NTFC Season in Review 2012/13: March

O' Donovan...crucial goal

O’ Donovan…crucial goal

March

March would begin with another hiding away from home as the Cobblers travelled to playoff chasing rivals Exeter City. Lee Nicholls put the ball into his own net in the first half before further goals from Jamie Cureton and Jake Gosling sealed a comfortable victory for the Grecians.

The Sixfields form, however, was still keeping Town afloat in the promotion hunt and Accrington Stanley were the next to be beaten at the fortress thanks to Chris Hackett’s early strike and Roy O’Donovan’s goal on the half hour mark.

Next up we were on the road again, this time visiting a Morecambe side that sat in mid-table with the final furlong of the season beginning. They took the lead just before the hour mark thanks to a well taken Jack Redshaw goal and it looked like we were going home empty handed once again from an away trip until that man Kelvin Langmead fired in yet another late, late goal to snatch a point for Aidy Boothroyd’s men.

The following week Oxford United were the next team to try and break what was turning into a formidable home record and it was a tight, tense affair with the U’s looking for the points that would take themselves back towards playoff contention. It was settled in the end by a coolly taken Ben Harding goal in first half stoppage time and the Cobblers had kept themselves right in the race for a top three finish.

It was a similar story in the final game of the month, a Good Friday clash with Torquay United, though this time the Cobblers left it late to grab the latest home victory. It was on a knife edge until Roy O’ Donovan took the roof off Sixfields with a fine finish with five minutes to go, keeping us in third place as March turned into April.

League Position (at the end of the month): 3rd

Highlight of the month: O’Donovan’s timely goal against Oxford that kept us in the top three.

Lowlight of the month: The defeat at Exeter was another example of a giant collapse away from home.

NTFC Season in Review 2012/13: February

Mohsni...Sent off as Cobblers win at Roots Hall

Mohsni…Sent off as Cobblers win at Roots Hall

After defeat at one promotion rival, Gillingham, at the end of January, the Cobblers travelled to another at the start of February with Rotherham the destination this time. The Millers were on a three game losing run going into the game but that was ended when Daniel Nardiello’s spot kick was added to by Ben Pringle and David Noble late in the game to give them all three points. Clarke Carlisle got one back in stoppage time for a Cobblers side struggling to find momentum away from Sixfields.

We were still well involved in the running for the top seven despite the back-to-back defeats and Sixfields was starting to become a fortress with Rochdale the next visitors. Clive Platt headed in from a Chris Hackett cross to give the Cobblers the lead but Jason Kennedy had ‘Dale, back on form after the return of Keith Hill as manager a few weeks earlier, on level terms. The scores didn’t remain level for long, though, as Kelvin Langmead grabbed the latest in a line of goals by poking in from close range. With fifteen minutes to go, Chris Hackett was tripped and Bayo Akinfenwa stepped up to seal the points.

There was an interesting sub-plot to the next fixture, away at Southend, with the Shrimpers’ mercurial talent Bilel Mohsni returning to the side for the first time in nine months. The controversial figure was always likely to leave his mark on the game and it proved to be in our favour when he was sent off half an hour in, this after new loan signing Roy O’Donovan had given the Cobblers the lead. There was never going to be a better chance to get back on track away from home for Town but Matty Lund equalised for the ten men mid-way through the second half. We looked to have let a massive chance go until that man Langmead once again headed in a stoppage time goal to nick a crucial victory and we were back in the playoff places having been knocked out of them in midweek thanks to others playing when we didn’t.

Next up was another away day, this time at AFC Wimbledon on a chilly Tuesday night. The game was delayed when the stadium’s lights went out just fifteen minutes before kick-off and when it did get going the Cobblers were slow out of the blocks. Alan Bennett gave the home side the lead as they looked to leap off the foot of the table but after a second half reshuffle by Aidy Boothroyd Town got back into gear and won a penalty through O’Donovan being brought down by veteran keeper Neil Sullivan. Akinfenwa stepped up to coolly slot in the spot kick and to earn a point, though Chris Hackett could easily have won it late on.

