Ravenhill returns as signing number two

Ravenhill...new Cobblers loan signing

Ravenhill…back in Cobblers colours!

Chris Wilder’s second signing of the transfer window is likely to be another popular one – Ricky Ravenhill has re-joined the club but this time on an eighteen month contract. The midfielder returned to Bradford just after Aidy Boothroyd was sacked and was playing for the Bantams as recently as Tuesday night as he came off the bench for the final few minutes of their 0-0 draw with Preston North End but is now a permanent member of the Cobblers squad.

We all know exactly what the 33 year old can bring to the middle of the park after his loan spell in November and December and was one of the stand out players in the period that led to Boothroyd departing. A battling, ball winning midfielder is another key component of any League Two side and to get someone in who knows the club, knows the players and can get straight into this dog fight at the bottom is perfect.

Ravenhill has plenty of experience in the Football League having represented the likes of Barnsley (where he came through the youth ranks), Doncaster Rovers, Grimsby Town, Darlington, Notts County and Chester before joining Bradford in 2011, initially on loan.

He will, I’m sure, be welcomed back  here with open arms and he joins Alan Connell by going straight into the squad for the Cheltenham game on Saturday afternoon.

 

First one through the door!

Connell...Wilder's first signing

Connell…Wilder’s first signing

We’re up and running transfer wise as the Cobblers have confirmed the signing of striker Alan Connell from Bradford City on deal that sees us pick up his Bantams contract until the end of the season.

Connell had been linked to a return to Grimsby Town where he scored 25 goals in the 2010/11 season but has instead chosen Sixfields as his destination. It’s a very good start to Chris Wilder’s recruitment with an experienced goal scorer top of most fans’ must have lists coming into the final days of the transfer window.

The thirty year old started his career in the youth set up at Tottenham before moving to Ipswich Town where he never played a game. His first league appearances came with Bournemouth as Connell hit 7 goals in 14 games before a cruciate ligament injury kept him out for the rest of his debut season with the Cherries. He struggled to break back into the side in the following two campaigns and was sold to Torquay United in 2005 for £5,000.

After 7 goals in 22 games for the Devon club in a struggle of a season that saw the Gulls narrowly avoid relegation from the Football League Connell signed for Hereford United, scoring 10 goals in his only season with the Bulls. He then moved again, this time to Brentford, in 2007 and was a popular figure with Bees fans as he scored 12 times in his only full season. His next stop was a return to Bournemouth where he helped the Cherries back from a ten point deduction in his first season and to promotion (including the decisive goal to send them up) in his second.

In 2010 he signed for Grimsby and had that huge impact before joining Swindon a year later, scoring 11 times in 32 games for the Robins. He’s been with Bradford since signing from Swindon in 2012 and has hit 8 goals in 43 games in total as well as coming off the bench for the final five minutes of the playoff final against the Cobblers last May.

I’m pretty happy with this one…experienced and knows how to score a goal which is more than can be said of plenty who have tried so far this season. Crucially, he’s also here for long than a month! Connell seems to move around a fair bit but the favourable mentions from his other clubs point to a potential crowd favourite as well. It was the unfortunate (for him) form of Nahki Wells and James Hanson that kept him out of the Bradford side so that’s not exactly something to be ashamed of.

So there’s your first signing…keep ‘em coming boys!

Big freeze at the very last for Cobblers

Wembley1Bradford City 3-0 Northampton Town

League Two Playoff Final 2013

There were no heroics. There was to be no drama. There was nothing of anything really to be brutally honest. This latest instalment of Northampton Town’s Wembley history will likely be buried in the annuls of time, locked away and shuddered at whenever someone mentions May 18th 2013. This day could have been so memorable but it turned out to instead play host to one of the most disappointing days in recent football memories.

It wasn’t even like there was a bad referee decision, a cruel twist of fate or a late deflection off someone’s backside that we could blame everything on. We wrote no extraordinary runners up story. Quite simply, Bradford City decided to turn up at Wembley Stadium this time and Northampton Town did not.

It had all started so well. A jubilant convoy of coaches, trains and cars containing quietly expectant Cobblers fans had reached Wembley in excellent time and by the time our coach pulled up at 10:45am there were plenty of supporters from both sides milling around  as I made my way towards Wembley Park station to meet the two honorary Cobblers – Jamie and Mark – who are both at different stages of their Northampton Town education yet both as excited as any well-travelled Town fan.

