come the start of festivities in August.

The season will kick off against Fleetwood Town at Sixfields on August 6 and without meaning any disrespect to the Cod Army you couldn’t have asked for much better a start to the season than a home game against a side who just survived the drop last season. It remains to be seen where each side will be at come that day but it should be an opener to at least give us a bit of hope for a positive start to what could be a challenging season. Looking down the fixtures list makes you realise just how big a step up this could be but with the right replacements for Holmes, Adams and the like there’s no reason why we can’t compete.

The holes that remain, from what I can see, is a rough and ready central midfield leader who’ll ruffle feathers in the middle of the park and compete with John-Joe and Joel Byrom, a couple of high quality wingers and a younger striker with a proven record of goal getting at this level. The latter is something that, of course, every League One side will be looking for but could well be the difference of a few league places. Rico and Revell will knock in a good number but both may struggle to complete the full season.

There’s still plenty of time to form the team that will hopefully establish the Cobblers back as a competitive force in League One and the contracts up and down the country that end today should mean a bit more movement in the transfer market. Watch this space, and keep that faith!