This was to a season which once again lived up to the usual roller coaster entertainment of previous campaigns. At least we could look back at the end of it as a League Two club and be thankful that we were still in the Football League – something that back in the early going was, rather shockingly, looking less likely!
After relegation from League One, we needed a good start to the season and backed with a clutch of new signings there was a perfect chance to do just that at home to unfancied Macclesfield Town at Sixfields. Craig Hinton, Chris McCready, Dean Beckwith, Billy McKay and loan signing Ben Marshall were handed debuts but the Cobblers could only manage a goalless draw in an edgy start to the season.
A midweek trip to the south coast saw Stuart Gray come up against one of his former clubs as Southampton proved too powerful in the Carling Cup. Rickie Lambert began a terrific season for himself by netting from close range before Adam Lallana put the result beyond doubt and the Cobblers out in Round One.
Things continued to look bleak in our first away game of the league campaign as Chesterfield began their final season at Saltergate with a win courtesy of Donal McDermott’s winner.
But relief was, temporarily around the corner as the Cobblers convincingly picked up a first win of the season at Accrington the following Tuesday. Steve Guinan, Adebayo Akinfenwa and Billy McKay were the scorers as we finally got off the mark.
The corner looked to have been turned with another victory, the first home win of the season just a few days later as Bournemouth were put to the sword. Bayo struck early on and Marshall rounded off an impressive display by following up a Billy McKay shot to seal the points.
All of that hard work, though, would dramatically fall apart the following weekend as the Cobblers as we travelled to Burton Albion. Albion scored three times in the opening ten minutes to stun the Cobblers and begin Stuart Gray’s final descent. Although Guinan and Ryan Gilligan clawed goals back late on it wasn’t enough and Gray would not see out another full month of action as Town boss.
As the Cobblers entered September 2009, Stuart Gray was well and truly on his last legs. The month would see a managerial change, a shocker at Meadow Lane and the start of a Cobblers legend stamping his mark on the team.
Gray earned himself a small stay of execution with a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy victory at League One Wycombe Wanderers as an entertaining 2-2 draw ended with the Cobblers going through on penalties. Wanderers managed to miss all three of their spot kicks to help us on our way through to Round Two.
But Gray wouldn’t last much longer. The home league game with Barnet the following Friday night sealed his fate. Despite Ben Marshall continuing his early good form after joining on loan, Barnet went top of the table by striking three times in twenty second half minutes through Ahmed Deen, Paul Furlong and John O’Flynn.
Gray was sacked in the days following that defeat and his then assistant Ian Sampson took charge, temporarily at first. His first mammoth task was to try and sort out a disorganised and demoralised team for a trip to big spenders Notts County.
Alex Dyer gave us a surprise lead at Meadow Lane but then it all went wrong in front of a dejected away following, many of whom left before the full time whistle. County hit back and were 2-1 up by the break through Matt Ritchie and Lee Hughes. The home side went on to score five with Hughes completing his hat-trick and Ritchie getting a second to completely obliterate the Cobblers. By the time Andy Holt scored a consolation to make it 5-2 the game was long over and there weren’t many of our fans left to see it!
The performance was at least a lot, lot better the following week in Sammo’s first home game in charge and despite Rochdale coming away from Sixfields with a 2-1 win there were signs of better things to come. Ryan Gilligan got the Cobblers goal.
A 3-0 defeat at Shrewsbury was another depressing afternoon though and it was looking gloomy for Sammo’s chances of taking the job full time but there was to be a break through in the final game of the month at home to Rotherham.
Ryan Gilligan hit the opening goal and had us in front by half-time before the emergence of young Courtney Herbert saw him bag his first ever senior goal to make it 2-0 just after the break. The tide was turning and Ian Sharps’ own goal all but sealed the points for the Cobblers with Adam Le Fondre’s late penalty not enough for the Millers.
Sammo had given himself some leverage and was just a couple of weeks away from getting the job full time. After a dodgy start to 2009/10, things were starting to look up!
Ian Sampson would confirm his appointment after the first game of October, a game that didn’t produce a win but did see his Cobblers side battle to a 2-2 home draw with Bradford City. After a goalless first half, Simon Ramsden and Michael Boulding put the visitors in control but Alex Dyer pulled one back before John Johnson headed home his first goal for the club in the dying seconds.
