The final two months of the season would take us all on a roller coaster ride of emotions as the Cobblers flirted with relegation and were involved in some of the most nervy afternoons and evenings since Shrewsbury in 1993.
We were still searching for a first win under Gary Johnson when we travelled to Accrington in the first game of April and on one of the worst pitches you’re ever likely to come across, were hammered into the ground with Stanley continuing a march that would eventually see them reach the playoffs. Ian Craney struck a brace and Sean McConville extended their lead as Town fell three down by half-time. A well taken free kick from Michael Jacobs hinted at a response but the damage had been done.
That set up one of the biggest and most important games of the season, a trip to Burton Albion on the Tuesday night. Albion had been playing catch up for months after an incredible run of postponed games in mid-season but despite plenty of games in hand were still in major trouble by the time the Cobblers came to town. Just two points separated the teams with the Cobblers in 21st and Burton in 22nd, both of us lingering just outside the bottom two. Guillem Bauza had us in front five minutes from half time but parity was restored through Aaron Webster for the Brewers just a couple of minutes later and we had to settle for a point apiece following a tense second half.
Bury would provide another stern test a few days later at Sixfields and the gulf in class between ourselves and a promotion chasing side was more than apparent as the Shakers took a four goal lead before we got going. Shaun Harrad refound his scoring form to net twice but again the Cobblers suffered from a poor start to the game.
That defeat left us just two points above the drop zone with a tough run of games to come. A trip to Wycombe wasn’t the best solution but Harrad put us in front from the spot before Bauza gave us hope of a massive upset before half time. But Scott Donnelly halved the deficit just after half time and Leon Johnson levelled with just eight minutes to go. Abdul Osman missed a glorious opportunity to earn all three points in stoppage time but fluffed his lines right at the vital moment.
Defeat for Barnet meant that the gap opened to three points going into the Easter period that started with a home game against playoff chasing Rotherham at Sixfields. Town had come from two down to draw with Ronnie Moore’s men earlier in the season and it would be the same story once again. Two down at half time, Leon McKenzie started the come back with a scrappy goal in the midst of a goal mouth scramble and with time running out Liam Davis finished well to create bedlam at Sixfields, so much so that a fan in a wheel chair staged a mini pitch invasion, earning overnight celebrity status!
Those celebrations were muted though a day later as Saturday’s League Two results all went against the Cobblers. We needed something from Stockport on Easter Monday with the Hatters also fighting for their lives. Bauza opened the scoring on two minutes but Adam Griffin ensured that we went in at half time level. And after Bauza had been brought down with little over ten minutes to go and Harrad slotted in the spot kick, it looked like the most crucial of wins was finally ours. But deep, deep into stoppage time Greg Tansey unleashed an unstoppable volley from all of 35 yards to equalise and preserve County’s league status for a few more days at least.
Going into the final two games, Town were just a place and a point above the drop zone and never was it more crucial to get three points against another challenger for the playoffs, Stevenage, in the final home game of the campaign. Davis got us off to a perfect start and belief began to flood around Sixfields as Luke Foster was sent off for the visitors. On the hour, a quick break away from the Cobblers resulted in Michael Uwesu netting the all-important second to ultimately keep us in the Football League thanks to Barnet’s defeat on the same day. Uwesu had signed a short term deal a few weeks earlier and could not have done his cause for a longer deal any harm at all with that strike. There was still time for a second red card for Stevenage with John Mousinho given his marching orders five minutes from time but the main talking point was that we were, after several weeks of desperation and worry, safe and Barnet and Lincoln would battle it out on the final day of the season.
So with a party feel in the air we headed to Morecambe with nearly 1,000 Cobblers fans making the journey to the Globe Arena. They would be rewarded for a season of stuggle with another victory as first Kevin Thornton and then Ben Tozer netted to end the campaign on a high. Niall Cowperthwaite added a consolation for the home side but we clung on for back to backs wins.
It had been a season of extraordinary highs and desperate lows. The Anfield win looked to have set us up for a memorable 2010/11 season but after that it just all went horribly wrong and Gary Johnson is now tasked with sorting out the squad for a hugely important 2011/12. We were told that this will never happen again and after the stress and fear that was installed in us all over the closing months of the season we have to pray that statement is true!
Until next time…