Stand up and be counted before it’s too late…

standup

I’d like to say it couldn’t get any worse than this. A comprehensive defeat at home to a supposed relegation rival is pretty low and if the Cobblers carry on in this manner than no-one above the relegation zone will need to worry a jot in the next few weeks. Chris Wilder seemed to have everything in control and had been snapping away at the gap between ourselves and those whom we’re chasing but the last couple of performances have taken us back to those dark days where it all looked a certainty that we would be going down.

What’s more upsetting than the result, as bad as that was, is that the majority of the side don’t seem to properly understand that they’re in a relegation fight. Whether it’s down to half of them being safe in the knowledge that they won’t be here next season is one to debate but quite simply a professional football should be playing for all he’s worth no matter how long the contract.

The players drafted in should be seeing the likes of Kelvin Langmead, Lewis Hornby, Lee Collins and Alex Nicholls on the sidelines and fighting for THEM. They’re all helplessly watching their side drift closer and closer to the drop. There’s a manager who’s been entrusted to keeping us in the division – they should be fighting for HIM. But most of all there’s thousands of Cobblers fans around the country and, in some cases, the world who live and breathe Northampton Town, who embrace each other through the highs and shed a tear with each other through the lows – they should be fighting for US.

I commented on the demise of Barnet when we sent them down at Sixfields last season and particularly mentioned the apathy being shown by players and fans alike. Their team had just been sent to non-league and plenty of them hardly batted an eyelid but instead just shrugged it off as if it were expected that much. How miserable it would be if we end up in six games time in the same state.

But that’s the reality we’re facing if this carries on.

I know a lot of people who have completely given up and any sane person who saw the Bury defeat would absolutely agree with them. But personally, and despite all the evidence pointing against it, I can’t concede that my team are going into the Skrill Premier that easily. While there’s time on the clock and games to play I simply can’t accept it – football has a funny way of turning around in the most desperate of times.

It won’t happen by magic, though – the players, temporary and permanent, need to clear the air and remember how to win football matches. They need to remember that their futures and reputations are on the line and that there are thousands of fans out there whose lives they will affect in the next few weeks. This game is a matter of life or death to so many and it should mean just as much to the players who are picking up a hefty wage each and every week because we’ll be there long after they’ve gone and if they have any pride whatsoever in their work then the next six games should become the biggest of their lives.

They’re definitely going to be the biggest of ours…

Diamond in the rough – How an emergency loan could help to save the Cobblers

zanderdiamondA few weeks ago I wrote a blog piece about six things the Cobblers, and Chris Wilder, would need to win this fight against relegation. One of the ingredients I mentioned was the return of Kelvin Langmead. Here’s what I wrote:

“Another thing that isn’t in Wilder’s hands is the fitness of Kelvin Langmead. An absolute rock in the run to Wembley last season after an extraordinary personal renaissance, Langmead has been sorely missed having been rushed back from his initial injury blow. He hasn’t played at all this time out and as the length of time he’s been out for went on and on so did our fall from grace and to the foot of the table. If we’re to clamber out of this mess then we need Langmead back as soon as possible.”

What I didn’t ever expect is that an injury to Lee Collins would inadvertently bring us into contact with a man who’s starting to show all of the qualities that we’ve been missing in the middle of the back four since Langmead’s injury flared up again in the summer. On Saturday afternoon Zander Diamond, the loanee from Burton Albion, notched his first goal for the Cobblers to further endear himself to a Town support that had, even before then, been heralding his arrival as significant to any survival bid.

Diamond has made four appearances so far – the Cobblers have won two and drawn two in that spell and kept two clean sheets. Yesterday’s point at Scunthorpe and holding the Iron to a 1-1 draw with ten men was also significant and it’s no coincidence that the unbeaten run has coincided with Diamond’s arrival.

It’s not just the clean sheets that show a marked improvement. Diamond has brought the rest of the back four on with him, organising and being the key voice and leader at the back as well as rallying the rest of the team through games where our backs are against the wall. We could easily have surrendered when Southend United pulled us back to 1-1 at Sixfields but instead came back for a huge victory while Bristol Rovers, on another day, could have left with three points rather than just one.

