Impish start for Cobblers!

So it is indeed a home game for the Cobblers at the start of the 2018/19 season and what could possibly say “Welcome back to League Two” more than a visit from our old sparring buddies Lincoln City?! The Imps will bring good form from an excellent first season back in the Football League last term after they finished seventh in League Two and won the EFL Trophy. Despite losing in the playoff semi-finals to Exeter City they’ll be confident of pushing on again under the highly rated Danny Cowley.

The first month seems especially testing for Town with long haul trips to Carlisle and Morecambe as well as away games with Wycombe in the League Cup and Colchester in the league meaning that the mettle of Dean Austin’s men will be examined well in the early weeks.

Other games that jump out straight away are the games against Gary Johnson’s Cheltenham Town, as discussed yesterday, on September 8 (home) and March 23 away) as well as the clashes with MK Dons on October 20 (away) and December 29 (home). The first game of 2019 will see us visit Forest Green Rovers with the game earlier in the season (October 13) at Sixfields being the first ever league meeting between the sides – the only other clash between us came in a 3-0 win for the Cobblers in the FA Cup back in 2010.

Easter comes late in the season this time around with a double header against Macclesfield Town (home) and Bury (away) likely to be pivotal with only two league games left after that, at home to Yeovil Town and away at Oldham. It’s the reverse fixture of the final game of last season for us with that jaunt up to Boundary Park to close out the season.

So there it is and here is the full fixture list for your perusal. Let planning commence!

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It’s fixtures time! So who are the ideal opposition for opening day?

We interrupt your World Cup shenanigans because…it’s that time again…rejoice, it’s fixtures day tomorrow! What better way to plan for the 2018/19 season then to spend hours pontificating to your work mate (who really couldn’t care less) about the perils of Oldham away on a Tuesday night in December?!

Of course with the small distraction of events in Russia, this year’s fixtures release has snuck up on us like a Shaun McWilliams tackle but all the better for it as the Cobblers prepare to learn the dates of key clashes in their bid to make a swift return to League One. So who should we be looking for as an ideal first opponent come the big kick off and who would provide the tougher assignments for Dean Austin’s first full hunting season?

The obvious choices to avoid are the teams just relegated with us from League One so that counts out Oldham Atheltic, Bury and MK Dons. We also want to dodge the two teams coming up – momentum will still be very much with both Tranmere Rovers and Conference National winners Macclesfield Town. You’d want to kick things off at home so that eliminates some testing long haul opening days at the likes of Carlisle United and Exeter City.

Those with a ‘new manager bounce’ should also be avoided so the aforementioned Exeter, Carlisle, MK Dons, Oldham and Macclesfield should, in theory at least, be better left to a mid-season encounter.

Now let’s take out the teams in the best form towards the end of last season that are left in the division – Crewe Alexandra and Grimsby Town both finished the campaign with three consecutive wins while Cambridge United and Notts County also finished well.

That leaves us with eleven possibilities so to narrow it down more we’ll discard Mansfield Town, Lincoln City, Swindon Town and Colchester United who haven’t been taken out already but are within the front runners with the bookies.

We’re looking for an opposition who will cause a bit of a stir by coming to Sixfields on the opening day but who also ended last season in poor form and who are down the list in the betting and any list of expectant title or promotion winners. There is, then, having taken all of the above into consideration, only one standout opponent and that is Cheltenham Town.

Gary Johnson left Sixfields under a mighty cloud having done next to nothing with the club, alienating fans and upsetting the majority of the fan base, and his Robins side ended the season with four straight defeats to leave them with an uncertain summer. Fans are divided as to whether they believe Johnson is the man to take them forward and what better way to kick off our return to League Two then to ‘welcome’ Johnson back to Sixfields and then send him on his merry way pointless?

When Carlisle away comes out tomorrow morning (9am fixtures announcement!) don’t blame me but we can only hope that things fall a little more invitingly.

It’s the first milestone of the summer in the Football League…bring it on!

Just too good to be true?

OK, OK it’s the obvious headline but sometimes you’ve just got to roll with it, especially in the summer when it’s pretty quiet on the news front.

It’s a new signing! Always good to see work being done early and the Cobblers have snapped up Andy Williams after his release from Doncaster Rovers. Playing only thirteen times last season thanks to an ankle injury that cost him more than half of the campaign, it’s clear that it’s been a struggle of a year for the man who counts Hereford United, Bristol Rovers, Yeovil Town and Swindon Town among his other clubs through a decent career in the lower leagues.