Walking down Wembley way was just as special as it was fifteen years ago when I was a wide eyed thirteen year old. The awe of the grand old stadium had something extra about it but the Wembley version two still features plenty to get the heart racing. It took a while to realise that my team were playing there even after two weeks of waiting but as game time grew closer (and probably helped by Jamie’s excellent picking up of beers en route) and we had had a quick look out at our seats the nerves really began. This was happening.

And then…it just didn’t happen!

Wembley2The team line ups were announced and the one surprise was Bayo Akinfenwa being dropped to the bench in favour of Clive Platt. It was an odd one to say the least and made me more concerned than I already was before the game had even started. Dropping your leading scorer and talisman for a man just coming back from injury and someone who isn’t mobile at the best of times was questionable to say the least and it kind of set us up for a fall before a ball was kicked. Whether Aidy was trying to catch Bradford off guard or something I don’t know. Maybe we won’t ever know his thinking but it just didn’t work.

From the start, the Cobblers just were not at the races. Passes were going astray, attacks breaking down far too easily and the same defence that so good in the semi-finals looked shaky and nervous despite the wealth of experience they share. The goal that started fifteen minutes of sheer agony was as simple as they come. Town didn’t clear their lines well enough and the ball was lobbed back in for James Hansen to nod over Lee Nicholls.

Almost as quick a bullet as the first came the second just four minutes later. Nathan Doyle’s cross was nodded in at the near post too easily by defender Rory McArdle. The uphill task just became a mountainous one and we had been caught like the proverbial rabbit in the headlights on the grand stage.

Of course it wouldn’t be a Bradford-Cobblers game without Nahki Wells getting on the score sheet and he duly obliged to round off a terrible first half an hour for Town. Wells found that extra bit of space in the box to fire in number three and once again the Cobblers defence will be left holding inquests into how the key danger man found that much time.

To say we were shell shocked was an understatement. The only thought in my head was hoping that we got to the break with no further damage. We were being completely overpowered in every area of the pitch and it was starting to become uncomfortable. Fortunately there was no further damage before half-time but the game was all but over.

Bayo was introduced with ten minutes of the second half gone but Bradford had settled into their stride of taking what they had. Unfortunately they didn’t even need to break back into first gear and were as organised and solid as they needed to be against a Cobblers attack who were struggling to find a way through. Akinfenwa did seem to have more of a presence than Platt and at least looked like he may do something but that was as good as it got.

Town didn’t register a shot on target all afternoon and the game petered out to a backdrop of celebrating Bantams fans who started their party of Wembley redemption with around fifteen minutes to go.

It was ultimately the biggest disappointment on the biggest stage and for Cobblers players, supporters and everyone involved in this day it will take a full summer just to get over what happened this afternoon under the Wembley arch.

It’s unfair to judge the entire campaign on this showing, though. Throughout this season we’ve fought into a position where we’ve been able to bring genuine hope to the place again. From relegation candidates to Wembley is not a bad return at all and though this defeat is so hard to take it should be remembered that this has been a real season of progression.

What we need to do now is to ensure that there’s no hangover at the start of next season. To signal our intent there has to be a consolidation of the squad that’s taken us this far and Aidy Boothroyd must try to convince potential new signings that this upward curve can continue towards League One in a year’s time.

That won’t be easy but you know what? We’ll all be back to see it through. I would wager that most reading this blog will be back in August and just as excited and bold as we were at the start of this season.

We’ll be ready to travel to Morecambe, Rochdale, Newport, Dagenham (on a cold Tuesday night) and Hartlepool. We’ll shake hands with old friends at random football stadia around the country, we’ll make new friends on terraces and coaches and we’ll laugh, cry, hope, dream and be Northampton Town together come rain or shine. It’s what we do and however much you try to fight it you know that deep down you still love this game.

What I felt that I needed to do after the match today was to watch as Bradford City took their place in League One. I needed to watch as their ascended the steps to collect their trophy and watch as they lifted it, celebrated and began their party. This was for two reasons: To applaud the rightful winners of the match and to make sure that in a weird and twisted way I took in all of the feelings associated with losing at the last. From past experience, it makes the great, great times that bit better when you remember the painful moments and pitfalls that have hit you along the way and this could well be a key image to draw on in the future.

Hopefully it won’t be long before this day is consigned to the memories and used only as a marker for better times.