And then there was Scunthorpe on Saturday – the one Langmead-like trait that was missing from Diamonds’ young Town career was a vital goal. Langers made it his trademark to pop up with equalisers and late winners at the end of our escape from the drop in 2012 and when Darren Carter swung in a free kick at Glanford Park Diamond needed no invitation to stoop and flick a header into the top corner.

It’s one of those unexpected moments that you look back on at the end of a season if things end up going your way and if Diamond nips in with a few more goals in that mould while remaining the stalwart figure he’s shown so far then we’ll all be clamouring for a permanent deal in the summer. Pairing him with his predecessor Langmead next season would be something to royally lick our lips about.

For now, though, there’s still a long way to go but four games into his Cobblers career, Mr Diamond is becoming a Cobblers’ best friend.

More puns to come throughout the rest of the season I’m sure…

Sixfields prepared for end of season rush and drama

sixfieldsSixfields Stadium reaches a big milestone at the start of next season and never has the home of the Cobblers been more important than it will be in the coming weeks. The Cobblers, off the back of defeat at Fleetwood Town on Saturday, now face three home games in a week starting with Saturday afternoon’s visit of Hartlepool United. This is obviously the biggest week of the season so far and we have to come out the other side with at least two wins from those three games to give us a chance.

But contending with Coventry City’s ‘home’ games is also going to be a challenge – the Sky Blues’ use of the pitch means that there will be games on the Sixfields pitch on February 22nd, February 25th, March 1st, March 2nd, March 5th and March 8th – that’s six games in fifteen days. With the current shocking weather set to return as well the pitch is likely to get an absolute battering by the time we return for four more home games between March 15th and March 29th.

It’s the worst time possible to be in a ground share situation and fellow relegation rivals Wycombe Wanderers are suffering from something similar with London Wasps sharing their Adams Park stadium. Neither the Cobblers or Wycombe have won a home game since the turn of the year but both will have to learn quickly to deal with what’s likely to be some questionable conditions under foot.

There can, though, be no excuses in the coming months. Mud and pot holes don’t stop effort and commitment and they are the qualities that we need in abundance from now until May. The Fleetwood defeat can go unnoticed if we come back with a stash of points from the coming seven day period that could define our season. After Hartlepool come Southend United to try and stake their claim as Town’s bogey team once again and then Bristol Rovers come to Town a week on Saturday in a crunch clash with the Gas being another relegation threatened outfit.

As Sixfields Stadium draws close to its 20th birthday this year the challenge is now to make sure that we don’t celebrate this milestone by hosting a Skrill Premier game but instead write a brand new chapter in its history and create the sort of moments that will be remembered another twenty years on.

Sixfields the key to survival

Robertson...in for Cobblers

Robertson…in for Cobblers

It was at this time last season that the Cobblers were starting a run of home form that effectively took them into the playoffs and, for a short time, even threatened to help us into the top three of League Two. We came away from home games with victory after victory and found ourselves fighting for promotion rather than battling the drop that we’d been fighting against for the two seasons previous.

Now we’re back at the other end of things and more than ever the Cobblers need home comforts but this time in a rescue mission that Chris Wilder is rushing head long into. Eleven out of our final nineteen games are at home and Wilder has come out this week to emphasise the need for support and the backing of Cobblers fans in these most worrying of times. Part of the reason that Wilder didn’t endear himself to the Oxford fans as much this season was their form at the Kassam Stadium but these are completely different circumstances.

Town have lost their last three home games but head into Saturday’s fixture with Plymouth Argyle with the possibility of four players making their home debuts. The stability of Leon McSweeney’s contribution at Cheltenham surely won’t go unnoticed and I would expect him to start with Emile Sinclair and Alan Connell likely to lead the line having both come through a full week of training and fitness work. It’s crucial that we call on their collective goal getting experience to excite the home support which, to be fair, hasn’t dwindled as much as it might given the dreadful circumstances and performances of the last couple of months.

Added to that and we’ve got another shiny new signing this week with the free transfer of defender Gregor Robertson. Robertson was a youth player with Hearts and Nottingham Forest before signing a full contract at the City Ground in 2002. After three seasons he moved to Rotherham United, where he scored his first professional goal during his 52 appearances with the Millers. His longest stint at a club followed as he signed for Chesterfield in 2007 and left in 2012 following over a hundred games. He’s been with Crewe Alexandra for the last couple of years but had his contract terminated in the middle of January, freeing him up to a move to Sixfields.