He’s undoubtedly bringing bags of goal scoring experience from the top end of League Two with him and early reviews are that he’s just the type of character that Dean Austin will be trying to bring in over the coming months.

Quite telling are his reasons for joining Town, with the striker saying

“I hope I will bring goals to the team. I like to think I’ve got good movement, I know where the back of the net is and I am a big believer in not leaving anything out on the pitch.”

Welcome Andy!

 

Andy Williams – the stats

Age: 31

Previous Clubs: Hereford United, Bristol Rovers, Yeovil Town, Swindon Town, Doncaster Rovers

Career Appearances: 517

Career Goals: 123

Slight Return…and how one man can reignite Northampton Town

Hi there, it’s good to see you again. Nice to meet you, if you stumbled across this by accident. Please stay for a cuppa and a biscuit.

So I’m back. Well I’ve been here all along, but I’m back in the blogging game and hopefully after many, many moons and much activity (including a couple of managerial changes) at Sixfields it feels like the right time to resume blogging business. You might have noticed some changes at the top of the page, and yes, my exile status is no more – back in October, myself and the family moved to Northampton and I became a full time town resident again for the first time since 2003. Having been back at Sixfields for much of the second half of this season and going to more games in a few months than I had in a couple of years it felt like an itch needing to be scratched to return to the blog.

The dross served up under Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink put things on hold – while there was plenty to complain about and plenty of space for analysis I felt as disconnected from the club as I had living miles and miles away. Having moved to a house in the shadows of the County Ground and to within fifteen minutes of Sixfields rather than three hours, it felt incredibly flat returning to watch my beloved team put in the type of performance that we thought were consigned to history. When you’re living so far away you can become disconnected in a good way and tell yourself that it can’t be as bad as everyone is saying. It most certainly was.

But then came Dean Austin. At first a man thrown in simply to see through an expected relegation to its conclusion, the former Spurs defender (we’re racking up a fair few of those in our hot seat!) took the bull by the horns and though the demotion was confirmed with that heart breaking late goal at Walsall, it was a week earlier that reignited and rejuvenated the support that will always be at the heart of the Cobblers.

Austin had the same players at his disposal but sent them out with fire in their heart, passion in their outlook and, God forbid, played them in the right positions. Keeping things simple and sending players out with belief in their ability sounds straight forward but after three consecutive bland managers this was a major release for fans who had been served up some of the dullest football in years since the departure of Chris Wilder.

Austin didn’t just come out and speak a good game (and a very good game at that), he seemed to instantly forge a connection with the claret faithful that has been so lacking since Wilder left for Sheffield United. Having that connection is so crucial to any set of supporters and even comes ahead of winning every week to me. So it was with a great happiness that despite relegation, Austin was given the job full time yesterday morning.

It’s clear that the players responded to Austin and the fans responded to his honesty and passion so it’s the right appointment at the right time. It’s true that Austin has never had to negotiate contracts, plan a summer of recruitment or put together a vision for an entire campaign but if the group of players who looked so dishevelled under Hasselbaink can be revived then it gives you hope that he has the knowhow and nous to persuade the right type of character to the club for the battle to return to League One.

What’s also in his favour is that most of the squad remains contracted to the club so an absolute major overhaul isn’t necessary. Yes we need to get rid of some but there’s enough in that squad to think that we can challenge if we can get the right type of player in. Austin has seen their strengths and weaknesses over the last few weeks so appointing him now avoids the issue of a new manager coming in and having to run the rule over everyone before even getting started with recruitment.

Frustrating as it is that we’d only just got going and started to enjoy watching the team again when the season was coming to an end, it means that we can actually look forward to August again – we know the style Austin wants to play, we know how his teams will approach games and we know what to expect.

If you’re in any doubt about Austin’s outlook on the game, check the below video out, put out by former employers Crystal Palace. As the Cobblers go into another new era, it looks like we have a very capable pair of hands and a great mind for the game in charge. It’s something that the people of Northampton and the fans of the Cobblers can, and should, get behind.

See you all again very soon – it’s good to back…in more ways than one.

Up the Cobblers!

Danny

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…

stfc

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!