Northampton Town v Bradford City: Match Preview

WembleyNorthampton Town v Bradford City

League Two Playoff Final

Wembley Stadium

Saturday, May 18th 2013

This is it! After two weeks of build-up, debates, nerves, ticket panics and excitement. After forty six league games and two tense playoff encounters. After facing the very real fear of relegation just over a year ago. It all comes down to an afternoon at Wembley Stadium as Northampton Town and Bradford City go into battle for the final place in League One for the 2013/14 season.

With just one day to go I’m still in somewhat disbelief that twelve months on from both of these sides battling it out at the wrong end of the table we are set to go head to head in the playoff final. Since the final whistle at Cheltenham I’ve been going through different stages of emotion that started with utter jubilation, then excitement and then actually trying to focus on the football match that will take place before us tomorrow afternoon.

The line between what could be one of the great days of Northampton Town history and one of disappointment is so thin that it makes you nervous just thinking about what happens after 1:30pm and the first whistle of the final so we must enjoy every single piece of the day that leads up to kick-off. If there is to be the happiest of endings to this season then every single member of the 22,000 or so claret army that takes their place under the arch, every player that dons the shirt and every member of staff will have to be at the very top of their game. Bradford go into the game as favourites and as a team that has done the league double over us whilst also ending our progress in the FA Cup but the desire shown at Cheltenham shows that there’s much more to this Cobblers side than long balls and hoofing it.

You never know when this may happen again and I’m so lucky to be able to say that it will be my third trip to Wembley with the Cobblers. Treasure it, remember it and do your wonderful football club proud on what could become a date of Northampton Town folklore!

Here goes…

 

bradford-cityBradford City’s path to Wembley…the long road back…

Bradford weren’t supposed to be in League Two for this long. Relegation to the fourth level of English football in 2007 came as quite the shock to a club that, six years earlier, had been playing in the Premier League. It was more of a gradual decline than an instant one with three campaigns spent in the Championship and three in League One since those two seasons in the sun with the elite. In 2007, though, the Bantams slipped to the bottom tier and were looking for an instant return and for a new dawn to begin a climb back up the league pyramid.

Stuart McCall, a Bantams player during two spells – one of which included taking them into the Premier League- was appointed manager. After a tough start to life in League Two he eventually took them to a tenth place finish in the first season in the basement division. A year later and McCall was getting closer to his promotion dreams but City finished two points from the playoff positions and after a poor run of results the following season he left Valley Parade the following February.

Peter Taylor, Peter Jackson and Colin Cooper all tried their hand but the fallen giant was proving harder to awaken than originally thought with Bradford finishing 14th in 2010 and 18th in both subsequent seasons with an exit from the entire Football League the a very real threat at times during the last couple of years.

Phil Parkinson’s appointment in August 2011 looked like being the one to bring back stability to the club, though, and despite last season’s disappointing league finish he has reinvigorated the Bantams this time around and completely changed their fortunes. This season will already be going down in history for them after Parkinson led the club to the League Cup Final – the first fourth tier side to achieve this since Rochdale in 1962 – with the likes of Wigan Athletic, Arsenal and Aston Villa all beaten en route to Wembley.

What is perhaps just as impressive is that, following a 5-0 hammering by Swansea City in the final, City have picked themselves up to mount a playoff challenge. Days after Wembley, they salvaged a late home draw against Dagenham and Redbridge and were still ten points from the playoff places. Three games in hand were still there to be played but it would still take a monumental effort for City to get back into contention.

One defeat in twelve certainly helped in the games after the League Cup final and by the time Bristol Rovers had been swept aside 4-1 in early April, days after the Cobblers had been beaten at Valley Parade, Bradford were back in the top seven and genuine contenders once again. A home defeat to Rotherham briefly threatened to give the chasing pack something to aim at but victory over Burton Albion in their final home league game ensured a playoff place with a final day draw at Cheltenham Town rounding off the league fixtures.

Their seventh place finish meant that Burton would be their opponents in the playoff semi-finals and it was to be yet another dramatic couple of games for the Bantams. Calvin Zola had the Brewers 2-0 up inside half an hour in the first game at Valley Parade before Nahki Wells gave them hope with a spot kick. But before half-time, Robbie Weir had made it 3-1 and there was everything to do once more. Garry Thompson scored arguably the most important goal of the tie in the second half to mean that they would at least go to the Pirelli Stadium with just a one goal deficit, though.

The second leg saw Wells in inspired form again, scoring mid-way through the first half to drag Bradford right back into the game. James Hansen put his side in front for the first time in the tie before Jacques Maghoma levelled the aggregate score from the spot. But two minutes later Wells struck the decisive blow, turning well in the area and slamming the ball home from a Hansen knock down. They survived for the remaining half an hour and had booked their second trip to Wembley in three months for what will be their 64th game of a marathon season.