So the decision was made and the Cobblers officially had the man for the job. Sammo was signed up until the end of the season and would be on trial as such until the summer months. It was a massive task with the club languishing in the lower reaches of the table but it would be a positive start to full time management for the former Town player.
The first official game in charge for Sammo was the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Second Round game at home to Bournemouth and despite a Danny Hollands goal in the first half, Steve Guinan equalised and there was once again a late sting in the tale. Bournemouth thought they had won it when awarded an 86th minute penalty but Lee Bradbury saw his kick saved by Chris Dunn. The Cobblers went up the other end, won a penalty of their own and Ryan Gilligan showed how it was done by slotting home and putting us into Round Three, the area Quarter Finals.
There was yet another come back the following weekend as the Cobblers fell 2-0 down at Bury but Courtney Herbert scored a stunning solo goal to out us back in the game before Adebayo Akinfenwa made it 2-2 and the fighting spirit was well and truly back in the squad.
Back at Sixfields and the always hard to beat Lincoln City were seen off by a Steve Guinan goal with just under twenty minutes to play.
Guinan was on target again the following week as he put the Cobblers in front at Morecambe. But it looked like all was lost as the Shrimps came from behind to lead 2-1 through a Phil Jevons penalty and a Stuart Drummond goal just before the break. That spirit shone through again though and the Cobblers scored three times in the last twenty minutes to win the game. Andy Holt, John Johnson and Adebayo Akinfenwa were on target and the travelling fans went home delighted.
The month would end in narrow defeat though and with a number of chances going begging at Torquay it always looked like we would end up on the losing side and it was an ex Cobbler that stole the show. Chris Hargreaves scored with seven minutes remaining and showed his respect for the Cobblers but not celebrating.
All in all October was the month when we finally got going and even with that late defeat at Plainmoor we were rolling and had ourselves back out of danger at the wrong end of the table.
Time to look back on November now and coming off the back of Sammo’s appointment the previous month all things were steadying up at Sixfields. The first game of the month, though, saw us struggle past non-league Fleetwood Town in the first round of the F.A. Cup.
Sean Clancy was beginning to think that he would be the cup hero for the minnows when he equalised Luke Guttridge’s opener but the Cobblers midfielder struck again in the second half to see us scrape through to Round Two.
There was more cup action in midweek with the trip to MK Dons in the JPT. But this particular cup adventure would come to an end with a comfortable enough 3-1 win for the hosts. Dons were three goals to the good by half time and Steve Guinan’s consolation in the second half wasn’t enough.
A drab 0-0 draw with Grimsby at Sixfields was followed a week later by a much more exciting encounter. Crewe were the visitors and were two goals up by the break with John Johnson helping them out with an own goal. But the Cobblers rallied and Bayo Akinfenwa scored twice in ten second half minutes to earn a point in a game that either side could well have won.
A mid-week trip to Aldershot saw the Cobblers come home empty handed though as the Shots recovered from Guttridge’s early goal to win 2-1 thanks to an eightieth minute Scott Donnelly penalty and a stoppage time Marvin Morgan goal.
The month would end with more cup action back at home and for the second time this season Southampton knocked the Cobblers out of a major tournament. Papa Waigo and Adam Lallana had the Saints in control at half time before Dean Hammond struck a third. Hammonds’ own goal at the other end, though, gave us some hope before Ryan Gilligan’s spot kick nearly gave us some late drama but it was just not enough.
December would be another month of transition for the Cobblers and we would end up being very happy to see the back of 2009. Things didn’t start nicely with Hereford taking all three points from Sixfields. Ryan Gilligan gave us a first minute lead but Darren Jones levelled on fifteen minutes. Second half goals from Mathieu Manset and Craig King killed the game and a dismal performance was matched by a score line that had many doubting where the season would go from there.
A topsy turvey game at Cheltenham followed with Barry Hayles and Bayo Akinfenwa both scoring twice in a 2-2 draw that did little to enhance a disappointing first half of the season for both teams.
