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

Blades calling for Wilder – what now for Cobblers?

wilderAfter talks broke down with Charlton Athletic on Monday, Chris Wilder’s head was immediately turned in a northern direction and today the man who led the Cobblers to the League Two title has agreed terms with his boyhood club Sheffield United. The Blades, who will be one of the strong favourites for promotion to the Championship from League One next season, acted quickly on sacking Nigel Adkins and Wilder signed a three year deal this afternoon.

It puts the Cobblers back in a sticky situation ahead of a summer that could now be disrupted in terms of players following Wilder out of the Sixfields door. Kelvin Thomas does, though, seem to want it all resolved as soon as possible so that planning can begin right away for what’s a hugely important first season back in League One.

I’m pretty torn on feelings towards Wilder at this stage. What he’s done for this club is nigh on miraculous having picked us up from the brink of relegation, steadied the ship and then come through this incredible season as champions. His dedication to the club over the last year can’t be questioned in the slightest and there will always be a fond memory of his and Alan Knill’s time in charge. But at the back of my mind there’s a small niggle at him not following the job on having made so many bold statements of team spirit and togetherness. In time I think the latter feeling will fade as we reflect on how we made it to winning the title but all may depend on how strong the follow up regime kicks in. He’ll be forgiven a lot more by Town fans, I’m sure, if the next in line to the top job takes us on that next step further.

That ambition isn’t necessarily unfounded – there’s plenty of history of upwardly mobile clubs continuing on their trajectory after a manager leaves for pastures new having built something successful and with the right leader in place now there’s no reason why we can’t hold onto this special atmosphere. The new manager has a lot to do to hold onto that but in his favour is the long deals for key players put in place by Wilder, meaning that the bulk of the squad is at least tied down for another year.

As for who that new man is, well, names are already being bandied about by bookmakers and here’s the first set of odds:

http://www.thesackrace.com/teams/northampton-town

Out of those, Steve Cotterill’s name stands out immediately to me. He’s got bags of experience, plenty of character and his last shot at League One ended with him delivering Bristol City’s first league title for sixty years alongside a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy win in the same season. Cotterill would be one with a long list of contacts and his knowledge of the football league makes him a prime candidate.

Another on that list to perk the interest is Chris Powell, another to boast of a League One title having won the division with Charlton in 2012 whilst the likes of Gary Bowyer and Uwe Rosler might be looking to continue to cut their teeth in top jobs.

Whoever comes out on top in the race for the Town job, there’s plenty for them to get stuck into and at least gives us a big story to follow over the next few weeks!

Thanks do have to go to Chris Wilder and Alan Knill for all of their work, no matter what the circumstance of their departure. They were the lynchpins of the club during a crisis and took us to an unbelievable title. Now it’s time to move on as yet another new chapter in the story of our beloved club begins…

Oh go on then, one more for the road…

After the lord mayor’s show come crucial questions…

Generated by  IJG JPEG Library

This glorious, unbelievable, wonderful season is over. A campaign that saw Northampton Town Football Club dragged to hell and back ends with a points haul of 99 points, an unbeaten run of 24 games and a highlight reel that will be replayed for generations to come.

The celebrations and outpouring of emotions came to a head on Sunday when the town came out in force to welcome its heroes on the open top bus parade and if ever you need to be reminded what this football club means to its town then look no further than the feelings expressed over the past few months and in the scenes in the town centre on Sunday. Players, staff and officials were rightly given heroes welcomes in a fitting finale with victory at Portsmouth on the final day the icing on the cake before the party could begin.

But as the dust settled, Monday saw disturbing news that could threaten to halt the momentum of promotion and the championship win. Chris Wilder and Alan Knill have been approached by Charlton Athletic and Kelvin Thomas contractually had to agree to the pair going to London for talks in a twist that not many would have seen coming.

Wilder and Knill, of course, have every right to go and talk to Charlton with both of them at a stage in their career where chances to manage at a club with such a pedigree at a minimum. But with the Addicks’ problems well documented is there really a whole lot of difference between the two clubs going into the 2016/17 season? I understand the history, the recent heights that Charlton have been playing at and the fact that theoretically they’ll be amongst the favourites for League One next season if they sort their off the pitch problems out but this still seems a little bit of an odd one to me. The momentum that the Cobblers have surely can’t be matched by many teams at the start of next season should the squad remain together and I’d argue that at this point in time we’re a much more stable place to be than at The Valley.

Things can change though and perhaps promises are being made to the duo that this is a bright new start for Charlton rather than the continuation of a downward spiral. If the powers that be manage to persuade Wilder and Knill to move then we could be facing not only the loss of the management team that have been the pillars of this incredible season but also that loss of the togetherness that they spoke of so often in the last few months.