The time between the two finals has seen Bradford play seventeen times. They’ve won seven, drawn seven and lost just three of those games and head into Wembley as favourites to finish this extraordinary season by making the giant leap back to League One.

The Cobblers will hopefully have something to say about that, though…

 

Club Links…

City keeper Matt Duke was on loan with the Cobblers last season, playing nine games during our bid to avoid the drop. Despite only staying a short amount of time, Duke was a popular figure with Town fans.

Cobblers striker Louis Moult was on loan with Bradford in 2010, scoring once in ten outings with the Bantams.

 

Team News…

The Cobblers report to Wembley with a full bill of health barring long term absentee Alex Nicholls whose season was cruelly ended in October when he suffered a broken leg against Port Vale. Nicholls is one of the reasons why we are at Wembley in the first place, though, after his early season form and hopefully he is able to be with the squad at least. Elsewhere, Aidy Boothroyd has some nice dilemmas to deal with, particularly at the back with the decision to either bring back skipper Kelvin Langmead or stick with Nathan Cameron who was so impressive in the playoff semi-finals.

Bradford have been keeping an eye on winger Kyel Reid who only returned from a groin injury in the second leg of the playoffs. Reid is the only injury concern for the Bantams though who also come into the game with pretty much a clean bill of health despite a mammoth season and they could name the same side that started the playoff semi-final second leg against Burton Albion.

 

Wells...Cobblers troubler!

Wells…Cobblers troubler!

Previous six meetings…

06/04/13: Bradford 1-0 Cobblers (League Two)

Nahki Wells continued his fine form against the Cobblers by scoring the only goal of the game in a crucial contest at the start of April which helped the Bantams towards the playoff places while denting our hopes of automatic promotion.

13/11/12: Bradford 3-3 Cobblers (FA Cup First Round Replay – Bradford win 4-2 on pens)

A youthful Cobblers side took to the field at Valley Parade and did us proud by pushing the hosts all the way before bowing out on penalties. Will Atkinson had put Bradford in front but a penalty from Ishmel Demontagnac levelled before the break. Nahki Wells looked to have won it with a ninetieth minute penalty but Clive Platt took it to extra time seconds later. The drama continued when Kelvin Langmead put us in front in the extra period with Carl McHugh pulling it back for the Bantams. Langmead would miss the crucial spot kick in the shoot-out to send Bradford through but it was a top effort from Town’s young guns.

03/11/12: Cobblers 1-1 Bradford (FA Cup First Round)

Will Atkinson fired the visitors in front in the first cup game between the sides this season but Louis Moult’s second half goal ensured the tie would go to a replay ten days later.

23/10/12: Cobblers 0-1 Bradford (League Two)

Nahki Wells scored the only goal of the game back in October in the first of what will end up being five games between the clubs this season.

14/04/12: Cobblers 1-3 Bradford (League Two)

In April of last year, both sides were fighting to avoid going out of League Two at the other end of the table and it was that man Wells once again who proved to be the difference. He scored a hat-trick to fire Bradford to victory with Clarke Carlisle’s solitary strike not enough for the Cobblers.

22/10/11: Bradford 2-1 Cobblers (League Two)

Michael Jacobs scored a screamer at Valley Parade to put Town into the lead at Valley Parade but the game had completely turned on its head within ten minutes with Craig Fagan’s penalty and James Hansen’s winner nicking it for the home side.

 

The man in the middle…

Taking charge of the big game is Keith Stroud. Stroud was last in action in the dramatic Championship final day match between Hull City and Cardiff City that saw the Tigers eventually win promotion to the top flight. He last refereed a Cobblers game in April 2012, a 1-1 home draw with Gillingham which was the final home fixture of last season. Throughout this season he has shown 155 yellow cards and 10 reds, including three in the Sheffield United-Brentford game a couple of weeks ago.

 

Prediction…

No chance! I’m staying away from any sort of prediction for this I’m afraid.

Que Sera Sera…

 

 

Wembley 2013 – The Key Battles

wembley30_468x289The countdown is now down to just a couple of days so I thought it was time I started looking at the fact that a football match is the main focus of Saturday afternoon and not just a trip to Wembley! Aidy Boothroyd played both legs of the semi-final to perfection tactically but he’s going to have some big decisions to make in the lead up to the big day in terms of his starting eleven.

