The record goes but the spirit remains…

jjotThe Cobblers’ long 31 game unbeaten record may have been put to the sword a couple of weeks ago at Chesterfield but what was evident during the following glamour tie with Manchester United, in the 4-0 hammering of Southend United and at Swindon last night is that the spirit that took them to that point is still very much alive and well.

Rob Page continues to mould a team that’s organised, together and able to play in a number of different ways, all equalling a start to the season that none of us could have honestly predicted back in August.

Last night at the County Ground, Town needed to come at the game differently and did just that by producing one of the most composed performances of the season so far. Pressure had to be soaked up, individual duals had to be won and chances had to be taken when they came around. All three tests were passed with flying colours and the first league win of the season was brilliantly acheived.

Town were set up to soak up the possession based style brought in by Swindon boss Luke Williams over the last few months and had to endure long periods of the Robins having the ball, quickly picking them off and breaking whenever we had the chance. The first of these moments came when Paul Anderson was given the ball on the left and he produced a sublime piece of skill to beat his man, cut in and cross for Harry Beautyman – a reported summer target for Swindon – to tap home early on.

That gave us a platform to build on and the home side had to come out and it left gaps in their line up to exploit. For the most part, though, Town had plenty of defending to do and Jonathon Obika forced Adam Smith into his first bit of work of the evening before a scramble of epic proportions saw Smith make a fine double save and then the Cobblers defence blocked a couple of rebounds that looked destined to nestle into the net.

Obika had another chance just before the break but fired over the bar when sent through on goal and it seemed like the luck was with us with a much needed half-time whistle to settle the nerves and give us a chance to recuperate.

There was more of the same to come, though, and it was no real surprise when the Robins equalised on the hour mark when substitute Sean Murray fired home from distance. It seemed that we would be hanging on for a point until Page changed things up with Kenji Gorre and JJ Hooper summoned from the bench. Fair play to the Cobblers boss for making positive changes and not just shutting up shop and trying to hold out for a point…it would end up working superbly in his favour.

There was fifteen minutes to go when we won a corner on the right and Matty Taylor produced a trademark set piece that John-Joe O’Toole met with a majestic header to send the 400 or so travelling support wild. It was out of the blue but encapsulated the heart of this Cobblers side. O’Toole’s cult status is rising by the week and that it was he who nodded in made it that bit more special.

A dangerous looking Swindon free kick came and went just a couple of minutes later and it was the Cobblers who sealed the win thanks to a fantastic breakaway goal. There may well have been a foul in the build-up on the half way line but you have to play to the whistle and Hooper did exactly that, picking the ball up, running with it and sending in a cross that Alex Revell dummied for Gorre to meet with a controlled finish that put the cherry on top of a terrific battling performance.

Gorre is growing in confidence and needed that goal more than most in this Cobblers side – there’s definitely a raw talent in there and the end product will hopefully come. Page probably did the best thing in taking him out of the immediate firing line of the starting eleven and his place as an impact substitute could be just what he needs right now.

All in all a perfect away performance from the Cobblers and we’re now, incredibly, up to fourth in League One. The ten game marker has been laid down and a record of four wins, five draws and just that one defeat is a magnificent return. We’ve responded to the first league defeat of 2016 in style and it sets us up for a very interesting autumn.

There’s still nothing in League One that I’ve seen to worry us and Page seems to have retained some of the best qualities of last season’s championship winning squad even though some of the key personnel moved on.

We’re only just getting started and Northampton Town are still riding this ridiculous wave of positivity. League One, you have been warned…

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Identity coming through for Page’s Cobblers

revellAfter a collection of draws that clouded the view of the opening month of this season, the Cobblers are up and running and suddenly the questions that were asked about this new look squad are being answered with back to back home wins that give us a bit of space to breath. Rob Page has begun to stamp his identity on the squad and the results are a hardworking, resilient and gutsy outfit that could well start to make League One stand up and take notice.