Robertson should give us a bit more experience at the back and with last week’s signings it could look like the opening day of the season for many Town fans returning to Sixfields on Saturday!

If we can channel any of last season’s form at the home of football then we’ll not only close the gap between ourselves and safety but, perhaps more importantly, bridge the gap that opened between club and supporter in the last month or so.

Six things Chris Wilder needs to keep us in the Football League

Chris Wilder

Chris Wilder

Ok, Ok…so I’ve gone all Buzzfeed on you today (other list based websites are available) but with the appointment of Chris Wilder this week I thought I would try to get my head around the challenge he faces in the short term at his new club. Some of the points are very obvious and have been since last May’s playoff final defeat but it makes it pretty clear how many things need to change – and fast.

So here are the things that need to be in Wilder’s box of tricks for the remainder of this season…

Permanent signings

We’re currently up to the limit of five loan signings at any one time with James Hurst, Sean McGinty, Matty Blair, Antonio German and Hallam Hope all in the squad until different points in February. That’s a lot of players that probably don’t worry too much about the long term future of our football club, which is currently hanging by a thread. While it’s going to be extremely difficult to persuade someone to sign for the bottom club in the Football League, there should be more assurances for anyone coming in now that a permanent management team is in place.

At the very, very least we have to have loans that last until the end of the season and not just a month. I can see why we have so many on these deals at the moment – Andy King could do nothing else in his position to be fair to him – but it needs to stop here and anyone coming in surely must be on longer term contracts. Get them worrying about our future as much as we all do, teach them the history of the club and drill into them that survival can be achieved.

Luck

Let’s face it, we’re not going to be able to dismantle the squad and start again if we’re to stay up and a certain element of good fortune is going to be needed if we’re going to finish anywhere from 22nd place and above. This isn’t going to be an overnight success and there has to be something of the Pat Gavin variety along the road to survival.

Kelvin Langmead

Another thing that isn’t in Wilder’s hands is the fitness of Kelvin Langmead. An absolute rock in the run to Wembley last season after an extraordinary personal renaissance, Langmead has been sorely missed having been rushed back from his initial injury blow. He hasn’t played at all this time out and as the length of time he’s been out for went on and on so did our fall from grace and to the foot of the table. If we’re to clamber out of this mess then we need Langmead back as soon as possible.

A goal scorer

To tie in with the fact that we’ve employed two short term strikers it’s also pretty obvious that we need someone in to knock in the goals that will spearhead a launch out of trouble. Bayo Akinfenwa has not been replaced in any way and Wilder will surely be flicking through his phone book trying to find someone that is a) twiddling his thumbs somewhere else, and b) experienced in putting that round thing in between those two posts.

An enforcer

The award for most untimely loan move back to their parent club has a clear winner this season and it goes to Ricky Ravenhill. His arrival came close to saving Aidy Boothroyd’s skin and the Bradford man – a tough nut and midfield enforcer – was something that was so badly absent from the middle of the park up until that point.  Someone similar, who is a calming influence in the absolute madness that will be the relegation dog fight of 2014, is vital.

Support

It should go without saying but Wilder and assistant Alan Knill need all the support that we can muster in the coming weeks and months. We can be a tough lot to please, us Cobblers fans.  Both men will know what to expect and we simply have to get right behind them – it’s not going to be an easy road and there will be times when it looks like there’s no way back but these are the people trusted with our league survival and there’s no room for apathy or negativity once that whistle blows on match day.

So basically we need a new spine of the first team, some goals going in off backsides, players who will commit to joining the bottom club of the Football League and a change in hearts of supporters. Good luck Chris!

What won’t happen in 2014…

2014I’m starting to make this an annual blog piece after last year’s efforts were well received by all three people who read it so I’m hoping that I can live up to the expectancy for this year’s light hearted ‘predictions’ for the coming twelve months!

What do you mean you don’t remember last year’s column? To the back of the manager’s application line for you.

Here goes…and Happy New Year to you all!

January…

There’s plenty of action at Sixfields as 2014 starts with the club still looking for a new manager. Martin Allen takes a detour en route to his job interview after receiving a last minute phone call from Barnet as the Bees plea with him to help Edgar Davids to take them into the Conference playoffs. Elsewhere, there’s a surprise application from Steve Evans after he loses his job at Rotherham United but disguising himself as Steve Kean doesn’t pay off as the newly installed ‘Evans alarm’ goes off as soon as he drives in for an interview dressed as the ex-Blackburn boss. David Cardoza begins to hold Skype interviews from his holiday home in Dubai.