There surely has to be part of them that wants to finish this job, whatever that entails, with a crack at League One. If they do move then there’s a massive chance that the job becomes a completely different one and the place instantly becomes restless. Will the players that were led so defiantly by Wilder up sticks as well for pastures new? Not necessarily following him to Charlton but looking elsewhere now that the heads of the operation have been taken off? Whoever would come in as replacements would face a massive task of keeping that spirit alive and convincing the key figures to hang around and really have a go with the group that fought tooth and nail together to earn promotion in the first place.

It’s all ifs and buts at the moment but it’s a situation that could put a bit of a downer on the celebrations and lead to a summer of uncertainty. The season may be only just over but we’ve certainly wasted no time in creating headlines within days of the final whistle!

Michael Appleton created a headline of his own on Saturday when he ridiculously claimed that his Oxford United side were the best in League Two just seconds after they clinched promotion. Instead of just enjoying his side’s achievements – which are impressive, don’t get me wrong – he decided to ignore the fact that the side above his not only finished on 99 POINTS but also did the double over his side. He claimed that his comments might upset some people in Northampton…Mr Appleton, it’s such a laughable comment that it becomes mere humour rather than anything that would disturb a championship parade. See you next season Mr A!

Champions! So what now?

sky-bet-league-two-trophy-4x3528-2737037_478x359The title is won and Northampton Town are CHAMPIONS of League Two. Many of us never thought they would live to tell a tale of a championship winning Cobblers side but after a goalless draw at Exeter City we’ve done it and can spend a summer in the sun as a returning force to League One. Although the four draws in a row that sealed promotion and top spot weren’t a showcase of our collective powers, it really doesn’t matter with the joy that followed the final whistles at Sixfields last week and at St. James’ Park on Saturday overflowing across Town fans across the country.

Last night, the Cobblers did get back to winning ways and saw off Crawley Town in a homecoming fit for champions. Again it wasn’t a score line that blows anyone away but it was important to get back to winning ways and to keep this extraordinary unbeaten run going. The proud nature of Chris Wilder and this phenomenal group of players should mean that there’s still plenty to write home about in the final three games of the season. So here’s just a few things to keep us interested as those below us battle to join us in League One…

The 100 point dream

Last night’s victory over Crawley keeps alive the one final dream of this season – for the Cobblers to reach the magical 100 point mark. With nine points to play for, it’s tantalisingly poised with Town eight points away from reaching that particular target. Yeovil Town, Luton Town and Portsmouth stand in our way – Yeovil is certainly winnable with their safety now secure, Luton will bring with them a crowd baying for our blood that should lift the atmosphere on the day when we’ll lift the trophy whilst Portsmouth away on the final day will guarantee a party on the south coast. Pompey may still need points to secure a playoff place on that day as well so if we go into it with 98 points on the board it makes for a fascinating afternoon. First, though, to get there!

The battle for 2nd and 3rd

Just two points separate second and fifth in League Two with Accrington, Oxford, Plymouth and Bristol Rovers battling it out for the final two automatic promotion places. What a great position we’re in to be able to watch that fight unfold in the next couple of weeks and it’s a position we’ve truly earned. The fact that none of the four play each other in the final three games means it’s a case of who holds their nerve best in their own games and it’s becoming a titanic battle to avoid dropping into the end of season lottery. Speaking of which…

The Playoffs

One of the biggest reliefs about sealing promotion is that we’re not going to be involved in the playoffs. With two of the aforementioned sides guaranteed to be in that mix likely along with Portsmouth and a resurgent Wimbledon (who both still have a game in hand) it’s looking like one of the strongest line ups for League Two playoffs in years. Exciting games ahead!

The fringe

We saw glimpses last night of fringe players coming back in to attempt to persuade Chris Wilder that they have the nouse to stay in his plans for League One. The likes of Josh Lelan may be given a big chance to impress before the summer and maybe we’ll even see some younger talent pop up in the last three games.

The crowning of champions

Finally, the Luton game gives Cobblers fans the chance to herald their heroes at Sixfields one last time before the summer and we should be ready for a send-off like no other. It’s looking like we’ll lift the League Two trophy on that day and images from the end of that game will go into the annuls of history alongside the Wembley Heroes.

So there are just a few things to keep us interest in this remarkable season. It’s a chance to properly enjoy our football and enjoy our wonderful club before the summer.

Up the Cobblers!

Over the line amidst confusion and drama!

goingup

In the end it wasn’t a powerful surge over the line, it wasn’t a clean cut win to take us into League One and it wasn’t entirely clear until a couple of minutes after the full time whistle what on earth was going in. But Saturday afternoon’s target was reached despite the Cobblers dropping a two goal lead to a Bristol Rovers side that may well join us in League One next season. Northampton Town are promoted and however we made it, it’s simply a remarkable achievement.