The spotlight has well and truly been on the club ever since the League Cup win over West Bromwich Albion and the subsequent draw that saw us paired with some jokers from Old Trafford. The televised game against MK Dons shone the spotlight further ahead of that tie but, more importantly in the long term, gave us a platform on the pitch that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Storming into that three goal lead against Milton Keynes was as unexpected as it was desperately needed with a formerly reserved Town side coming to life. It stunned the visitors and the season was ignited with an ease that made you wonder what all the fuss was about from the end of the transfer window when just one deadline day deal made us collectively mop our brows for the coming months. Nerves were jangling and a sense of “Here we go” crept in when Dons made it 3-1 too easily before the break but I thought we managed the game superbly in the second half and Samir Curruthers’ late strike for 3-2 didn’t do too much damage to morale as that first win of the season was gratefully tied up.

After that came a much needed week of rest – it had been a relentless opening month of games every few days – and Page would have been delighted to get a full midweek to gather his thoughts ahead of Saturday’s encounter with Walsall, where the good work was continued.

The Saddlers were surprisingly toothless after a 2015/16 season that saw them come so close to automatic promotion. Town came out of the blocks with confidence once again and Matty Taylor’s second goal in two games was almost a carbon copy of the one he provided for Alex Revell six days earlier. A few missed chances later, though, and we were left with worries of the early season form that saw us throw away 1-0 leads three times.

This time, though, lessons were learned and the second half saw the Cobblers become the more likely to add to the score and when Scott Laird handled ten minutes from time, Revell was clinical from the spot and that was well and truly that for another huge three points that came about much more comfortably than it could have done.

Revell is the man of the moment and his energy has been absolutely remarkable for a thirty three year old who was thought of as more of a provider of goals when he came in during the summer. He certainly is that but he’s also a warrior that epitomises what Page is trying to do here. Not since the likes of Neil Grayson and Scott McGleish have I seen someone leading the line with this much desire and will to win and that is extremely high praise. Revell is someone who Cobblers fans will quickly grow to love – he’ll get people off their seats, not for particular skill or turn of pace but for the effort and heart he puts in to each and every game.

It’s starting to rub off on the rest of the team as well – Lewin Nyatanga has taken his chance in the absence of Gabriel Zakuani whilst Jak McCourt is doing plenty of unnoticed work in midfield, keeping out player of the year John-Joe O’Toole who was available after suspension yesterday. Matty Taylor could also be set to become this seasons’ Ian Taylor in the veteran midfield role.

All in all we’re really starting to fire and now the challenge is consistency and to take this swashbuckling type of performance on the road with the trip to Chesterfield next week another big test of the now 31 game unbeaten league run (we can start to count these games now we’re winning rather than drawing!)

Rob Page has quietly gone about his job but many more results and performances like these two and the Cobblers may yet start to make a lot more noise in League One than any of us had imagined.

Steady as we go…

Holmes...kept quiet by Cobblers

Holmes…kept quiet by Cobblers

In the frantic early goings of the season, featuring a game every Saturday and Tuesday for the majority of August, it’s certainly a case of hitting the ground hard and the Cobblers have completed the first stage of the season with a steady return of three draws and yet another humbling of a higher division club in the League Cup.

Victory at Barnsley after extra time was an early indication that the squad has a bit of fight in them and it’s set up a decent Second Round home game with the Premier League’s West Bromwich Albion as a reward next Tuesday at Sixfields. The Baggies are one of those clubs who you’d think would relish a bit of a cup run but they’ve not been near a final since 1970 and only scraped through on penalties against Page’s old club Port Vale a year ago and did the same to League Two Oxford twelve months previous. Under the lights of Sixfields, Page will be well up for sprinkling more claret star dust on the competition.

Back in the league, a hugely creditable draw at Charlton Athletic on Saturday was followed by a scrappier goalless encounter at Boundary Park, Oldham, on Tuesday night. Charlton are likely to be among the front runners in League One and Ricky Holmes thankfully waited until Tuesday night and his new club’s victory over Shrewsbury Town to fully introduce his talents to the Addicks crowd. Holmes wasn’t at his best against the Cobblers and a point was a very good return despite taking the lead through Alex Revell’s first Town goal.

Tuesday night’s stalemate at OIdham is typical of the type of result we’re going to have to grind out this season if we’re to keep our heads above water. It sounded like a bit of a nothing game barring a golden chance for Kenji Gorre near the end but a third draw in a row is no disaster and it keeps the remarkable unbeaten run since the turn of the year alive and kicking.