For what it’s worth, I think he may just stick with the same eleven that started the first leg at Sixfields against Cheltenham to allow for more attacking flair to match what will need to be another dogged defensive display. That team was as follows:

GK: Lee Nicholls

DEF: Tozer, Carlisle, Cameron, Collins

MID: Hackett, Harding, Guttridge, Demontagnac

ST: Akinfenwa, O’Donovan

I think the biggest locks for starting places are Nicholls, Hackett, Guttridge, Bayo and O’ Donovan. I would have said Clive Platt may feature if I’d have written this a few weeks ago but Bayo, if not on the goal scoring front, has signalled a return to form just at the right time and little Roy has shone over the past month.

Elsewhere I do think Ben Tozer will play because of his lethal weapon but with him it’s all about whether Aidy will prefer a five man midfield with O’Donovan moving back or whether John Johnson will be sacrificed at right back. I’m leaning toward the latter at the moment but there’s plenty of room for speculation (and to keep Bradford guessing!). Another argument would be Johnson in at right back and Tozer replacing Harding in the middle of the park but I would worry about the protection of the back four should that be the case.

Kelvin Langmead is one who you would never have imagined being considered for a place on the bench in the biggest match in many a year but the inspired form of Clarke Carlisle and Nathan Cameron in the semi-finals have given Boothroyd a good headache there. I say stick with Cameron and his pace with Langmead coming off the bench late on for one of his dramatic injury time winners! Based on what I think Aidy will do, then, here are some of the key battles that will likely take place on the hallowed turf of Wembley on Saturday afternoon…

 

cameronwells Nathan Cameron v Nahki Wells

As mentioned, before the playoffs you would have put Langmead in here without question but Cameron was outstanding in both legs of the playoffs. His pace is likely to win him the battle to get into the Town side because of the nippy and energetic Nahki Wells leading the threat of the Bantams’ attack. Wells has a good history against the Cobblers with a hat-trick in last seasons’ 3-1 win at Sixfields and the only goal of the game in both of the league meeting between the clubs this season.

The Bermudan forward is City’s top scorer with 21 goals and his form in the final should have a major hand in which way this game goes. Cameron was drafted into the Cobblers side towards the end of the season after cutting ties with Coventry City and after a shaky start helped the side to three clean sheets in a row. He will need to be alert for the entire ninety minutes – keeping Wells quiet could well prove key.

 

guttsjones Luke Guttridge v Gary Jones

After the 2-0 home defeat to York City that all but ended our automatic promotion hopes, every Town fan wanted Luke Guttridge back in the team to provide his energy, experience and craft in the middle of the pitch for the season’s run-in. We got just that and were unbeaten for the rest of the season with the midfielder striking a goal that will go down in Cobblers history at Whaddon Road in the playoff semi-final as well as scoring in the final league game of the season against Barnet.

Guttridge faces a big test at Wembley against the vastly experienced Gary Jones. Jones has been consistent in the Bantams side this season and was key to their push into the playoffs late in the campaign with his usual committed and hearty performances. This is likely to be a real battle in the middle of the park and I’m betting that both men cannot wait!

 

hackettmeredith Chris Hackett v James Meredith

Chris Hackett’s performance will be huge for us on Saturday and he comes up against one of the best left backs in League Two in James Meredith. Meredith has been another consistent performer for the Bantams since joining them in June of last year and has had an excellent first season in Bradford colours. He’s a full back that loves to get forward so it will be interesting to see if Hackett is able to cope as well when pushed back.

The Cobblers man has bags of pace and seems to have rediscovered his form of late, creating the Roy O’ Donovan goal in the first leg of the playoffs and terrorising the Cheltenham full backs all night. He had a quieter second leg but with a big pitch at Wembley to escape on to he will be desperate to really get at Meredith from the get go.

 

bayodavies Bayo Akinfenwa v Andrew Davies

Will Beast Mode be on at Wembley? We have to hope and pray that it is because Bayo has a stiff test ahead of him as he comes up against former Middlesbrough and Stoke City man Andrew Davies. The 6 foot 3 defender is rock solid and managed to keep Burton Albion’s star striker Calvin Zola under control in the playoff semi-final second leg having missed the first leg. Davies, then, will be confidant of keeping Bayo quiet too, though the man who could be playing in his final game for the Cobblers is out to banish the memories of his last playoff final appearance.