Andy King’s tough time as caretaker manager continues as injuries rob him of David Moyo and Ivan Toney, meaning that he has to employ the ‘fake number nine and fake number ten’ system for the first few games of the year. Ben Tozer has a tough month, launching long throw ins to no-one whilst mazy Chris Hackett runs and crosses are met by…no-one.

Results under Andy King are hit and miss but the Cobblers at least climb a place to 23rd after victories over York City and Torquay United as well as a good point to end the month at home to Rochdale. That draw against ‘Dale is all the more impressive given Ishmel Demontagnac’s red card just three second after coming off the bench.

King’s month long tenure comes to an end as David Cardoza finally names his new Cobblers manager…it’s someone who, as with the last two appointments, wants to rebuild his reputation in English football. Sven Goran Eriksson arrives at Sixfields to take the reins and immediately adds to the squad on a frantic transfer deadline day. In comes former England striker Emile Heskey on a deal until the end of the season with long sought after Malcolm Christie coming out of retirement as his strike partner. Eriksson also sures up the midfield by signing Luke Guttridge from Luton Town on the advice of Tim Flowers.

February…

Sven’s first game in charge is a trip to Cheltenham Town and Guttridge produces a carbon copy of his goal in the playoffs last season to give the Cobblers a crucial 1-0 win. Jeema runs onto the pitch thinking that we’d just made it to Wembley but is restrained and given a ten month banning order from all UK stadiums for ‘inappropriate use of an umbrella’.

Emile Heskey quickly succumbs to the 2013/14 injury curse as he falls down the Sixfields bank on the way to the home game with Plymouth Argyle. In an even crueller twist of fate, Heskey rolls right onto Malcolm Christie who was on his way to pick up the pre-match snacks from Megabowl and both strikers are subsequently out for the rest of the season. The Plymouth game ends 0-0 and Town struggle for goals for the rest of the month, losing out 1-0 at Fleetwood before another goalless draw at home to Hartlepool United.

Sven is forced to dip into the free transfer market and Poul Hubertz gets a surprise phone call in the middle of his Valentine’s Day meal with his wife to invite him to return to Sixfields for a few months. Hubertz accepts and says that he will be here by the end of the month once he’s gained full fitness by jogging from Denmark.

Hubertz...Cobblers return in 2014?!

Hubertz…Cobblers return in 2014?!

March…

At the start of a packed month of crucial fixtures the Cobblers are still in deep trouble and Sven is glad to give Hubertz his debut in the home game with Bristol Rovers. It looks as though we’re heading for yet another 0-0 until the Dane pops up with an 89th minute header to send Sixfields into delirium and to lift us out of the bottom two for the first time since December.

Aidy Boothroyd, meanwhile, returns to television as he is drafted in as the expert analyser for the League Cup final between Manchester United and Manchester City.

An excellent point at promotion chasing Scunthorpe continues the good run and Town lead 1-0 at Exeter before Ishmel Demontagnac’s sending off for fighting himself leaves us with ten men for the last hour and we eventually lose 2-1 thanks to two late goals.

A few days later, though, Mansfield Town are swept aside in a comfortable 3-0 win for the Cobblers that leaves us four points clear of the drop zone. Defeat at Morecambe is followed by further home wins over AFC Wimbledon and Bury and going into April it’s all looking good for league survival.

April…

Just as things are looking rosy, the Northampton Chronicle and Echo runs with a shocking front page story that links Cobblers manager Eriksson to a secret affair with a 20 year old Miss Northampton 2014. Eriksson stringently denies anything but the rumours have a startling effect on his team’s performances as the Cobblers lose four in a row to drop them right back to within goal difference of the drop.

Minutes before the final away game of the season at Dagenham and Redbridge, Eriksson walks out on the Cobblers after a tweet from a mystery source is released containing a photo of Sven leaving Nando’s, Longbridge Road, with Miss Northampton. Andy King returns to the hot seat for a crucial away win as the Cobblers continue their incredible run of 1-0 victories at Dagenham.

