NTFC Season In Review 2011/12: April and May

Kitson…another penalty save

The March madness that saw the Cobblers drive themselves out of the bottom two gave way to a nervy month of April as we looked to pick up the desired points to confirm league survival. There was still some work to do in that respect and no-one was taking anything for granted as we headed into the penultimate month of the campaign.

A local derby of sorts kicked off April with Oxford the visitors on Good Friday. Luke Guttridge continued his excellent return to the club by opening the scoring within the opening seconds of the game and Town held out until just after half time when the playoff chasing U’s equalised through Christian Montano. Then came another key moment in the season. Neal Kitson, who had saved a penalty on his debut a week earlier at Crewe, made the headlines once again by saving from Adam Chapman’s spot kick for two penalty saves in his first two Cobblers games! That wasn’t even the last of the drama…with a draw looking to be on the cards, Brett Williams chased down a lost cause near the corner flag in stoppage time, cut inside and fired the ball into the corner to send Sixfields into a state of delirium not seen for a very long time! That meant a nine point gap between ourselves and the bottom two and many believed safety to be secured.

But, the Cobblers being the Cobblers, we were made to wait for another few weeks before making it official.

Nothing was expected from Bank Holiday Monday’s trip to league leaders Swindon Town and a 1-0 defeat was actually not too bad a showing after the recent run of form. Lee Holmes netted the only goal of the game just after half-time to keep the Robins’ bandwagon rolling on towards an eventual championship win.

Most were expecting a victory over Bradford the following weekend that would earn survival but the Bantams had other ideas. In particular, Nahki Wells had other ideas as he hit a hat-trick either side of Clarke Carlisle’s first goal for the Cobblers to earn his side a big three points at Sixfields.

Another match would go by without the crucial win as the game in hand was used up in a 3-1 defeat at Crawley Town. The promotion favourites were three up by half-time with Scott Neilson and former Cobblers loanee Billy Clarke on the score sheet before Neal Kitson’s own goal. Brett Williams got one back in the second half but there was no route back into the game and we would have to wait a little longer.

But the following weekend, after more heart in mouth action, the Cobblers had finally done it. Hereford United were fighting for their own lives and saw the game against Town as a must win in their bid to stay in the Football League. The Bulls so nearly got what they needed when Nicky Featherstone picked up the ball around twenty five yards from goal and unleashed a powerful drive that smashed against the post. The game ended 0-0 and thanks to other results, it was enough for the Cobblers to secure survival. Hereford would come to rue that moment as they were relegated at the end of the season despite a mini revival.

With league status in the bag, the final two games of the season saw us come up against two sides fighting to get a last ditch playoff berth. Gillingham were first up at home and it was Lewis Wilson thrust into the limelight as he scored on his first start for the club to put the Cobblers in front before half time. Jo Kuffour would equalise later to give the Gills a point but it wasn’t enough for them and their hopes of finishing in the top seven were ended.

And so to May and the final game of the season at Rotherham United. It was to be the last game that the Millers would play at the Don Valley Stadium after four seasons lodging there. They looked to be on the way to signing off with a win when Alex Revell scored on the half hour mark but deep into injury time, Bayo Akinfenwa popped up with his eighteenth goal of the season, heading in a Luke Guttridge free kick to give the Cobblers something to take home.

Highlight of the month: The whole Oxford game…I don’t think I need say more!

Lowlight of the month: Three defeats in a row that made us wait for safety to be confirmed.

Player of the month: Brett Williams…the goal against Oxford epitomised exactly what we needed at the time and his hard work was a massive contribution.

So the end of an exhausting campaign and one that took us all through the mill and back more than once. Nine months of stress, despair, passion, rejuvenation, pride and finally relief and with a summer of change on the way we have to hope that we can make sure we’re not in a similar position come this time next year.

Expectations for next season should be lowered. It’s not as simple as assuming that we’ll be in the front runners again. I made that mistake last season along with many others and I think we just need to be easing any pressure on the team. There’s some quality teams set for League Two once again. Fleetwood aren’t going to stand still and I wouldn’t expect York City to be quiet either. Coming the other way, Wycombe, Chesterfield, Exeter and Rochdale all know how to compete in League Two whilst the likes of Torquay, Cheltenham, Southend, Gillingham, Rotherham and Oxford are likely to improve.

For me, a top half finish would be satisfactory. I don’t want to be negative going into the season but we have to be realistic or we will end up getting too wound up by every draw or defeat. After the last couple of years, particularly the calendar year of 2012, some stability is needed at Northampton Town. I’m convinced that Aidy Boothroyd is the man to bring that here and if he gets the best out of this group of players then who knows where we can go.

I’m looking forward to it…but first comes a summer of speculation and transfer activity. Michael Jacobs is almost certain to go so a lot might depend on what we get for him as to what routes we take in the transfer market. Clive Platt and Alex Nicholls are a very good start in terms of players coming in and it’s good not to actually hear our manager spouting out nonsense like a certain boss who was here last summer.

I’ll be here all summer with the transfer happenings and hope to get all of the Seasons in Review since I started this blog up very soon. That’s six seasons’ worth if I’m counting properly so it’ll be interesting to revisit them. All the League Two transfer news will be updated as we go along hopefully and then some sort of season preview will be coming in July.

See you with all the very soon!

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