Still, four points from two away games was a big improvement and now we had to back it up at Sixfields again with two home games seeing out the month. First up came Plymouth Argyle and in a tight contest, Clive Platt got the only goal after a mistake from Jake Cole allowed him to scramble the ball home.

Bristol Rovers provided the last opposition of February and it was a similar, if more dramatic, story for this one with Town leaving it very, very late to win it through a neatly taken Ben Harding chip which meant that it was seven victories in a row at Sixfields.

With just eleven games to go we were right in the mix for the top three, sitting just a point away from Burton Albion going into the crucial month of March.

League Position (at the end of the month): 4th

Highlight of the month: Another Langmead moment at Southend, scoring the winner in stoppage time.

Lowlight of the month: The only defeat of the month, 3-1 at Rotherham United.

NTFC Season in Review 2012/13: January

Langers...late strike at Southend

Langers…late strike at Southend

2013 kicked off with a home game against Dagenham and Redbridge and the Cobblers would start the new year in style. Abu Ogogo scored an own goal to give us the lead and Chris Hackett had made it two before half-time with a fine finish. Ben Tozer’s long throw resulted in Kelvin Langmead sealing it with a third just after the break and despite a Scott Doe deflected effort at the other end beating Lee Nicholls Town had three points to start the year with.

We were back at Sixfields again four days later with sixth placed Fleetwood Town the visitors. Jake Robinson continued a good run of form by netting a first half brace that gave us another 2-0 half time lead. Clive Platt added a third and just as the week before the visitors got a late consolation, with Jamie Allen firing in for the Cod Army. It was back to back wins, though, for the Cobblers and Sixfields was starting to become a fortress with the beginning of a home run that would be the backbone of a push for promotion.

It was form on the road holding us back, though, and there was no more prime example than a trip to Chesterfield that saw us down and out within twenty five minutes. Marc Richards got his inevitable goals against his former club after Jay O’ Shea had put the Spireites in front and it was game over before we’d even go going with one saving grace that it got no worse than 3-0.

There was better things to come back at home, though, as a patient Cobblers battled to a 1-0 win over fellow playoff chasers Burton Albion with Bayo Akinfenwa’s header from a Tozer throw in enough to take us into the playoff places in League Two.

Snow was playing havoc with the fixture list with the Burton game only getting the go ahead late on and we would play in a complete snow storm at Aldershot the following Tuesday with the famous orange ball getting a run out! Daniel Lopez scored for the hosts after just two minutes but the Cobblers turned things around when Chris Hackett scored from the spot and Clarke Carlisle headed in from a corner. The victory took us momentarily into the top three with a promotion challenge now a genuine possibility.

The final game of January was a tough one, though, at high flying Gillingham and Town succumbed to goals at the start and end of the game by Cody McDonald and Myles Weston. That win took the Gills back to the top of League Two whilst the Cobblers dropped to fourth place, though it had been an excellent month for the club.

League Position (at the end of the month): 4th

Highlight of the month: The snowy win at Aldershot.

Lowlight of the month: The 3-0 first half collapse at Chesterfield.

NTFC Season in Review 2012/13: December

Duffy...late goal for Rubies

Duffy…late goal for Rubies

As December began, the Cobblers appeared to be putting last season’s relegation battle well and truly behind them and we found ourselves fighting for position at the right end of the table.

The month began poorly though with a disappointing exit from the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy at home to League One Leyton Orient thanks to three second half goals in quick succession of one another. David Mooney’s brace knocked the stuffing out of us and then Michael Symes wrapped things up for the O’s with a penalty fifteen minutes from time. Orient would go on to reach the area Final before losing out to Southend United.

Back in League Two and it looked like Town were on the way to getting right back on track when we took a two goal lead against high flying Cheltenham at Sixfields. Bayo Akinfenwa opened the scoring before Billy Jones’ own goal made it two within fifteen minutes. But the Rubies fought back and Darren Carter’s close range effort halved the deficit. Chris Zebroski headed in from a Jones cross to level things up before half-time and with ten minutes to go Darryl Duffy, on as a late sub for Zebroski, slotted in the winner to complete a memorable turn around for his side.