Two penalties was the story a week later with Cobblers old boy Marc Richards netting on the stroke of half-time. But a red card for John McCombe gave the Cobblers a way back and Bayo scored from the resulting spot kick to give us another draw.
Boxing Day finally saw some relief as Billy McKay’s debated goal was adjudged to have crossed the line with just seconds to play as the Cobblers beat Dagenham and Redbridge to give our fans some Christmas cheer.
There was a typical end to a bad year though at Barnet when we couldn’t get past ten men after Dean Sinclair’s red card and the game ended goalless.
The turn of the year was certainly welcome and it would take a momentous effort in the first half of 2010 if we were to get anything back from a disjointed 2009.
January would become the real turning point of the season in many ways. Suddenly, everything started to come together, we began to pick up points, moved up the table at a steady pace and as a result, Sammo earned his very first Manager of the Month award.
The first test of the new decade saw the Cobblers travel to Bournemouth and a high flying Cherries side who were fighting for a top three place. But we would stun the hosts by recording a more than impressive victory at Dean Court. Luke Guttridge scored our first goal of the decade, finishing off a fine move before Ryan Gilligan had us 2-0 up within the opening fifteen minutes. Bournemouth rallied a little in the second half but not enough and we had a superb start to 2010.
Another away game followed on the Wednesday night with a similar outcome at Macclesfield Town. Guttridge continued his fine form by giving us the lead and Adebayo Akinfenwa’s header from Guttridge’s cross sealed back to back wins.
A goalless draw at home with playoff chasing Chesterfield wasn’t the end of the world after those two results and the away wins kept on coming as the Cobblers came from behind at doomed Darlington to win 2-1 and to keep the momentum going. Tadhg Purcell gave Darlo a twentieth minute lead but Billy McKay and Ryan Gilligan scored to add more misery to the league’s bottom club.
Burton Albion were the visitors to Sixfields in the final game of the month Shaun Harrad seemed to be sending the Brewers to all three points until Andy Holt got on the end of a flick from Cobblers new boy Stephen O’Flynn to drive the ball home and earn another point and to round off an unbeaten January.
At the end of the month, the Cobblers were climbing back up the table and were in thirteenth place, just five points away from the top seven and a playoff place. Many teams had games in hand though with the January weather halting plenty of League Two games so it was beginning to look like a nervy wait throughout the final months of the season.
At last, though, we had something to fight for.
As we await the announcement of the new seasons’ fixtures this morning it’s time to move on to February in our season review, another decent month in the recovery of the 2009/10 season.
John Johnson kicked things off in February by scoring a brilliantly taken solo goal at Dagenham and Redbridge to keep our fine run of away form going – that was the fourth victory on the road in succession.
Victories at Sixfields had been a little more difficult to find in 2010 but when Accrington paid a visit there was nothing holding the Cobblers back. Adebayo Akinfenwa opened the scoring before a second half double from Billy McKay made the game safe. Luke Guttridge got on the end of Dean Beckwith’s free kick to put the icing on the cake of a terrific 4-0 win.
Then came the first major six pointer of the season at home to Aldershot. Kevin Thornton had just signed a deal until the end of the season and was keen to get into the action. He did just that but certainly not how we’d hoped – Thornton was sent off after ten minutes and Aldershot’s Marvin Morgan scored from the resulting free kick! Kirk Hudson struck a second for the Shots with twenty minutes to go and Morgan put some gloss on the score with his second five minutes later to condemn the Cobblers to a first defeat of 2010.
It looked like we’d bounced straight back a week later at Crewe when Akinfenwa replied to Ashley Westwood’s early goal for the hosts by turning the back back in our favour at 2-1. But in one of the key ten minute periods of the season, the Alex proceeded to lift themselves and turn the game again in their favour. Westwood equalised and Simon Walton volleyed the winner. Courtney Herbert thought he’d rescued a point late on with a cross shot that the Town players thought had crossed the line but nothing was given and it was another frustrating result.
A Tuesday night at Hereford wasn’t too appealing after two straight defeats but the Cobblers recorded and important 2-0 win at Edgar Street, matching the result from the previous season’s fixture. McKay and Akinfenwa were the scorers on this occasion and we were back on track.