AFC Wimbledon arrive at Sixfields on Saturday afternoon in what will be a new test for Page. It’s a game that Town fans will be targeting three points from, particularly as the League Two Playoff winners are yet to pick up a point this season. It certainly won’t be easy but it’s a big chance to get a massive three points on the board. Get them in the bag and I think we’ll officially be able to call it a Good Start To The Season.

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Jason Taylor has departed Sixfields this week and joined Eastleigh – who also signed fellow former Town hard nut Ryan Cresswell earlier in the summer. The Spitfires then went and sacked the man who signed him, Chris Todd a day later! Best of luck to Taylor, who was one of the major players in the first revival under Chris Wilder.

Remember ex-Cobblers loanee Aleksander Prijovic? Until this week, the Serbian had been lost in the annuls of time in British football but he popped up again to thwart the plucky Dundalk on Wednesday night – in the Champions League no less! Prijovic, who played ten times on loan at Sixfields from Derby County in 2009, now plys his trade for Legia Warsaw in Poland and scored eight times last season including the winner in the Polish Cup Final. He netted the second of Warsaw’s goals in Ireland to make his side hot favourites to progress into the Champions League Group Stages. He could even come up against fellow ex Cobblers loanee and rejuvenated star Ron-Robert Zieler, who signed for Leicester City over the summer! Who needs Zlatan vs Buffon when you’ve got that showdown?!

The Cobblers are still short of – and being patient about bringing in – a striker and it looks as though the number one target won’t be in until next week now. Being so set on one or two targets at least means that we’re not leaping into the market willy nilly and signing anyone for the sake of it but hopefully it’s not too much longer before Rico and the tireless Alex Revell have a friend to train with and fight for over a starting berth.

That’s all for now – great to be back in the swing of the season!

Up and running!

Alex RevellNorthampton Town 1-1 Fleetwood Town

It’s generally agreed that a draw on opening day is an acceptable start to most seasons so, while the Cobblers’ result against Fleetwood Town at the big kick off wasn’t the perfect beginning, the 2016/17 campaign is up and running in promising fashion. Rob Page needed a result and a performance to match and his new side, boosted by plenty of solid debuts, gave him just that despite a late wilting in the traditional heat of the first day of the season.

Bigger tests than this will follow in the coming weeks, not least the trip to Charlton Athletic next weekend, but Page would have been encouraged by an outing that started with the Cobblers completely on top in the first half and fully deserving of a half time lead given to Town through a combination of Alex Revell’s shot, the post and the back of goalkeeper Chris Neal’s head.

Marc Richards, starting up front with new boy Revell, and Kenji Gorre both had good chances to double the lead and the fact that we didn’t put ourselves in a more commanding position by the break will be one of the only disappointments taken from the game by Page and his enthusiastic and committed team.

Credit to Fleetwood, though, who took advantage of the Cobblers’ rustiness in front of goal to claw their way right back into the game thanks to Victor Nirennold’s header just after half-time. The Frenchman, in his second year in English football following a move from Miami in 2015, got on the end of Bobby Grant’s cross to nod in the leveller and his first goal for the Cod Army.

The game petered out a little as it went on with both sides tiring and both would have been reasonably happy to come away with a point.

The promising debuts of Gabriel Zakuani, a step ahead of our central defensive options from last season, and Matty Taylor, who showed glimpses of real quality with some fine passes and crosses, gives us reason for optimism for the potentially tough season ahead. The worry that Page may have is the strength of the bench which could still do with some tweaking with so many games coming up in the next few months. Page has suggested that there could well be a couple of new additions by the time the transfer window closes with Barnsley defender Lewin Nyatanga a rumoured target to further bolster the back line.

The attacking sphere would also benefit from another pair of legs. While Revell and Rico are old hats at this level, a younger striker who knows where the back of the net is would be massively useful.

We’re off and running, though, and after waiting months for the proper football to return, we’re now thrown into a hefty fixture list that sees us play five more times – starting with the tough trip to Championship Barnsley in the League Cup on Tuesday night – before the end of August.

The claret boots are under the League One table…it’s pretty comfy here!

