So it’s pretty much all over for this season with the Cobblers unable to escape the clutches of mid-table and late goal ultimately costing us once again in the defeats to Stevenage and Oxford this week. As soon as Simon Walton’s winner for Stevenage went in last Saturday thoughts immediately turned to next season with no realistic chance of reaching the top seven. A much needed win at Oxford was then snatched away at the death on Tuesday night despite a decent enough sounding performance which included the return, from the bench, of Marc Richards ahead of schedule.
With three games left to play you’d be forgiven for looking ahead to the summer and getting those holidays booked up for the May 23rd now that we know we won’t be busy. But there’s still plenty of interest to come and the Cobblers need to be on their game on two counts – to not end the campaign on a low that leaves us hanging over during the summer and to compete enough to make sure we have some sort of impact. The three games we have left are all against sides at either end of the season with one ‘special’ return tomorrow afternoon. So here’s a few things that will keep up the excitement during three games that may, on paper, look meaningless..
The return of the poisoned dwarf…
The most intriguing of the final fixtures is tomorrow visit from Cheltenham Town and their new boss Gary Johnson. Johnson needs no introduction of course having ‘saved’ us from the drop a couple of years ago despite us being in a reasonably safe position before his arrival, alienated the fans and blamed us when his tenure ended. Town fans have been waiting to come up against him ever since and with the amount on the line for his new charges tomorrow it makes the game extra spicy. The Robins boosted their chances of survival on Tuesday with victory over Cambridge and are now a point from safety. The carrot is there for us to send Johnson’s team a step closer to the Conference but, perhaps more morbidly for Cobblers fans, it’s also there to ensure that Johnson is back at the job centre come May. I personally really like Cheltenham as a club and would take Hartlepool and Tranmere going down any day of the week but this situation’s now like an old friend starting to hang out in dodgy company. The ideal outcome here is a Cobblers win, Cheltenham surviving still and then the Robins board seeing sense and looking elsewhere for their main man in the summer. Either way, it’s going to be tasty!
Ruining a party?
Following Cheltenham there’s a trip to league leaders Burton Albion in the final away game of the season and the Brewers are likely going to be on the brink of clinching the League Two title. A win at Morecambe tomorrow would hand them promotion and leave them within touching distance of clinching top spot. It’s their last home game and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink will be desperate to start a party on home turf. We’re probably ideal opponents on paper for that with nothing to play for and nothing at stake but there’s something to be said about arriving at a party, stealing the presents and pegging it.
The nervy Wanderers
Having nothing to play for on the final day is sometimes pretty nice. Wycombe will come to town on May 2nd with promotion still hanging in the balance by all likelihood. The Chairboys (who have done incredibly well to turn things around to challenge this season by the way) could move a step closer to League One if they win at Wimbledon tomorrow but the wild card here is the game on Tuesday night between Bury and Southend., the two sides directly behind Wanderers in the chase. That’s a game in hand for both and depending on events tomorrow (Bury go to Portsmouth and Southend to Exeter) there could be a significant closing of the gap by the time Wycombe come to Sixfields on the last day. So there should be something on it for them and it’s another chance for us to make some noise in the league before the curtains are closed on the season.
The Golden Boot…
As incredible as it could be, despite a number of injuries this season, a returning Marc Richards could yet bag himself the League Two golden boot. With Chris Wilder probably erring on the side of caution he may not get too many minutes on the pitch but with his natural goal scoring ability there’s still an outside chance that he can make up the two goal gap between himself and Matt Tubbs at the top of the scoring charts. Jamie Cureton’s hat-trick a couple of weeks ago shot him into contention while Reuben Reid of Plymouth is also a candidate but Rico is one to keep an eye on in these final three games.
Looking to the future…
Three games with not a lot on the line means that Wilder can plan for next season and we’ll get a decent insight into his plans for certain players based on the squads that compete in these games. It’s not just the immediate future we should be looking at, though, with a few youngsters hopefully getting a chance. Sam Warburton, Ben Jackson, Danny Clifton and Shaun McWilliams have all been given squad numbers and may see themselves getting a chance to shine in an end of season cameo.
There we have it – have I convinced you that there’s still a lot to be excited about or are you not bothering now until August? Well, I tried!
*I had to stop myself from pointing out that we sit seven points from the playoffs with still nine to play for…*