One of the key turning points of the season came next as the Cobblers travelled to Torquay United. Former Cobbler Ryan Jarvis put the Gulls in front and it looked like it was to be four defeats in a row for Aidy Boothroyd’s men until Kelvin Langmead scrambled in a last minute equaliser to earn his side a much needed point.

Because of postponements, the home game with Aldershot Town ended up being the final game that the Cobblers played in 2012 and the year was to end on a high as goals from Jake Robinson and an injury time second from Clive Platt earned a solid 2-0 win that built on the momentum of the point at Plainmoor.

As 2013 beckoned, we were still battling in the top half of the table and were creeping that bit closer to the playoff places with just two places and one point separating us from the top seven.

League Position (at the end of the month): 9th

Highlight of the month: Langer’s injury time leveller at Torquay – a massive moment in the season.

Lowlight of the month: Cheltenham coming from 2-0 down to win 3-2 at Sixfields.

NTFC Season in Review 2012/13: November

Moult...winning a place in the first team

Moult…winning a place in the first team

It had been a tough month of October so November needed to be one where we kicked on again but it wouldn’t be easy with injuries mounting and youngsters being given a place in the starting line-up on a more regular basis.

Alex Nicholls had just had his season ended during the home game with Port Vale but Louis Moult continued his claims to take his place up front as he notched the equaliser in the opening game of the month against Bradford City in the FA Cup First Round. Will Atkinson had given the Bantams the lead but Moult got on the end of a Danny East cross to head home and earn a replay.

A trip to York City was up next and it was all going downhill when Matty Blair gave the hosts the lead and then Moult was sent off for a lunge on Chris Smith. But Bayo Akinfenwa saved the day, and a point, for the Cobblers in the second half, pouncing on a mistake from City keeper Michael Ingham to hand us a point.

There followed one of the more memorable games of the season at Accrington Stanley and for Akinfenwa it would be one to treasure. The big man put Town in front but goals from George Miller and Rommy Boco turned the game in Stanley’s favour. The Cobblers weren’t done yet, though, and substitute Jake Robinson – having just returned from a loan spell at Luton Town – levelled before Bayo’s big moments came. He headed home an Emyr Huws cross to make it 3-2 and then scrambled in his third of the game to seal a first ever career hat-trick. The header for 3-2 was something of sheer beauty and the victory gave the team a much needed boost in a busy period.

The Bradford replay the following Tuesday was full of drama with the Cobblers fielding a notably youthful side featuring the likes of Lewis Hornby, Lewis Wilson and, later, Ivan Toney. Will Atkinson, scorer at Sixfields in the first game, put his side in front again but Ishmel Demontagnac equalised before the break. In the final minute of normal time, Bradford won a penalty and Nahki Wells looked certain to have put his side in the Second Round by scoring it but the Cobblers went straight up the other end to make it 2-2 through Clive Platt which sent the game to extra time. Kelvin Langmead produced a moment of magic from distance with ten minutes of extra time to go but Town couldn’t quite hold on, succumbing to a Carl McHugh header in the dying seconds which took it to penalties. That was all we had left in the tank and Langmead missed the crucial spot kick to send Bradford through but it was a magnificent effort from the young Cobblers side.

Back to league action and Wycombe Wanderers were next up at Sixfields. It was to be another good home performance as Bayo scored twice, one a penalty, before Chris Hackett made it 3-0. Wycombe grabbed one back through a spot kick of their own, converted by Joel Grant, but Town had done enough to seal an important three points.

There was another good chance for more points a few days later with Morecambe in town and the Cobblers duly obliged with another comfortable victory. It took until the 56th minute for us to get off the mark but it was Bayo who was on target once more with a header from a Ben Tozer throw in – a combination that was yielding plenty of goals already. Kevin Ellison headed into his own net from another Tozer throw before Ishmel Demontagnac’s late free kick put the seal on a 3-0 win.

After two good home win it was back to the road for the final game of the month at Oxford United. James Constable had the home side in front early on with a simple tap in and they could have had more in the first half. Clive Platt looked to have given the Cobblers a point with a goal fifteen minutes from time but John-Paul Pittman arrowed in his first goal in ten months to edge us out at the Kassam Stadium.

