After months of agonising, weeks of hope, sleepless nights and nightmares of travelling to Forest Green Rovers on a Tuesday night, the job is done. It took us four attempts to pick up that last point but now it’s here we can celebrate an almighty achievement by Aidy Boothroyd and the players that he’s moulded into a squad that can compete in League Two. Back in November after that disastrous 7-2 home reverse against Shrewsbury and a 4-1 hammering at Plymouth that followed, few could have thought that we would be safe with two games to spare.
We snuck over the finish line at Hereford rather than storming over it but all that matters is that Clarke Carlisle was in the right place at the right time to clear one off the line and that Nicky Featherstone’s stoppage time screamer didn’t fly into the top corner but instead whacked the post and rolled across the goal mouth to safety. The full time whistle brought relief and reflections on a fantastic turn around by all involved.
There seemed little hope back in February when the Cobblers were three points adrift at the bottom despite form picking up slightly in early 2012. But signings like Blair Adams, Clarke Carlisle, Ben Harding, Toni Silva, Luke Guttridge and Brett Williams created a solid backbone of a side that could at least get stuck into opponents and go toe to toe with them – something we were ultimately failing to do under that last manager who shall not be named.
Harding in particular should be credited. Filling a role that often goes unnoticed can be tough but the midfielder’s absence was noticed in the last couple of games before this weekend. Carlisle has been a solid presence in the defence and Adams has given us an actual left back to cheer on. Guttridge’s quality in going forward gave us something different and Williams’ running has contributed to the cause, in particular the determination for the Oxford winner.
Of course there’s the rest of the squad that lived through the nightmare months as well to mention. Bayo has had a resurgence, Kelvin Langmead has often looked like a defender and even Ben Tozer has come back from the oblivion he found himself in. Michael Jacobs has continued to shine and John Johnson’s form never really dipped below a 7/10 rating.
The goalkeeping situation could have been a nightmare but after Shane Higgs and Chris Weale were both injured and Matt Duke recalled early by brawling Bradford, Neal Kitson stepped up in extraordinary fashion to save two penalties in his first two games and help the Cobblers to four crucial points.
The challenge ahead for Boothroyd now is to recapture this sense of togetherness over the summer. The loan players will return to parent clubs and of those I only expect us to be in with a chance to permanently go for Adams and possibly Carlisle so tying down Guttridge and Harding to permanent deals could prove vital to the continuity of the side.
What we know now that we didn’t know this time last year is that we can trust our manager going into the summer. There shouldn’t be any ‘marquee’ signings as such, with Boothroyd’s outlook appearing more to go for players who will get the job done. That job will also get tougher with the inevitable lifting of the expectations that comes with every single Cobblers summer. If we, as fans, can drop those a little to perhaps start looking as mid-table as a success then maybe we will be able to become more patient for once as well.
The bottom line is that we can look forward to two games coming up and we haven’t done that for a long time. Boothroyd said time and again that it would get worse before it got better but his underline statement was that he would take us to safety.
Mission, well and truly, accomplished!