Northampton Town 3-1 Oxford United
Saturday, May 3rd 2014
Ten minutes have been played at Sixfields and my head’s already in my hands – all the pre-match nerves have turned into disbelief and terror. The Cobblers are a goal behind to Oxford United and Wycombe have taken the lead at Torquay. As it stands, Town are relegated and will be playing their trade in the Skrill Premier next season. What I feel is panic and helplessness. For the first time it actually feels real and like fate has played its final card.
Ivan Toney suddenly races through on goal and rounds visiting keeper Ryan Clarke. His shot rolls in slow motion towards goal but turns onto the post at the last second. Even this early in the most pivotal of afternoons since 1993 it’s looking like everything is conspiring against us. We’ve started nervously despite an earth moving atmosphere inside the ground that greeted the sides at 3pm. Oxford have seemingly come to haunt Chris Wilder and are looking more confident on the ball than us. I try comprehending what it all means when there’s a sudden incident that changes everything.
Ryan Williams, the U’s goal scorer, lashes out at Ricky Ravenhill off the ball and referee Mr Duncan produces one of the most well received red cards in the near twenty year history of Sixfields. A twist back in our favour but still plenty to be done.
The noise levels rose as we latched on to the hope that was dragging us to the point of believing once again and there was a glorious reward on the half hour mark when John Marquis found space and fired us level with a low shot into the corner of Clarke’s goal. Game on, season on, survival well and truly on!
It would only get better and better from there and as the U’s were still trying to adjust there was another moment for Toney to add to his collection when he rose to meet an excellent cross from Evan Horwood to head in his third goal in two games. Sixfields erupted and from then on the game and the tide of the relegation battle was only going one way.
Mathias Doumbe replaced Gregor Robertson at half-time as Wilder tweaked his formation and the increasingly popular defender who sealed the victory just a few minutes after the restart when he directed a header into the net from a Chris Hackett corner from the right hand side. Now it really was party time and the relief around three sides of the ground could probably be heard miles away.
Oxford had started mentally preparing themselves for their holidays and offered little going forwards which played right into our hands. We needed to do nothing more but could easily have added a fourth when a second substitute, Emile Sinclair, got on the end of a nice ball from Ian Morris but saw his shot cleared off the line at the death.
By this point Wycombe were 3-0 up and Bristol Rovers were the ones in trouble after falling behind at home to Mansfield. For Town it was all about seeing their own game out as they did last weekend at Dagenham. With every passing minute came a greater realisation that we’d done it – from seven points behind the pace at one point to survival on the final day it had been a hell of a journey.
Before the game I was a little critical of ‘celebrating’ the moment should we stay up but with the utter relief on the full time whistle it was hard to not get engrossed in the feeling that the Cobblers had pulled something major off from such a shocking position earlier in the season. It’s true that we were let down badly by some in the first half of the season but those who came in and those who improved deserved their moment to take in a job well done.
Finishing in 21st place is nothing to shout from the rooftops about but the sheer determination, passion and restored pride that’s come from the efforts of the last three months or so is something to be proud of. We’ve got our football club back and helped to save them at the death once more.
A lot of the players who finished this match may not be around come August but the ever outstanding Cobblers support will be. If ever the fans deserved to win the Player of the Year award then this was it – the turn outs on the road and the backing particularly over the last six games make you proud to be a Northampton Town fan. It’s not been an easy season and at times it’s seemed inevitable that we’d be playing non-league football in the 2014/15 campaign. But thank you to every single one of you who kept going and helped to rescue my football club.
That goes to Chris Wilder and his staff too – an unenviable job has been complete and now comes a summer which is likely to see huge changes around the club. Not only will Sixfields begin its reconstruction but there are plenty of players out of contract. Wilder will have an idea of who he wants to bring in to add to a core group that have served him well since February and the side that starts the first game of the season (IN LEAGUE TWO!!) will be a lot different to the one that finished this one.
The inquest can now begin and we need to reflect on which cracks from the end of the Boothroyd era were simply papered over and which were built on and vastly improved. With the likes of Lewis Hornby and Alex Nicholls hopefully coming through pre-season there’s a good core of a squad in place should we tie up the right contracts. Wilder’s form in the transfer window has proven trustworthy and I look forward to the rumour mill kicking off almost immediately.
For now, though, everyone breathe, smile, enjoy the summer and please, please no-one say the dreaded words…
“We’ll never be in this position again”