It had been a busy but reasonably successful month for the Cobblers who were now back in the top half and into the top ten thanks to some improving form as Christmas approached.

League Position (at the end of the month): 10th

Highlight of the month: Bayo’s hat-trick, particularly the diving header, at Accrington.

Lowlight of the month: The FA Cup penalty shoot-out defeat at Bradford.

NTFC Season in Review 2012/13: October

Nicholls...horror injury in October

Nicholls…horror injury in October

The Cobblers would kick off October by suffering back to back defeats for the first time in the season.

First up, a home game against runaway leaders Gillingham saw us come up short as the Gills continued their 100% away record by winning 2-1 at Sixfields. Deon Burton got on the end of a long ball from keeper Staurt Nelson to put the Gills in front before Jack Payne made it 2-0 with a long range effort. Bayo Akinfenwa scored from a Ben Tozer throw in but there was to be no late fight back.

A trip to struggling Bristol Rovers followed with the Gas going into the game having not won at home all season. That was soon to change as Rovers took advantage of Anthony Charles’ red card for the Cobblers to go on and comfortably win the game thanks to three second half goals. Tom Eaves got the ball rolling before Garry Kenneth made it two shortly after. Bayo got one back with fifteen minutes to go with a carbon copy of his goal against Gillingham but Oliver Norburn headed in the crucial third for the home side.

There was a brighter moment the following Tuesday night when Town put Colchester United out of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. The League One side took the lead in the first half with Freddy Sears volleying in past Dean Snedker in the Cobblers goal. But second half goals from Bayo (from the spot) and loanee Henoc Mukendi, with a glancing header, turned it around and we were in the hat for the next round.

Back in the league and there was some catching up to do with Exeter City in town. After two defeats in a row in League Two there was a big emphasis on getting back to winning ways and we did it emphatically. Akinfenwa volleyed in to open the scoring and Kelvin Langmead made it 2-0 before half time. The Grecians threatened to get back into it briefly after the break but Chris Hackett’s free kick was headed in by Alex Nicholls for the cherry on the cake late on.

Next up was the dreaded fixture away at Barnet and with the Bees without a win all season and with Edgar Davids making his first appearance as player/manager this one was always going to go one way. Davids captained his new side to a 4-0 demolition of Town with Krystian Pearce, Andrew Yiadom, John Oster and Anthony Edgar on the score sheet on another dire outing at Underhill to add to a long line of Barnet nightmares!

Bradford were next up at Sixfields and if Aidy Boothroyd was looking for a reaction after the Barnet debacle he certainly didn’t get it as Nahki Wells got his obligatory goal against us to nick it for the Bantams.

The final game of the month, at home to Port Vale, saw an agonising and season changing incident involved Alex Nicholls steal the headlines. Nicholls raced onto a back pass and rounded City keeper Chris Neal to put the Cobblers in front but just as he put the ball in the net Vale defender John McCombe clattered into him and broke his leg, ending Nicholls’ season in the process. There was a fifteen minute delay as Nicholls was taken away in an ambulance and some unsavoury scenes of Vale fans abusing Nicholls as he lay on the floor didn’t help matters. Nicholls’ team mates went on to win the game 2-0 (McCombe was sent off for the challenge) with his replacement Louis Moult finishing well for the second goal but all thoughts on that day were with the striker who had, until that point, led the club’s scoring charts and contributed a major part to some of the early season successes.

The Cobblers ended the month in the bottom half and needed a big month of November to get back in the running.

League Position (at the end of the month): 14th

Highlight of the month: The 3-0 home win over Exeter City.

Lowlight of the month: Nicholls’ injury and all that came with it.

NTFC Season in Review 2012/13: September

Robinson...wonder goal against MK

Robinson…wonder goal against MK

After an unbeaten start to the league season, the Cobblers were brought down to earth at Plymouth Argyle in the opening match of September. Alex Nicholls scored the latest in a run of goals to give the Cobblers the lead but Warren Feeney headed in an equaliser just after half-time. Argyle then took complete control and were in front soon after when Rhys Griffiths side footed home. Curtis Nelson’s header made it 3-1 and despite a late consolation from Dave Artell the Cobblers went home with nothing.