May…

There’s still one game left and King knows that only a win over Oxford United will guarantee safety. Things look bad when Ishmel Demontagnac is sent off during the warm-up and the Cobblers are forced to start the game with ten men. Oxford, looking for a win to take them into League One, are slow out of the blocks and their nervous play means that we’re still in the game at the break.

As time is running out, word comes through that Torquay are leading 4-0 at home to Wycombe and that we need a goal to save ourselves. Sixfields holds its breath as the clock ticks down and United keeper Ryan Clarke smacks the ball against an onrushing Poul Hubertz. The ball strikes Hubert on his backside and flies over Clarke and into the net to save the Cobblers from relegation right at the death. Hubertz retires directly following the game and throws his shorts into the crowd on leaving the pitch.

Andy King departs the club with his job done and Town go into the summer with huge appointments to make on and off the pitch.

As the Champions League Final approaches between Barcelona and surprise finalists Zenit St. Petersburg, ITV’s head presenter Adrian Chiles suffers from a severe bout of the rare ‘diarrhoea of the mouth’ disease and Aidy Boothroyd comes in to offer his analytical skills once again. With Barcelona playing some delightful football and leading 4-0 at half-time, Boothroyd suggests that they start playing the game in the right way and learning how to ‘just hoof it.’ Barcelona head coach Gerardo Martino is watching in the dressing room and takes the advice from Boothroyd after hearing that he was once in the running for the England manager’s post. Zenit then fight back to win the game 5-4 in the most astonishing final in history. It leads to Martino being sacked.

world-cup-logoJune…

The World Cup in Brazil kicks off as Cobblers strikers Emile Heskey and Malcolm Christie are disappointed to miss out on the England squad. They are so distraught that they both retire immediately. England manage to draw 0-0 against Italy, 2-2 against Uruguay and then win 1-0 against Costa Rica thanks to a Peter Crouch header to progress to a Second Round game against Spain. After playing a unique 10-0-0 formation, we hold on to penalties but then, of course, exit the competition after going down 4-2 on spot kicks. Crouch balloons the decisive penalty over the bar before David Silva slots in to send England home.

Back in England, the Cobblers are still hunting for a permanent manager and suspiciously wait until the end of the World Cup. As the FA announce that Roy Hodgson has been sacked, David Cardoza swoops and signs Hodgson to a four year deal, providing plenty of ‘banter’ about our victory over his Liverpool side in 2010 in the opening press conference. Hodgson sorts out the striker crisis straight away by signing the man who tore his side apart that night, Courtney Herbert and brings back Bayo Akinfenwa for ‘one more run’ at Sixfields. He promises more to come as pre-season begins.

July…

Back at the World Cup, Argentina and Ghana compete in the final and once again there’s odd goings on in the television studios. This time it’s the BBC in trouble as Gary Lineker is kidnapped and the Beeb controversially replace him with Aidy Boothroyd who gives his own tactical master class during the biggest game of the year. Ghana stun the odds on favourites by winning the game 1-0 and Argentina subsequently announce Boothroyd as their new manager having signed a deal with the former Cobblers boss before the final began that allowed him to take over should they lose.

Roy Hodgson is busy plotting his first ever League Two campaign and dips into his contact book to sign Dirk Kuyt, Shane Long and Graham Dorrans. The Cobblers are installed as 4/1 second favourites for the League Two title based on these signings and Hodgson’s experience behind relegated Sheffield United.

August…

Two days before the start of the season, Ishmel Demontagnac is sacked by the Cobblers after starting a fight in an empty room. He moves quickly to join Yeovil Town on a five year contract.

The Cobblers start the new season in their usual slow fashion, drawing 0-0 at home with Portsmouth before exiting the League Cup at the hands of MK Dons. The final game in August, though, sees a much better performance and a storming 5-0 win at Sixfields against Oxford United who were still recovering from a Playoff Final defeat in May and who ended the month bottom of the league.

September…

The good form continues into the second month of the season with a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy victory over Bristol Rovers kicking off September. Dirk Kuyt scores his first goal for the club in a 2-0 home win against relegated Notts County before Shane Long comes off the bench to hit a second half hat-trick in a 3-1 success at Fleetwood Town.

Portsmouth are deducted ten points in September for fielding an ineligible player called Ali Stairslowe while Gary Johnson loses his job at Yeovil after relegation and a run of eight straight defeats at the start of the League One campaign.