The first chinks of light

Alex RevellIt’s been a pretty slow, concerning pre-season so far truth be told with the Cobblers squad being slowly chipped away at and poor old Rob Page trying to appease the situation with hopeful interviews and calming messages. So it was with a bit of relief that Page’s latest test, a friendly against QPR that in other pre-seasons wouldn’t have come under half as much scrutiny, was somewhat overcome thanks to a solid rear guard showing and a well taken goal from one of his new recruits.

It’s always a bit of a funny period in the build up to the big kick off but if we’re going to despair in the 4-2 defeat to Brackley then surely we should herald the merits of a draw with a decent Championship side. At the same time, if we don’t care too much that we shipped four goals on Saturday, we shouldn’t be getting overly excited by a strong defensive showing on Tuesday.

Either way you look at it, the QPR performance was an improvement and two new signings – at each end of the pitch – look decent acquisitions based on the feedback so far. Gabriel Zakuani has settled well at the back and Alex Revell continued a decent run in front of goal with an eye catching finish in front of the home crowd for the first time.

In the middle of the park, 17-year-old Shaun McWilliams provides a hope for a piece of home grown talent in the build up to the season. Having signed his first professional deal in May, McWilliams is now fully involved and by all accounts didn’t look out of place on Tuesday night. If his development kicks on it’ll be a massive bonus in a season when every place in the squad counts.

There are still questions on attacking intent with the obvious Ricky Holmes shaped hole just begging to be filled. Anyone looking for a direct replacement in terms of flair, creativity and style will likely be disappointed but if Page can pull a rabbit out of the hat in the form of a winger even close to Holmes’ ability then the first eleven will start to look more than capable of holding their own.

Port Vale’s player of the year Anthony Grant is the only target officially rotating around the Cobblers rumour mill as things stand with the midfielder the subject of an offer from his former boss that was described by Vale chairman Norman Smurthwaite as one that wouldn’t fuel his car for a year. Until we know what kind of motor Smurthwaite rolls around Burslem with we won’t know the true value of our offer but the point is that it was far beneath what Vale would require.

There’s surely plenty bubbling along under the surface but credit to Page for not rushing out and signing any old Tom, Dick or Harry just to appease the impatient among us (myself included!).

On the pitch, Tuesday night was a welcome relief and hopefully now that we’re well into the pre-season campaign some of the niggles will begin to iron out.

The final furlong – two weeks to go until the season starts – is upon us this weekend!

Page unveiled as the new man for Cobblers

523390419TM00005_PORT_VALE_The usual time scale for naming a new manager – particularly at the end of a season and before playoffs are complete – is pretty lengthy and drawn out but Kelvin Thomas and the Cobblers have worked fast to get their man as Port Vale’s Rob Page was unveiled this afternoon at a Sixfields news conference. It was clear from the start of the process last week that Thomas had some ideas in mind as to the type of profile he wants for the new boss and Page is likely to have been one of the candidates identified early on.

He’s by no means a high profile appointment but after plenty of recent appointments before Chris Wilder that have flattered to deceive in terms of coming with a load of hype and expectation it’s maybe for the best that we’ve gone for a young manager who has already done a decent job at League One level. Vale was Page’s first managerial position and having led them to safety in his first few months in charge at Vale Park, it’s notable that he helped them to defy last season’s relegation odds (Vale were second favourites for the drop at the start of the campaign) to finish in the top half of the table.

To me, that’s a key point of the whole appointment. He’s worked on limited resources to stabilise Vale and has worked above and beyond the goals that would have been set for him a year ago. Though his experience as a manager isn’t as vast as many on the list, he’s preferable to me to the likes of Gary Bowyer for his knowledge of the division both as a player and during his couple of years as a manager. He’s proved to be a good communicator and man manager and obviously has motivational skills to get players to play above their potential – particularly the likes of JJ Hooper who the Cobblers released in 2014 but reappeared for the Valiants with goals and performances of some maturity this season.

Vale fans were disappointed at the news of Page leaving too, which is a pretty good indicator, though some of their reasons for why he shouldn’t choose Northampton are questionable to say the least!