The following Tuesday night saw MK Dons come to town for the First Round of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and it was to be a platform for Jake Robinson to finally score his first goal for Town, over a year after signing on. His stunning long range effort settled the contest but Robinson was then shipped out on loan to Luton Town a couple of days later!

The real Wimbledon were the next visitors to Sixfields a few days later and the Cobblers again came out on top. Nicholls was on target yet again on the hour mark when he got on the end of a Bayo Akinfenwa through ball to fire in on the hour mark and Chris Hackett’s superb solo goal, seeing him beat two defenders on a winding run before slotting in, sealed a good victory that lifted us into eighth place in the early standings.

A trip to Fleetwood was always going to be a tough examination of the early good form and it got even harder when loan defender Danny East was sent off for the Cobblers on the half hour mark. It looked like we had held out for a solid point but Andy Mangan’s injury time header dramatically won it for the Cod Army in a defeat that was more than a little harsh on the battling ten men.

There was a quick chance to put things right, however, on the following Tuesday at Dagenham and Redbridge and the Cobblers duly obliged with a scrappy 1-0 win thanks to Bayo Akinfenwa’s bullet header from a Chris Hackett corner mid-way through the second half.

Next up was a home game against in form Chesterfield and despite good chances at both ends it ended in a stalemate that the visitors could arguably have won on another day. Jack Lester hit the crossbar in the best effort of a close contest but both sides had to settle for a point.

The final game of September saw the Cobblers travel to Burton Albion and it would be a much more dramatic affair. Calvin Zola put the Brewers in front early on before a Kelvin Langmead own goal made it 2-0 and the game looked dead in the water. But Langmead went up the other end to score almost immediately and Dave Artell scrambled in the leveller. Zander Diamond put the hosts back in front with ten minutes to go but there was still time for Town to pull it back again when Alex Nicholls scored one of the goals of the season with a wonderful chip to grab a point with seven minutes to play.

It was a hectic month but one that took the Cobblers back into the mid-table clutch of teams, though with so few games played we were still just a couple of points away from the top few sides.

League Position (at the end of the month): 13th

Highlight of the month: Jake Robinson’s wonder goal against the Dons.

Lowlight of the month: The stoppage time sinker at Fleetwood.

NTFC Season in Review 2012/13: August

Nicholls...on fire early on

Nicholls…on fire early on

While the transfer window clicks into action, players decide their futures and contracts are discussed, it’s a good time to have a look back on the season just gone…one of Sixfields joy, away day trauma and of unexpected conclusions. It all started back in August when the eventual Championship title winners were beaten at Sixfields…

August

The Cobblers kicked off the 2012/13 campaign in a less traditional way than the usual curtain raisers of football seasons. The League Cup began before the league season got under way so the first fixture of the new season would come against Championship side Cardiff City at Sixfields – a stern test for the new crop of Town players.

Aidy Boothroyd had been busy in the transfer market over the summer, releasing many of Gary Johnson’s signings and bringing in his own squad to try and erase memories of another close call the previous season in terms of battling the drop. Michael Jacobs had departed to Derby County whilst the likes of Arron Davies (Exeter), Lewis Young (Yeovil) and Byron Webster (Also Yeovil) were also allowed to leave. Coming in the other way were the likes of Clive Platt, Dave Artell, Ishmel Demontagnac, Alex Nicholls, Chris Hackett and Joe Widdowson whilst Lee Nicholls signed on a season long loan from Wigan Athletic.

Dean Snedker was in goal for the opening game of the season, though, with Widdowson, Artell, Hackett, Platt and Alex Nicholls all starting against the new look Cardiff side who had changed their first choice kit to red over the summer as they began a season that would end in promotion to the Premier League. Heidar Helguson put the visitors in front from the spot early on but Artell marked his debut with the equaliser, heading in before half-time. Alex Nicholls won it for the Cobblers with his own header, beating former Peterborough man Joe Lewis in the Cardiff goal just after the break to send Town through to Round Two.