The month ended with a home game against struggling Cheltenham Town and after Marley Watkins equalised Akinfenwa’s goal with a little over ten minutes to go it looked like the points would be shared. But Seb Harris came off the bench to head home his first senior goal and celebrate wildly as we marched on once more.
With two and a bit months to go, the Cobblers had remarkably entered into the playoff race and were eighth at the end of February. Plenty of games in hand were still to be played but the race was well and truly on!
It was down to the nitty gritty in March as the Cobblers closed in on a playoff place but knew that there were games in hand for other sides around them that could still halt a dramatic playoff charge.
The first game of the month saw a terrific performance at Port Vale end with a 3-1 victory. Bayo stuck us in front after just a couple of minutes but that effort was cancelled out by Vale’s Doug Loft on five. But in a remarkable end to the first half, Abdul Osman and Billy McKay scored within a minute of each other and despite a second half onslaught we took home another precious win.
A home game with Darlington was always going to be a must win and the Cobblers duly delivered the following weekend. John Johnson volleyed us into the lead and Abdul Osman doubled the advantage just before half time to see us cruise to victory against the league’s bottom side.
The same score line a week later was more impressive against fellow playoff hopefuls Morecambe. An early goal from Liam Davis had Town up and running once more with Ryan Gilligan finishing off a fine move involving Peter Gilbert and Akinfenwa to propel us into thinking that even a top three finish wasn’t beyond us!
The winning streak was halted at Lincoln in the final game of March but at least we picked up a point at Sincil Bank, never a happy home for the Cobblers. Matthew Saunders looked like he’d won it for Chris Sutton’s men but John Johnson scored a dramatic late equaliser to earn a point.
All the games in hand were caught up on by the end of the month and the Cobblers were in eighth place but just a point below the playoffs with a make or break April looming.
April and May
The curtain would fall on the 2009/10 season with the Cobblers narrowly missing out on the playoff dream. After battling back from the lower reaches of the league table at Christmas, Sammo couldn’t quite complete the turnaround but it had still been a terrific effort.
Easter weekend saw us travel to Grimsby on Good Friday and host Torquay on Bank Holiday Monday and after a big win in Cleethorpes thanks to Liam Davis and Bayo Akinfenwa, Torquay held us to a goalless draw at Sixfields. The Cobblers were briefly in the playoffs after the Friday win but dropped out once again on the Monday with a clutch of massive games ahead,
The first of those was Notts County at home and we’d made a hugely positive start against the promotion favourites. Steve Guinan’s miss, though, when through one on one with County keeper Kasper Schmeichal was the turning point and the visitors won it with the first attack of the second half as Ben Davies scored the decisive goal.
We also came away from Rotherham empty handed on the following Tuesday and in a dramatic game Ryan Gilligan had the chance to put us in front but missed a penalty ten minutes before half time. It all turned around once more at the break as Craig Hinton was sent off for bringing down Adam Le Fondre and the Rotherham striker converted the spot kick.
Rochdale away wasn’t the ideal fixture after that double header and the downward turn continued with a third successive 1-0 loss. Chris O’Grady’s goal also meant that ‘Dale were promoted and began scenes of wild celebration at Spotland.
We needed something and a home win against Shrewsbury was just the ticket. Billy McKay struck on 52 minutes and Kevin Thornton sealed the victory late in the game with a rocket of a shot. That gave us slim hope back and despite being in tenth place were just a point off the playoffs.
All to play for then with a trip to Bradford and an emotional anniversary of the tragic fire at Valley Parade. The home side won through though with a double strike from Gareth Evans and there was far too much to do on the final day.
Bury were the final opposition of the season and also missed out on a playoff place due to other results. The Shakers took the lead to give their fans a moment of hope when Ryan Lowe scored in first half stoppage time but the season would end with a draw when Akinfenwa scored with what turned out to be the final touch of his Cobblers career, a deflected shot that couldn’t quite bury the disappointment of missing out on the top seven.
So another up and down season was over and we once again got one good half and one bad half of the campaign. But the silver lining was that the team were finally playing for each other again and compared to twelve months previous there was plenty to be happy with despite the fact that we would once again line up in League Two next season.