>Where did it all go wrong?

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A mini pitch invasion, scenes of jubilation at Sixfields and players celebrating on the final day of the season. Scenes that we dreamed of back in August. But on the final day of the season who would ever have predicted that we would be chanting “We are staying up” rather than “we are going up” into the summer evening?

So many things have gone wrong that it’s hard to know where to start but Anfield would be as good a place as any. It was to be Sammo’s last real heroic memory of a Sixfields tenure that stretched over two decades as he led warriors to a penalty shoot out victory over a Liverpool side full of internationals and potential internationals. Michael Jacobs came of age. Kevin Thornton finally fulfilled his potential. Even Courtney Herbert made a cameo that reflected his early days at the club rather than his stop-start Cobblers career since. Alistair Slowe made it to the warm up. Such was the uniqueness of that night. But how damaging was it in the long term? Victory over Bradford the following weekend appeared to continue the momentum but there was trouble around the corner and to me this is where it all began.
Whether it was big headedness, naivety or if we just excelled ourselves that far at Liverpool that it could only possibly have happened once. Between then and the next round, a comfortable defeat at Portman Road, we lost the plot and lost every game following Bradford until exiting the competition that had given us five minutes in the spotlight.

Gillingham were beaten just after Ipswich dumped us out but he damage was done. A pivotal 4-3 home reverse against Hereford at Sixfields in which the Cobblers led 3-0 at one point was the peak of our failings.

There was a brief resurgence with that Gillingham victory and a 2-0 win at Sincil Bank. That’s how backwards this season was, we actually won at Lincoln! Sweeping aside Forest Green in the cup and flogging Stve Guinan off there meant that things were looking up but then came another big moment – the 4-1 loss at Barnet that suddenly shoved us right back in the mire and undid a couple of weeks of impressive work that had also included a goalless draw with then high flyers Port Vale.

At least we would go into Christmas mildly happy after wins over Stockport and Stevenage but as the wintery weather played havoc with the schedule the momentum was lost. Victory over Crewe, incredibly 6-2, on a Tuesday night at the start of February did a similar job of Liverpool as making us feel unbeatable. For the next six games we were certainly that, but we were also a team that could not buy a victory.
Sammo’s sacking after game seven of this run, the 3-2 loss against Burton at Sixfields, was upsetting, and had it been for two of those draws coming good and turning into a win he may still be here now, such is the fine line in football.

Enter Player Two, Gary Johnson, who was quickly installed. Alas, no time for a honeymoon period on planet Cobblers and three defeats spun Johnson’s new charges towards the trap door. Here lied another problem. Upon his appointment, everyone at the club was talking about “planning for next season and in my eyes this was very wrong. It sent the wrong message out to the players, letting them know that not only were changes going to be made in the summer but that the higher powers thought it was all over and that there was nothing to play for. There most certainly was.

Cue more bad times until the drama of the last couple of weeks at least made people stand up and take notice of what trouble we were in. Three consecutive 2-2 draws had us dangling nervously over the drop zone and Barnet were chomping away at any gap between us. Fans and players alike finally began to do battle and just at the right time, Stevenage were beaten to secure safety on Saturday.
While the excitement over the win is going to last a few more days, the summer is going to bring about a real shake up. Those out of contract will struggle to hold on to their Cobblers careers with Johnson planning a big turn around of players.

This could lead to the excuse next season that we would take time to gel with a whole new side almost. Unfortunately there can be few excuses and we have to hit the ground running so the work that Johnson does between now and the start of next season is absolutely pivotal.

We’re being promised that this dire season won’t be repeated but just because the powers that be say so it doesn’t mean it won’t or can’t happen.

So enjoy the final week of the season, be grateful that there’s nothing but league placing on Morecambe away and get set for a big summer of change at Sixfields.

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