The first league game of the season came at Spotland with recently relegated Rochdale looking to begin their fight to return to League One at the first attempt. Clive Platt went closest for the Cobblers but both sides cancelled each other out in a goalless draw that reflected a positive start for Aidy Boothroyd’s men.

Hackett...making a mark

Hackett…making a mark

Back at Sixfields and a quick fire home double header was up next, starting with Steve Evans bringing his new Rotherham side to town. Chris Hackett struck a superb volley in for the opening goal mid-way through the first half but Ben Pringle equalised for the Millers thanks to a big deflection that beat Lee Nicholls just before half-time. It was to be end to end stuff in the second half and it was the Cobblers who nicked it late on thanks to a well taken Alex Nicholls goal after the striker latched on to the end of a flowing move involving Hackett and Platt.

A few days later and Southend United were battling to a dramatic draw at Sixfields with all six goals in a thriller coming in the second half. Britt Assombalonga put the Shrimpers in front before Bayo Akinfenwa scored his first goal of the season to level it up shortly after. Kane Ferdinand made it 2-1 to Southend before Dave Artell scoring his second of the campaign after a mistake from visiting keeper Cameron Belford and Alex Nicholls headed in with four minutes to go with a goal that looked to have won it for Town. But Ryan Cresswell’s header earned his side their first point of the season and denied the Cobblers deep into injury time.

The final game of August saw Wolverhampton Wanderers knock us out of the League Cup at Sixfields. Clive Platt had equalised Danny Batth’s early goal but Frank Nouble put the Championship side back in front in first half stoppage time. A debut goal from Bakary Sako made the win complete right at the death.

That was to be the only black mark against the first month of the season, though, with Town collecting five points from some tough fixtures as well as beating the eventual Championship title winners along the way. It made a change to start pretty positively and we would take an unbeaten league run into September…

League Position (at the end of the month): 9th

Highlight of the month: Making Steve Evans’ frown that bit larger by beating Rotherham at Sixfields

Lowlight of the month: League cup exit and Southend’s late, late equaliser

NTFC Season In Review 2011/12: April and May

Kitson…another penalty save

The March madness that saw the Cobblers drive themselves out of the bottom two gave way to a nervy month of April as we looked to pick up the desired points to confirm league survival. There was still some work to do in that respect and no-one was taking anything for granted as we headed into the penultimate month of the campaign.

A local derby of sorts kicked off April with Oxford the visitors on Good Friday. Luke Guttridge continued his excellent return to the club by opening the scoring within the opening seconds of the game and Town held out until just after half time when the playoff chasing U’s equalised through Christian Montano. Then came another key moment in the season. Neal Kitson, who had saved a penalty on his debut a week earlier at Crewe, made the headlines once again by saving from Adam Chapman’s spot kick for two penalty saves in his first two Cobblers games! That wasn’t even the last of the drama…with a draw looking to be on the cards, Brett Williams chased down a lost cause near the corner flag in stoppage time, cut inside and fired the ball into the corner to send Sixfields into a state of delirium not seen for a very long time! That meant a nine point gap between ourselves and the bottom two and many believed safety to be secured.

But, the Cobblers being the Cobblers, we were made to wait for another few weeks before making it official.

Nothing was expected from Bank Holiday Monday’s trip to league leaders Swindon Town and a 1-0 defeat was actually not too bad a showing after the recent run of form. Lee Holmes netted the only goal of the game just after half-time to keep the Robins’ bandwagon rolling on towards an eventual championship win.

Most were expecting a victory over Bradford the following weekend that would earn survival but the Bantams had other ideas. In particular, Nahki Wells had other ideas as he hit a hat-trick either side of Clarke Carlisle’s first goal for the Cobblers to earn his side a big three points at Sixfields.

Another match would go by without the crucial win as the game in hand was used up in a 3-1 defeat at Crawley Town. The promotion favourites were three up by half-time with Scott Neilson and former Cobblers loanee Billy Clarke on the score sheet before Neal Kitson’s own goal. Brett Williams got one back in the second half but there was no route back into the game and we would have to wait a little longer.