Aidy Boothroyd takes his first official game as Argentina boss but is forced to apologise to fans after his new charges lose 1-0 at home to Peru in a friendly match. He promises that his squad are ‘progressing well’ and are ‘nearly there’ in his post-match interview.

October…

Coventry City’s residency at Sixfields is ended as the club agree a deal to finally move back to the Ricoh Arena. Nobody passes the news on to star striker Callum Wilson, though, and Roy Hodgson convinces him that his contract is now null and void and that he must stay at Sixfields. After locking Wilson in the East Stand cupboards with former mascot Griff the Griffin for a month, Coventry sack the striker for going AWOL and Hodgson swoops to hold Wilson to ransom – his release from the cupboard in exchange for signing a three year contract with Town.

Wilson gets off the mark straight away and gets two goals in an impressive 2-0 victory at Wycombe and the only goal of the game in the regulation 1-0 win at Dagenham and Redbridge. These results help the Cobblers to leap into the top three by the time the month comes to an end.

November…

The FA Cup First Round pairs the Cobblers with Daventry Town, now led by player-manager Neil Grayson and ‘Larry’ stuns Sixfields by scoring the winner. Four sides of Sixfields give him a standing ovation at the end of the game, though, and Daventry eventually exit bravely in Round Three at the hands of Chelsea.

In the league there are no such problems, though, as Courtney Herbert gets his first goal for the club in three years in a 2-1 win against Cheltenham Town and there’s a crucial 3-2 victory against fellow promotion chasers Newport County at Sixfields.

December…

A couple of postponements due to the ‘worst winter in history’ (Source: The Daily Mail) momentarily stop the Cobblers’ progress. But a Boxing Day win at home to Burton Albion takes us to within a point of top spot before the extraordinary 2014 turnaround is complete when the Cobblers end the year with a 4-3 success at Rochdale that takes us to the summit of League Two. Spotland is also the venue for the biggest return of the year as Jeema takes his place back on the terraces following his ban and receives a hero’s welcome back by the claret faithful.

Roy Hodgson gives his end of year press conference and thanks the fans for sticking by his side after the slow start to the season. He predicts even greater things to come in 2015 and promises that there will be more new signings to follow in the January transfer window. The Cobblers go into the New Year two points clear at the top of League Two and with optimism fully restored to the whole club.

Why we shouldn’t fear the ‘Flitcroft Factor’

david flitcroftEver the pessimist when it comes to the Cobblers, I tend to look at upcoming fixtures with senses of dread rather than anticipating where we can dismantle the opposition. Be it a shocking run of form at an opponent’s stadium, a dodgy referee appointment or, as it’s been for most of 2013, the Cobblers are playing away.

So it came as sad news to myself and others like me when ex Barnsley man David Flitcroft was appointed Bury manager this week, meaning that his first game in charge comes against the Cobblers this Saturday. Automatically I went into defeatist mode with the general thinking being that new managers usual begin their tenures with a big win. We’re doomed. Or so I thought.

One thing could cheer me up. How about if the above wasn’t actually true and that the new manager impact doesn’t come into effect immediately but is more a case of a slow burn. That would tend to make more sense with little time, in most cases, to have a good look at squads and get some sort of cohesion going for their debut match at the helm. I got to work and became the geek that never left me once more by looking at every League Two manager and how they got on in their first game in charge. The results made me feel a lot better about Saturday…I hope they lift some negative vibes from others too.

The below shows all League Two managers and the results of their first games in charge. For those in the middle of changing their boss (i.e. Scunthorpe, Portsmouth and Bury) I’ve used the result of the first game under the previous manager. It makes for interesting reading:

