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.

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…

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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.

Another giant leap – it’s EIGHT not out!

l2EIGHT points clear. EIGHT wins in a row.

I sit here tonight speechless once again. The Cobblers have just beaten Oxford United 1-0 in a season defining result that takes us to completely new heights. It’s now EIGHT wins in a row in League Two. It’s back to back wins against two genuine promotion rivals. It goes against everything that we know as Cobblers fans and I almost don’t know how to respond, such is the rarity of this form!

Just as we did on Saturday, we rode our luck on a few occasions but once Marc Richards smashed home the winner from the spot at the Kassam there was something to cling on to, another three points to protect and the prospect of extending a huge gap between ourselves and fourth spot hanging like the juiciest of carrots.

The strength shown in defending that lead was admirable but also, in part, standard and epitomised a Cobblers side that is as resolute as it is skilful and as tough as it is flashy. It’s stuff of champions, and even I have to admit it now – we can start dreaming of not only promotion but of lifting the League Two title in May. What an absolutely incredible season this is.

I keep saying that it has to end somewhere, that the run will surely come a cropper eventually but this formidable side just keeps defying all Cobblers logic to batter League Two into submission time and time again. What we’re witnessing is close to being a season that’s etched in history in the same bracket as 1986/87 and that 99 point classic campaign. It’s once in a generation stuff.

We’re now on the brink of a bit of history after equalling the club record of successive league wins. One more against Wycombe on Saturday and we’ll be over that line into the history books. Gareth Ainsworth and his side would relish being the ones to break the run but we really should fear no-one right now.

As we look towards the final third of the season, we have to take this all in and enjoy watching this group of players that dragged us out of desperation in November and have set the league alight ever since.

This is utter, utter madness but it’s there to be savoured. It’s another hugely proud night, another one to savour. A few more and League One will start to beckon.

Get the champagne on ice…

On the brink of history…

Rod+McDonald+Northampton+Town+v+Birmingham+lXl6kUPquCRlJust when you thought it couldn’t get any better. ..Just when you thought we couldn’t score any more spectacular goals…Just when you thought we were about to stumble across a bump in the road…the Cobblers come up trumps and better themselves one more time. In a second half performance that perhaps eclipses most in this stunning run of games, the Cobblers produced four goals at Leyton Orient to remain top of the league and make every other team in the league stand up and take notice.

The score line on Saturday will surely have sent waves of nerves through League Two, particularly the promotion rivals that are still keeping up the pace behind us. The gap to watch – that of a huge fifteen points between us and fourth place – is growing by the week and Chris Wilder’s men are on the brink of doing something very, very special.

The victory on Saturday was made more special by some of the goals that lead to it. If an overhead kick from Rod McDonald wasn’t special enough, then this from Ricky Holmes certainly was…

Can this man do any wrong? I think not. That, my friends, is an absolute peach and if it were scored by anyone in the top flight we’d be seeing it for months on end. Take a big, big, bow, son!

Great to see James Collins wrapping things up with a scramble followed by a fine finish – both of which worked to simply put the cherry on the cake of a quite remarkable afternoon in East London. Orient will have been stunned after a first half that appeared pretty even and saw a fair few chances go begging.

Just how much further Town can go will once again be challenged with another big step up at Oxford on Tuesday night. As it would have been on Saturday, a point would be a more than useful gain from one of our closest challengers, but the onus will all be on them in one of the toughest games we have left. There should be absolutely no fear from Wilder’s men.

The manager is probably the calmest man in the place at the moment, on screen and radio at least. Wilder isn’t getting over excited or over hyping the situation which is probably what we all need right now. Inside, though, he must be swelling with pride at the job he and Alan Knill are doing and with the results that are putting him deeper and deeper into Northampton Town folklore.

Pride is most definitely the word at the moment. That, and, disbelief that this is happening to Northampton Town.

That team that you make self-deprecating jokes about…you know the ones: “Well someone has to support ‘em”.

That team you’re mocked about (Cobblers! Wobblers!)

That team that you feel will let you down at some point.

That team.

That team are on the brink of history. Hold on tight.