But the following weekend, after more heart in mouth action, the Cobblers had finally done it. Hereford United were fighting for their own lives and saw the game against Town as a must win in their bid to stay in the Football League. The Bulls so nearly got what they needed when Nicky Featherstone picked up the ball around twenty five yards from goal and unleashed a powerful drive that smashed against the post. The game ended 0-0 and thanks to other results, it was enough for the Cobblers to secure survival. Hereford would come to rue that moment as they were relegated at the end of the season despite a mini revival.

With league status in the bag, the final two games of the season saw us come up against two sides fighting to get a last ditch playoff berth. Gillingham were first up at home and it was Lewis Wilson thrust into the limelight as he scored on his first start for the club to put the Cobblers in front before half time. Jo Kuffour would equalise later to give the Gills a point but it wasn’t enough for them and their hopes of finishing in the top seven were ended.

And so to May and the final game of the season at Rotherham United. It was to be the last game that the Millers would play at the Don Valley Stadium after four seasons lodging there. They looked to be on the way to signing off with a win when Alex Revell scored on the half hour mark but deep into injury time, Bayo Akinfenwa popped up with his eighteenth goal of the season, heading in a Luke Guttridge free kick to give the Cobblers something to take home.

Highlight of the month: The whole Oxford game…I don’t think I need say more!

Lowlight of the month: Three defeats in a row that made us wait for safety to be confirmed.

Player of the month: Brett Williams…the goal against Oxford epitomised exactly what we needed at the time and his hard work was a massive contribution.

So the end of an exhausting campaign and one that took us all through the mill and back more than once. Nine months of stress, despair, passion, rejuvenation, pride and finally relief and with a summer of change on the way we have to hope that we can make sure we’re not in a similar position come this time next year.

Expectations for next season should be lowered. It’s not as simple as assuming that we’ll be in the front runners again. I made that mistake last season along with many others and I think we just need to be easing any pressure on the team. There’s some quality teams set for League Two once again. Fleetwood aren’t going to stand still and I wouldn’t expect York City to be quiet either. Coming the other way, Wycombe, Chesterfield, Exeter and Rochdale all know how to compete in League Two whilst the likes of Torquay, Cheltenham, Southend, Gillingham, Rotherham and Oxford are likely to improve.

For me, a top half finish would be satisfactory. I don’t want to be negative going into the season but we have to be realistic or we will end up getting too wound up by every draw or defeat. After the last couple of years, particularly the calendar year of 2012, some stability is needed at Northampton Town. I’m convinced that Aidy Boothroyd is the man to bring that here and if he gets the best out of this group of players then who knows where we can go.

I’m looking forward to it…but first comes a summer of speculation and transfer activity. Michael Jacobs is almost certain to go so a lot might depend on what we get for him as to what routes we take in the transfer market. Clive Platt and Alex Nicholls are a very good start in terms of players coming in and it’s good not to actually hear our manager spouting out nonsense like a certain boss who was here last summer.

I’ll be here all summer with the transfer happenings and hope to get all of the Seasons in Review since I started this blog up very soon. That’s six seasons’ worth if I’m counting properly so it’ll be interesting to revisit them. All the League Two transfer news will be updated as we go along hopefully and then some sort of season preview will be coming in July.

See you with all the very soon!

NTFC Season In Review 2011/12: March

Bayo – in the goals in March

With only three games played in February, March was – like the previous season –  set to be a hectic month and one that would ultimately prove to be the month that would go a long way to settling the relegation nerves for the Cobblers. Two wins out of three coming into March had set Town up well even if we were still in the bottom two.

The first assignment came at high flying Cheltenham Town and we weren’t expecting to get a lot from Whaddon Road. It was with great surprise, then, that Ben Tozer and Bayo Akinfenwa both struck in the first half to give the Cobblers a shock 2-0 lead at the break. With an unlikely win on the cards, John Johnson was adjudged to handle in the area and Darryl Duffy converted from the spot. And after a heavy spell of pressure, it was heartbreak deep into stoppage time when Duffy got his second of the game to nick a point for the Rubies and put us back on the foot of the table thanks to results elsewhere.