Just as Leicester City won’t care a jot in how they make it to what will surely be an unbelievable Premier League title win, Town fans should rejoice that the job is done. When we look back in years to come, all that we’ll see is the final points total – up to 88 with 15 still to play for – and our name at the top of the table and after nearly losing the club in November it surely goes down as one of the all-time great seasons in our history.

It did look as though we might do things the easy way on Saturday as Nicky Adams headed in mid-way through the first half against Rovers before the unsung Sam Hoskins made it two just after the break. Cue champagne being popped and celebrations starting as the countdown began to a full time whistle that would confirm ascension. But the Gas had other ideas and still wanted to ruin the party. The prolific Matt Taylor headed home with fifteen minutes to go to shake things up and Ellis Harrison stunned Sixfields into near silence by levelling things up in the dying minutes.

By many calculations we’d have to wait another week with Accrington Stanley winning and Plymouth Argyle standing to earn a point against Wimbledon but then a helping hand from Bayo Akinfenwa of all people saw Wimbledon win it at Home Park and the gap widen by another crucial point that put promotion back on. No-one in or out of the ground seemed to know what it meant but the pitch invasion and party could begin once the club officially announced that we were back in League One.

Cue the players emerging in the West Stand to celebrate amongst the supporters and that in itself is a picture that sums up the season – the squad together in celebration with the supporters who stuck by them as they played for weeks on no wages, worried and campaigned together in the autumn and who deserve every bit of praise. I’ve used many superlatives over the last few months about the character of this squad, this management team and our wonderful supporters and Saturday was a time to just revel in the glory of something that just doesn’t happen much in a lifetime of supporting a football team.

All that’s left to do now is to clinch the title and if we better Oxford United’s result on Saturday (Town travel to Exeter while the U’s host Luton Town) then the trophy is ours with four games to go. The Cobblers are also protecting an unbeaten run that stretches back to before the turn of the year and Chris Wilder certainly won’t be letting up on the pursuit of ending this season on even more of a high.

What a season. What a club!

Edging closer…

After months of jubilation, high octane football and disbelief at a season like we’ve not seen in a generation, the Cobblers are now within one victory of confirming promotion. Though the last few weeks have seen us crawl toward the finish line rather than burst through it, nothing at all can be taken away from what’s happening at the football club that could easily have been no more.

There’s a chance that the big P could be placed next to our name in the league table this Saturday when our old friends from Bristol Rovers pay a visit to the newly revamped Sixfields which now includes seats in the East Stand once more. There should be a carnival atmosphere around the place and it’s a day where you just want to be involved in one way or another.

For the players, it’s a game that’s the most difficult of those left this season but it’s one that they should hopefully rise to. With uncertainty last weekend in the 2-2 draw with Notts County there were perhaps some nerves around with everyone so desperate to confirm League One football as early as possible. But this weekend we know what we need to do. Win and we’re up. It doesn’t get much more tantalising than that in the build up to a game.

For the fans, a step back is needed slightly from getting anywhere near a level of frustration. The last few games have seen us draw plenty but of course the incredible form of early 2016 wasn’t going to carry on forever and if you don’t win then a draw is plenty good enough in our position.

There’s plenty of history between the Cobblers and Bristol Rovers of course and many are looking to the game for the sort of feeling felt during THAT May evening in 1998. I’ve always said that level of atmosphere will never be felt again at Sixfields but after nearly going out of business and losing our club there is no doubt that if that final whistle goes with Town having secured promotion the emotions will be coming very, very close.

Here’s to getting over that line!

The relentless charge goes on…

O' Toole - brace

O’ Toole – brace

After what could constitute a Cobblers ‘slump’ with back to back draws against Hartlepool and Wimbledon, Town returned to their extraordinary and swashbuckling ways yesterday at the end of what could have been another massively tough afternoon. There’s simply no stopping us and the way in which we tore apart a Carlisle side that still have promotion ambitions of their own was another message sent to League Two.

It was also a message returned back to Keith Curle, the United manager, who had expressed shock during the week that we were the runaway leaders and in return got full proof sent straight back at him. Curle, serially bothered by Northampton Town, will now be left ruing the fact that he wrote the team talk for the Cobblers players ahead of the game.

It was another performance of high quality from Town who simply stepped up a gear in the second half when the home side threatened to fight back. The Cobblers had taken the lead through a John Marquis flicked header and a John Joe O’Toole effort before former loanee Hallam Hope halved the deficit. It’s a measure of just how far we’ve come this season that rather than give in to usual Cobblers law of conceding again and going on to lose that we just picked things up again to ram home three more crucial points.