Manager Team Appointed First game Result
Chris Wilder Oxford United 21-Dec-08 Salisbury 2-1 Oxford L
Paul Cook Chesterfield 25-Oct-12 Chesterfield 0-1 Barnet L
Phil Brown Southend United 25-Mar-13 Bradford 2-2 Southend D
Brian Laws* Scunthorpe United 29-Oct-12 Gillingham 4-0 Scunthorpe L
Keith Hill Rochdale 22-Jan-13 Cheltenham 0-0 Rochdale D
Gary Rowett Burton Albion 17-Mar-12 Burton 0-1 Northampton L
Graham Alexander Fleetwood Town 06-Dec-12 Fleetwood 0-0 Southend D
Justin Edinburgh Newport County 04-Oct-11 Newport 0-3 Southport L
Wayne Burnett Dagenham and Redbridge 26-Feb-13 Bradford 1-1 Dagenham D
Jim Bentley Morecambe 13-May-11 Morecambe 0-1 Barnet L
Paul Tisdale Exeter City 26-Jun-06 York 0-0 Exeter D
Neal Ardley AFC Wimbledon 10-Oct-12 Wimbledon 1-2 Cheltenham L
Mark Yates Cheltenham Town 22-Dec-09 Cheltenham 0-1 Bournemouth L
Colin Cooper Hartlepool United 24-May-13 Rochdale 3-0 Hartlepool L
Gareth Ainsworth Wycombe Wanderers 24-Sep-12 Dagenham 3-0 Wycombe L
John Sheridan Plymouth Argyle 06-Jan-13 Plymouth 2-1 Morecambe W
Guy Whittingham * Portsmouth 07-Nov-12 Bury 2-0 Portsmouth L
Paul Cox Mansfield Town 31-May-11 Mansfield 1-1 Bath City D
James Beattie Accrington Stanley 13-May-13 Newport 4-1 Accrington L
Kevin Blackwell * Bury 26-Sep-12 Stevenage 2-2 Bury D
Nigel Worthington York City 04-Mar-13 Wimbledon 3-2 York L
John Ward Bristol Rovers 17-Dec-12 Aldershot 2-2 Bristol Rovers D
Aidy Boothroyd Northampton Town 30-Nov-11 Northampton 1-1 Crewe D
Alan Knill Torquay United 20-Feb-13 Torquay 0-1 Port Vale L

Incredibly, just ONE League Two manager started off their reign with a victory, that being Plymouth Argyle’s John Sheridan. Nine of them started with draws but FOURTEEN began with defeats. Added to this, new Bury boss Flitcroft was beaten in both of his first two games as Barnsley manager.

While all of this doesn’t, of course, mean that we will automatically get what would be a mammoth result at Gigg Lane it does go a little way to dispelling the myth of the ‘new manager’ factor. I’ll have to find something else to worry about this week!

Crying out for a leader

langmead“My own definition of leadership is this: The capacity and the will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence.” (General Montgomery)

It’s getting ever more apparent that the Cobblers are severely lacking in the leadership department since Kelvin Langmead’s injury ruled him out of the start of this shaky season. The captain, who pulled us out some gigantic results last season and was a presence like no other on the pitch was sorely missed at Wembley in the big game environment and his absence so far has left a gaping hole in the back four.

Not only has there been sloppy goals, confused starting formations and poor marking (leaving poor old Matt Duke, the player of the season so far, stranded) but a general lack of cohesion in the middle of the park isn’t helping. Technically, and on paper, we should have enough to compete at a decent level with the players we have but the problem is that, despite the obvious experience of some, no-one is picking up the mantle of leader.

It’s all very well Ian Morris being voted in as stand in captain at the start of the season when it was realised that Langers was set to miss three months but surely there lies a problem in itself that no-one grabbed the armband and put it on themselves.

In any successful team there’s not just one man to rely on in terms of a captain. When you look back on past glories you could have identified at least three or four candidates for the Cobblers skipper should the original pick be out of action. Take my usual example of best practice, the 1997 playoff squad. Ray Warburton was the man to lift the trophy as captain but had he been taken off injured then the arm band would have seamlessly moved on to the likes of Ian Sampson, Ian Clarkson, John Frain, David Rennie, Sean Parrish, Roy Hunter, Neil Grayson, John Gayle or even goalkeeper Andy Woodman. The only player starting who I wouldn’t have given it to was Christian Lee and that’s only because he was a young gun. Even substitute Dean Peer would have done a job.

If we move on to the promotion season of 2000, Sammo is captain himself but again you see endless leaders in waiting with the likes of Frain, Parrish, James Hunt, Dave Savage and Ian Hendon all decent replacements to lead the side. In 2006, Lee Harper, Luke Chambers, Hunt, Chris Doig, Martin Smith, Ian Taylor and Scott McGleish could all have laid claims to the position.

At the moment it feels like we just need people to come out of their shells and fight for the captaincy. It concerns me that there wasn’t a clamour for the arm band and the characteristics of leaders aren’t coming out on the pitch. We have plenty of players who have been around a long time but that’s not necessarily an attribute that leads itself to being a captain or someone who’s going to set the example and raise the standard for everyone else.