The appointment is early enough now for the Cobblers to move on and Page will have the entire summer to prepare for life in League One with his new charges. The key tasks will be retaining the likes of Adam Smith, Ricky Holmes and John-Joe O’Toole and dipping into his contact book to bring in the right players that won’t disrupt the team spirit of a club that went through every emotion possible together this season.

With all of this in mind, here are a couple of key points from this afternoon’s press conference where Page was formerly announced as the new Cobblers boss..

Kelvin Thomas welcomes his man…

Thomas welcomed Page to the club and emphasised his delight at bringing in an “outstanding young manager” who is “energetic,  young and ambitious.” He was looking for a manager to come in and continue the work done by Chris Wilder and Alan Knill.

John Harbin joins as Performance Coach…

Joining Page at the club is Performance Coach John Harbin who has a background in Rugby League and football and has previously held similar posts at Oldham, Crystal Palace, Charlton, Coventry, QPR, Swansea, Plymouth and with Page at Port Vale.

Further announcements to come…

More backroom staff appointments will be made “in due course” with the assistant manager position still open at the time of writing. Rumours of Marc Richards agreeing to become a player/assistant are rife but that’s yet to be confirmed.

The first words…

Page was immediately interviewed by Sky Sports News this afternoon and gave a steady, confident interview and emphasised the need to manage expectations. He mentioned that he’s not met the players because they’ve already gone off on their holidays but is already looking forward to pre-season. Page acknowledged Chris Wilder’s work and said that he’s spoken to the former Town boss, who was hugely complimentary about the squad.

He also gave his first Cobblers Player interview and said it was a “no brainer” to join the Cobblers after speaking with Kelvin Thomas, who he seems to credit a lot to in terms of the decision to leave Vale Park for Sixfields. He again praised the efforts of the players last season and expressed it as a “great opportunity” to work with them.

Overall, Page seems in a very calm mood on his first day in the job.

Let the new era officially begin!

A Perfect Ten!

MarquisThere’s just no stopping the Cobblers and a relentless run towards League One. Victory at York City on Tuesday night was the TENTH in a row and shot us to twelve points clear of Plymouth in second place, making this sequence mean more and more by the game. The latest chapter on the path to glory meant that a quick fire double was recorded against the Minstermen and it was again a fully deserved reward for an accomplished away performance.

At this stage of the season, teams are either fighting for their lives, gunning for promotion or standing an outside chance of the playoffs with not many sides having nothing to play for. York well and truly fall into the first category and we know first-hand how much of a struggle it can be to play against teams battling for their lives – we were one of them a couple of years ago.

So it was never a formality by any means as we headed north, backed by an impressive following of over 400. Those hardy souls came back fully rewarded while disbelief of what’s happening this season again spread across the country. More records are down – that’s the eighth away win in a row for Town – and there just seems to be immense levels of quality and togetherness roaring through this squad.

Losing Marc Richards, Town’s top scorer, would usually be a disaster at this stage of the season. Instead, John Marquis was brought in on loan and he put in a heck of a shift at Bootham Crescent including a (re)debut goal. John-Joe O’Toole missed out through injury…again a big loss on the basis of the last few months but Jason Taylor came in and was a rock in front of the back four alongside Danny Rose. Ricky Holmes was rested and started on the bench but the Cobblers still had attacking guile in abundance. The squad is as good as I’ve seen since I started watching us in the early nineties, the football we’re playing is a terrific blend of heart, commitment and pass and move action and we just feel like we’re going to score in every game.

James Collins grabbed another for his growing tally on Tuesday night and he’s another that’s come in and slotted seamlessly in to a system that’s been perfectly drilled by the management team that’s starting to etch their names in history.

Chris Wilder and Alan Knill deserve so much credit for this season but they’re both still very business-like in their approach to the media. There’s no hyperbole about them, no expectations coming from their interviews and you can tell that the ship is hugely tight. If we can hold on for a few more games, the first bottles of champagne can be popped.

Nothing is ever set in stone until points are on the board but this is close as we’ll ever get with 16 games to go to being so positive that we’re going up. Whether we’ll do that as champions is another matter but there really is now no reason why we shouldn’t be adjusting our dreams to include the lifting of silverware – something that a generation of Cobblers fans have never seen.

Long, long, long may this continue…the punch marks on my body are growing by the week but what a ride this is!