League Two Playoff Semi-Final, Second Leg
Sunday, 5th May 2013
It was tense, it was heart stopping and it was dramatic. It was everything we expected but the most important, and incredible, thing that comes from the Cobblers’ win at Cheltenham (yes, an AWAY WIN) is that it means we will be playing at Wembley Stadium for the first time since 1998. The pain of Mansfield and the desperation of Southend were both playing on my mind this evening as I sat down to watch what I knew would be one of the most frightening ninety minutes of my life.
But the Cobblers rose to the occasion and did a thoroughly professional job to not only hold out with a one goal lead on aggregate but to add to it and defend like warriors to make sure that we spent Sunday evening plotting our routes to Wembley.
It’s an extraordinary turnaround from Aidy Boothroyd who, on taking the job eighteen months ago, stated that things would get worse before they got better. That, they most certainly did. I wrote a blog here at the end of January 2012 where I submitted to relegation and accepted what I thought was inevitable despite small improvements from Boothroyd. To be dancing around my house just over a year later having seen a group of players give their all and fight to the death to cling onto it all for us is remarkable.
Tonight was a story of two key moments but many, many heroes. Lee Nicholls’ save from Marlon Pack’s penalty early on was out of the top drawer and his many, many saves during the night kept us in it, earning him the rightful man of the match award. In front of him, Nathan Cameron put in another behemoth of a performance and alongside Clarke Carlisle will even be making Kelvin Langmead worry about his place in the Wembley eleven. Ben Tozer and Lee Collins put in their own solid shifts whilst the midfield five was a masterstroke from Boothroyd with not one of those in there stepping out of line.
Bayo led the line to perfection and did all that he could do being a lone striker. Over these two legs he’s been back to his very best and anyone who thought he had lost his way can now breath easily again. Beast Mode has been switched back on at just the right time.
And then there was the goal. What a belter and one that fit the occasion. Luke Guttridge, the man who has pulled us through this final furlong of the season, just smashed the ball into the roof of the net to stun Whaddon Road and to give us even more than the hope we came with.
From then on we knew we would be clock watching. And boy, were we clock watching. It’s incredible how time stands still in these situations. Ten minutes felt like an hour, every cross into our box felt like it was going to end up in the net. I even panicked when my wife dropped a glass of water on the floor, thinking it was an omen for what was to come!
But the goal never came and Cheltenham were running out of time. They smashed the bar late on and suddenly you felt it was our night. As the clock reached 90 minutes and the ball was booted towards the fantastic Cobblers support we could start to celebrate. The final whistle will have seen man, woman and child up and down the country and around the world with a Cobblers persuasion jumping for joy, embracing strangers and screaming in big letters on social media. Moments like this should be treasured and there’s only one way that we can top it…by winning the final.
That brings us to what I could only call ‘the W word’ before Sunday evening. Wembley Stadium and the League Two Playoff Final against Bradford City. We’ve got plenty of time to worry about Bradford and the challenges that they will bring so for now let’s pinch ourselves once more, go to sleep and wake up in the middle of the night to make absolutely sure that we’re not dreaming this all up.
Northampton Town are going back to Wembley. I’ll see you there!