It also comes back to the manager himself with Aidy Boothroyd needing to transfer his own passion and determination into the players when they walk over that white line on a Saturday afternoon. He can do nothing to make the quality better in the players he has but what he can do is form a team that is mentally strong and who battle for one another.

That’s what we need right now…it’s not flashy moments of quality, it’s players willing to put themselves on the line and show the dwindling crowds that even if they are to lose a game they’re going down fighting. That often speaks louder than someone beating three players in one move and then drifting for the rest of the game.

We need our fight back and we need it on Saturday when Morecambe lie in wait for a Cobblers side who have to send out a message to concerned fans that we’re ready to hit back and get out of this position. For the supporters, we have to do the same. Don’t sit back and wait for something to moan about…stand up, be counted and show the players that you’re willing to do exactly the same as you want them to do.

Lead from the stands and that can inspire this team to better themselves. We’re only just getting going with this season so let’s not dismiss it just yet.

Seeing Red – the Cobblers’ ongoing discipline saga

red_cardThe underlying problem of the Cobblers’ season so far is becoming a bit of a farce. On Tuesday night, Ishmel Demontagnac got his long foreseen red card that meant for the fourth away game in a row we had a player sent off. Aidy Boothroyd was convinced that this was the only one of the run that was deserved (to say it was blatant is the understatement of the season so far) but that doesn’t take away any of the feeling that things have gone completely out of control on the red card front.

I don’t agree with Boothroyd’s statement in fact. Roy O’Donovan should have been more sensible at Bristol Rovers last week when launching himself in front of a throw in when already booked whilst Darren Carter and Chris Hackett should also have been more aware when already in the referee’s book when they got their marching orders at York and Southend respectively.

I agree that Demontagnac’s was much more straight forward and it’s been coming for a long time. We knew what we were signing when we got the former Blackpool man but there appears to have been no channelling of a hot temper into something more productive since his arrival last summer. There’s been flashes of quality but unfortunately those moments have been fewer that those that put us on edge whenever an opponent winds him up.

Boothroyd has come out and defended three of the red cards and also that he would be annoyed at his players for not going in for tackles. That’s all well and good but surely there needs to be some sort of line drawn. Very few successful sides are remembered for being rough tacklers with a reputation for a red card or moment of madness. What’s going to happen now is that other teams are going to focus on our dismal record of red cards and start winding us up even more from the get go. This needs to be drummed into the players ahead of games and those players (who have great experience between them) have to stand up and be counted and let their footballing abilities do the talking.

I’m not saying that we need to soften up – there’s a need for a passion and a hard challenge and we have to be tough in League Two. But what we can’t fall into the trap of doing is letting our reputation be the only thing that people associate us with. We have some talented footballers on our books and need to channel their passions into busting a gut to get back for challenges or getting into scoring positions.

Perhaps what’s also missing is a leader on the pitch. Kelvin Langmead’s absence is hitting us hard whilst Clarke Carlisle’s retirement robbed us of another reassuring and sensible head. Putting the captaincy onto Clive Platt at Bristol Rovers did little to convince me that we have another leader in our midst. When the armband just moves to being something for the most experienced man on the pitch to hold we have a problem. If, as stated before the transfer window shut on Monday, we have a defender waiting in the wings to sign on then it needs to happen sooner rather than later.

For now, let’s keep all eleven men on the pitch and go from there!

Vote for Sammo for Men United’s captain!

Sammo...our greatest captain?

Sammo…our greatest captain?

I was asked by Prostate Cancer UK to write about my favourite ever Cobblers captain recently for their ‘Men United’ campaign and after much deliberation I put forward Ian Sampson for our nomination.

Prostate cancer kills one man every hour – that’s a strike rate of 10,000 deaths every year. So this season, as the Official Charity Partner of the Football League, Prostate Cancer UK were asking supporters to put aside their differences and become Men United in the fight against prostate cancer.

I could have gone back to the ‘good old days’ for some classic captaincy material but it wouldn’t have been fair for me to write about someone who I never saw play. That left only a clutch of genuine contenders and Sammo won my vote. You can see my thoughts on the Town legend here.

To check out the fantastic range of nominations from all other clubs, check out the main website here.

So get voting for Sammo to be the ultimate skipper!