Then came a huge double header at Sixfields with Bristol Rovers visiting first on a Tuesday night. With twenty minutes gone, the Cobblers had stormed into a three goal lead and looked well on course for a massive three points. Holding out until the mid-way point of the second half, Town then almost pressed the self-destruct button again when Craig Stanley pulled one back and Lee Brown made it 3-2 with five minutes to go. After the late drama at Cheltenham it was a hugely tense last few minutes but thankfully we held out and jumped up a place and to within a point of escaping the drop zone.

Aldershot Town provided the next test a few days later and the momentum continued for the Cobblers as, once again, we came out of the blocks well. Kelvin Langmead volleyed in to open the scoring before Akinfenwa doubled the lead five minutes before half time. And when Josh Payne brought down Michael Jacobs, Bayo stepped up for 3-0 and this time there was only mild resistance from the opposition. The Shots only found a reply once, in stoppage time, when Danny Hylton got a consolation so it was back to back wins for Aidy Boothroyd’s men. Just as important were events elsewhere though as Town leaped out of the bottom two and were suddenly two points clear of Plymouth Argyle and three clear of Tuesday night’s opponents Dagenham and Redbridge.

Victoria Park was to host perhaps the biggest game of both sides’ seasons that Tuesday night and it was as tense and tight as you would expect from two sides desperate not to make any fatal mistakes. It was eventually won on the hour when Liverpool loanee Toni Silva made the most a spill from Daggers’ keeper Chris Lewington to score the only goal of the game and send the hordes of travelling Cobblers fans wild! That made it three wins in three and the bandwagon was well and truly rolling for Aidy and his men.

The only blip of the month was to come on the following weekend when Accrington Stanley brought us temporarily back down to earth with a 2-1 victory at the Crown Ground. Jamie Devitt put Stanley in front with Brett Williams equalising in the second half. With a point looking like a good result, Craig Linfield stepped in to win it for the home side and sink the Cobblers back into trouble for the time being.

Another massive Tuesday night was around the corner with a trip to fading Burton Albion who were on a dreadful run of form. After another close game, it took just one moment to completely turn the relegation battle in our favour. Michael Jacobs’ free kick wasn’t cleared and Kelvin Langmead continued his fine month by smashing in a memorable winner. The little things that had been going against us all season suddenly appeared to be turning in our favour and a glance at the league table was something to look forward to again with that win taking the Cobblers up to the dizzy heights of eighteenth place. More importantly we were five points clear with a game in hand.

Plymouth Argyle were on their own mini revival after a torrid season on and off the pitch once again and by the time they visited Sixfields what once might have been considered a six pointer ended up being a goalless draw that both sides were pretty happy with!

The final game of March would be another memorable away trip, not least for goalkeeper Neal Kitson. With Matt Duke returning to Bradford City after being recalled, Kitson stepped in for his debut at playoff chasing Crewe Alexandra. Luke Murphy put the Alex into a deserved lead but slowly the Cobblers fought back and Bayo nipped in for an equaliser on the hour mark. And with a big point on the line, Kitson was thrust into the limelight when Nick Powell went down in the area. Up stepped Danny Shelley, hoping to put his side on course for the top seven but, incredibly, Kitson tipped the spot kick onto the bar to round off a truly stunning debut performance, earning Town a point in the process.

So after a hectic and mostly euphoric month of March, the home straight was upon the Cobblers. Having started the month second from bottom, we ended it six points clear of the relegation zone with a game in hand. It was to be the month that pretty much saved us and gave us a fantastic base for the run-in.

Highlight of the month: Kelvin Langmead’s injury time winner at Burton and the win at Dagenham were both absolutely crucial.

Lowlight of the month: The only defeat of March saw Town lose 2-1 at Accrington

Player of the month: Winner of the ‘I never thought I would say this’ award goes to Kelvin Langmead for some crucial goals and stability along side Clarke Carlisle at the other end of the pitch. Bayo, Toni Silva and Clarke Carlisle could easily have been named as well.