Penalty agony in cup replay

Bradford City 3-3 Northampton Town (AET – Bradford win 4-2 on penalties)

FA Cup First Round Replay

Tuesday, 13th November 2012

A night where youngsters stepped up to the plate, a match swung from one way to another and back again and the newly inherited spirit in the Cobblers ranks came to the fore again ended in the most dramatic of styles as Town bowed out of the FA Cup.

But as we pass the one year anniversary of Gary Johnson’s departure after a 1-0 loss at Luton Town at the same stage of the competition last season the difference in the squad is enormous, both in quality and in overall self-belief within it. Whereas twelve months ago we had no desire or direction as a non-league opponent deservedly dumped us out of the cup, this time around we are reflecting on an agonising night that ended with a penalty shoot-out that reflected a frantic 120 minutes of action.

Town were down to the bare bones after a sickness bug rocked the camp before the game. Chris Hackett was missing whilst Bayo was only able to make it to the bench alongside sixteen-year-old Ivan Toney who made up a substitute list of only five of the available seven that we were allowed.

So expectancy wasn’t the highest to say the least and when Bradford took the lead through Will Atkinson it looked like a long way back. But on the stroke of half-time, Town battled back and when Ishmel Demontagnac was brought down in the area he stepped up to convert the spot kick and bring us level.

The two sides have matched each other through most of the recent trilogy of games and it was no different last night with chances at both ends at a premium. As the game entered the last minute, though, the ever tormenting Nahki Wells, on as a substitute, took his chance following a Joe Widdowson hand ball to convert a penalty and seemingly put City into the Second Round. But yet more drama was to follow…by this point Bayo had been unleashed from the bench and he set up Clive Platt for a well-earned goal to incredibly send the game to extra time.

After that breathless finish it was difficult to focus on what was about to happen in terms of a historical substitution. Ivan Toney came off the bench to become the youngest ever player to appear for the club and showed maturity beyond his years to set up Kelvin Langmead for 3-2 going into the closing stages! At this point, the home side were down to ten men after they used up all three substitutes and James Meredith was taken off injured. Town, on the basis of that and growing momentum, looked to be headed through but there was more to come.

With the game moving into one minute of added time in extra time, Bradford equalised. Carl McHugh headed in and ensured that this cup story would have one final chapter with a penalty shoot-out.

Wells would miss with the first kick before Platt scored to put us in control but then it all started to go wrong. Danny East and Langmead both missed with Gary Jones, Will Atkinson and Stephen Darby all converting for the Bantams. Lewis Hornby had to score and did but Ricky Ravenhill confirmed his side’s progress by netting the decisive kick and the Cobblers were out of the FA Cup.

I wrote those last few words a year ago and had no idea where my football club was going. Now I feel completely different. It’s a horrible way to go out of any competition but this last seven days has restored faith to Cobblers fans. Three away games have come and gone with four points collected in the league (one of those points taken by ten men!) and on this night a team scraped together put in a performance to be proud of. Young players are stepping up, seasoned professionals are leading the way and with our backs against the walls we are seeing something that’s not been seen in a couple of years – a desire to fight for one another on the pitch and a team spirit that will hopefully keep us away from any danger at the wrong end of League Two.

Besides all that, there’s still the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy!

It’s back to the league against struggling Wycombe on Saturday in the first of back-to-back home games and we need to somehow channel the spirit of the recent road trips back into Sixfields to make inroads into the top half of the table.

Until then, I think I need a lie down after that!

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