NTFC Season In Review 2011/12: March

Bayo – in the goals in March

With only three games played in February, March was – like the previous season –  set to be a hectic month and one that would ultimately prove to be the month that would go a long way to settling the relegation nerves for the Cobblers. Two wins out of three coming into March had set Town up well even if we were still in the bottom two.

The first assignment came at high flying Cheltenham Town and we weren’t expecting to get a lot from Whaddon Road. It was with great surprise, then, that Ben Tozer and Bayo Akinfenwa both struck in the first half to give the Cobblers a shock 2-0 lead at the break. With an unlikely win on the cards, John Johnson was adjudged to handle in the area and Darryl Duffy converted from the spot. And after a heavy spell of pressure, it was heartbreak deep into stoppage time when Duffy got his second of the game to nick a point for the Rubies and put us back on the foot of the table thanks to results elsewhere.

Then came a huge double header at Sixfields with Bristol Rovers visiting first on a Tuesday night. With twenty minutes gone, the Cobblers had stormed into a three goal lead and looked well on course for a massive three points. Holding out until the mid-way point of the second half, Town then almost pressed the self-destruct button again when Craig Stanley pulled one back and Lee Brown made it 3-2 with five minutes to go. After the late drama at Cheltenham it was a hugely tense last few minutes but thankfully we held out and jumped up a place and to within a point of escaping the drop zone.

Aldershot Town provided the next test a few days later and the momentum continued for the Cobblers as, once again, we came out of the blocks well. Kelvin Langmead volleyed in to open the scoring before Akinfenwa doubled the lead five minutes before half time. And when Josh Payne brought down Michael Jacobs, Bayo stepped up for 3-0 and this time there was only mild resistance from the opposition. The Shots only found a reply once, in stoppage time, when Danny Hylton got a consolation so it was back to back wins for Aidy Boothroyd’s men. Just as important were events elsewhere though as Town leaped out of the bottom two and were suddenly two points clear of Plymouth Argyle and three clear of Tuesday night’s opponents Dagenham and Redbridge.

Victoria Park was to host perhaps the biggest game of both sides’ seasons that Tuesday night and it was as tense and tight as you would expect from two sides desperate not to make any fatal mistakes. It was eventually won on the hour when Liverpool loanee Toni Silva made the most a spill from Daggers’ keeper Chris Lewington to score the only goal of the game and send the hordes of travelling Cobblers fans wild! That made it three wins in three and the bandwagon was well and truly rolling for Aidy and his men.

The only blip of the month was to come on the following weekend when Accrington Stanley brought us temporarily back down to earth with a 2-1 victory at the Crown Ground. Jamie Devitt put Stanley in front with Brett Williams equalising in the second half. With a point looking like a good result, Craig Linfield stepped in to win it for the home side and sink the Cobblers back into trouble for the time being.

Another massive Tuesday night was around the corner with a trip to fading Burton Albion who were on a dreadful run of form. After another close game, it took just one moment to completely turn the relegation battle in our favour. Michael Jacobs’ free kick wasn’t cleared and Kelvin Langmead continued his fine month by smashing in a memorable winner. The little things that had been going against us all season suddenly appeared to be turning in our favour and a glance at the league table was something to look forward to again with that win taking the Cobblers up to the dizzy heights of eighteenth place. More importantly we were five points clear with a game in hand.

Plymouth Argyle were on their own mini revival after a torrid season on and off the pitch once again and by the time they visited Sixfields what once might have been considered a six pointer ended up being a goalless draw that both sides were pretty happy with!

The final game of March would be another memorable away trip, not least for goalkeeper Neal Kitson. With Matt Duke returning to Bradford City after being recalled, Kitson stepped in for his debut at playoff chasing Crewe Alexandra. Luke Murphy put the Alex into a deserved lead but slowly the Cobblers fought back and Bayo nipped in for an equaliser on the hour mark. And with a big point on the line, Kitson was thrust into the limelight when Nick Powell went down in the area. Up stepped Danny Shelley, hoping to put his side on course for the top seven but, incredibly, Kitson tipped the spot kick onto the bar to round off a truly stunning debut performance, earning Town a point in the process.

So after a hectic and mostly euphoric month of March, the home straight was upon the Cobblers. Having started the month second from bottom, we ended it six points clear of the relegation zone with a game in hand. It was to be the month that pretty much saved us and gave us a fantastic base for the run-in.

Highlight of the month: Kelvin Langmead’s injury time winner at Burton and the win at Dagenham were both absolutely crucial.

Lowlight of the month: The only defeat of March saw Town lose 2-1 at Accrington

Player of the month: Winner of the ‘I never thought I would say this’ award goes to Kelvin Langmead for some crucial goals and stability along side Clarke Carlisle at the other end of the pitch. Bayo, Toni Silva and Clarke Carlisle could easily have been named as well.

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