Ricky Holmes set up O’Toole for his brace before James Collins wrapped things up in style for a resounding victory to reward the 457 Cobblers fans who had made the long journey north. The trip home would become even more celebratory as news trickled in of second place Oxford and third placed Plymouth drawing with one another and of Accrington dropping points at Wimbledon to leave us thirteen points clear at the top and a gigantic twenty one clear of Stanley in fourth.

Games in hand are yet to be played including all four sides currently occupying playoff places squaring off against each other on Tuesday night but even so the gap is now surely insurmountable enough for us to start planning for League One football. It’s now got to be a case of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ we’ll be promoted and attention will soon be turned to the title race which is still going to give us a big challenge. Chris Wilder isn’t the type of manager to let standards slip and though there must surely be a big celebration coming up in the next month or so he’ll keep feet well and truly on the ground.

For the supporters who have been rock solid throughout the troubles off the field in the first half of the season, taking the rough alongside the smooth, this is all the biggest possible reward. Pride just doesn’t seem a big enough word to some this all up at the moment but we are edging close to getting that single letter in front of our name on the league table that would mean everything…P.

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!

Record Breakers

dannyroseAnother game, another win, another milestone passed. Saturday afternoon saw the Cobblers move to TEN points clear of closest challengers Plymouth Argyle and this dream season is showing absolutely no sign of letting up. Wycombe, and in particular Gareth Ainsworth, would have come into the game licking their lips at the prospect of spoiling our best run of wins since the sixties and though they came mightily close to coming away with something there was no stopping a Town side who are sparring with the very best.

Before the trio of games with Orient, Oxford and Wycombe I said I’d take a five point haul – the fact we’ve got nine adds even more disbelief to a season that’s likely to be spoken of for years and years in the future.

Wycombe were set up to both frustrate and to catch us out at the back through dangerous set pieces but Town stepped up to the challenge once more.

The big news before the game was that of Marc Richard’s Achilles injury and seeing the top scorer limping around the West Stand in an air boot during the game wasn’t a promising sight. Such is the strength of the Cobblers squad, though, that James Collins moving forwards with Nicky Adams coming into one of the three attacking midfield positions didn’t make us look too much more depleted.

The first half will be mainly remembered for one of the more blatant penalty shouts being turned down as the impressive Lee Martin was clipped on the six yard line by a Wanderers defender. Referee Graham Salisbury blew up but stunned the entire ground by pointing the opposite way and booking the Town man for a dive. Why he would have even contemplate going down in that position is beyond me and it was a massive error from the man in black that could have been hugely costly.

There were chances at both ends after that with a Wycombe cross flashing past the Cobblers six yard box and John-Joe O’Toole being denied from close range at the other end but it was all square at the break.

The second half began with a flurry of Cobblers chances and the pace was well and truly stepped up. The visitors looked more and more like a team hoping to cling on to a point and when Collins missed a couple of good chances and Ricky Holmes flashed a shot over it looked like they may just get it.

But just after the hour, Holmes combined well with Martin on the right and crossed for Collins to lay off for Danny Rose to finish well into the corner of the net and Sixfields erupted at the prospect of that club record ninth successive win.

Anthony Stewart came closest to bagging Wycombe an equaliser as his shot from distance was well palmed away by Adam Smith but though the nerves were jangling late on there was nothing else to threaten the latest victory being snatched away from us.

It’s the first time I’ve seen us live in a couple of months and it’s a genuine privilege these days. To see a Northampton Town side that’s equal part genuine quality mixed with absolute heart and desire is a joy to see. Every one of those players from ‘Concrete Rod’ and the unfillable Adam Smith at the back to Holmes – without doubt one of the best players I’ve ever seen don the claret –, Martin and Collins, and all around them in the squad and the bench is giving everything they have to the cause of not just gaining promotion but blowing away everyone in their path.

You can feel a change around Sixfields. There’s optimism, there’s appreciation and there’s a togetherness and bond between the fans and players that’s not been apparent for many a year. Simply everything at the club has come together and it gives us all a huge sense of pride once more in our town’s football club.

The records keep falling at our feet and this outrageous season goes on and on…

—————————————————————————————————————————–

After the disappointing news on Rico – he’ll be out for at least four weeks – came the resigning of John Marquis this afternoon. Wilder seems to have an emergency fund to cover injuries and this is a fantastic piece of business once again. Rico’s finishing will be missed but I was really impressed with Marquis during his first stint here a couple of years ago so hopefully as long as we keep making the chances his introduction will be seamless.