Akinfenwa was a part of the Swansea City team in 2006 who were beaten on penalties in the League One playoff final against Barnsley and missed a crucial spot kick in that shoot out. A lot may also depend on Bayo’s patience as the game wears on and if referee Keith Stroud takes the usual stance of giving free kicks against him for standing up. Both players have bags of experience and Bayo needs to keep it calm and do what he does against very strong opponent here.

 

aidyparkinson Aidy Boothroyd v Phil Parkinson

The main battle is between the two managers and that in itself is as intriguing as it comes at this level. Both men are in the process of rebuilding their respective reputations after tasting life at a much higher level earlier in their careers. Boothroyd took Watford into the Premier League in 2006 whilst Parkinson was, at the same time, taking charge of Hull City. After relegation for Boothroyd at the first attempt and a bad start for Parkinson at Hull, both found themselves in League One by 2009 – Boothroyd at Colchester United and Parkinson at Charlton, who were relegated from the Championship under his watch.

Since then, Aidy has spent time at Coventry City whilst Parkinson saw his Charlton side beaten by Swindon Town in the 2010 playoff semi-finals, eventually departing The Valley in January 2011. The paths of the two managers then brought them both into League Two by the end of 2011 and since then they have both been through a rigorous process of making their squads capable of first competing and then winning at this level. Both have created squads that are capable of escaping League Two at the right exit after coming so close to losing their places in the league just twelve month ago and both should be commended for the efforts of reaching Wembley just one year later.

Tactically, Boothroyd gets unfair criticism for his ‘long ball’ tactics but you would struggle to find many League Two sides playing flowing football I would suggest. His direct approach has worked and if it gets us over the line on Saturday I can’t see many of the 20,000+ Cobblers fans in attendance complaining! Parkinson has already helped Bradford to the League Cup final this season, of course, and that run saw some outstanding performances full of organisation and utter commitment to the cause. It’ll be a cracking head to head on the benches!

Penalty agony in cup replay

Bradford City 3-3 Northampton Town (AET – Bradford win 4-2 on penalties)

FA Cup First Round Replay

Tuesday, 13th November 2012

A night where youngsters stepped up to the plate, a match swung from one way to another and back again and the newly inherited spirit in the Cobblers ranks came to the fore again ended in the most dramatic of styles as Town bowed out of the FA Cup.

But as we pass the one year anniversary of Gary Johnson’s departure after a 1-0 loss at Luton Town at the same stage of the competition last season the difference in the squad is enormous, both in quality and in overall self-belief within it. Whereas twelve months ago we had no desire or direction as a non-league opponent deservedly dumped us out of the cup, this time around we are reflecting on an agonising night that ended with a penalty shoot-out that reflected a frantic 120 minutes of action.

Town were down to the bare bones after a sickness bug rocked the camp before the game. Chris Hackett was missing whilst Bayo was only able to make it to the bench alongside sixteen-year-old Ivan Toney who made up a substitute list of only five of the available seven that we were allowed.

So expectancy wasn’t the highest to say the least and when Bradford took the lead through Will Atkinson it looked like a long way back. But on the stroke of half-time, Town battled back and when Ishmel Demontagnac was brought down in the area he stepped up to convert the spot kick and bring us level.

The two sides have matched each other through most of the recent trilogy of games and it was no different last night with chances at both ends at a premium. As the game entered the last minute, though, the ever tormenting Nahki Wells, on as a substitute, took his chance following a Joe Widdowson hand ball to convert a penalty and seemingly put City into the Second Round. But yet more drama was to follow…by this point Bayo had been unleashed from the bench and he set up Clive Platt for a well-earned goal to incredibly send the game to extra time.

After that breathless finish it was difficult to focus on what was about to happen in terms of a historical substitution. Ivan Toney came off the bench to become the youngest ever player to appear for the club and showed maturity beyond his years to set up Kelvin Langmead for 3-2 going into the closing stages! At this point, the home side were down to ten men after they used up all three substitutes and James Meredith was taken off injured. Town, on the basis of that and growing momentum, looked to be headed through but there was more to come.

With the game moving into one minute of added time in extra time, Bradford equalised. Carl McHugh headed in and ensured that this cup story would have one final chapter with a penalty shoot-out.

Wells would miss with the first kick before Platt scored to put us in control but then it all started to go wrong. Danny East and Langmead both missed with Gary Jones, Will Atkinson and Stephen Darby all converting for the Bantams. Lewis Hornby had to score and did but Ricky Ravenhill confirmed his side’s progress by netting the decisive kick and the Cobblers were out of the FA Cup.

I wrote those last few words a year ago and had no idea where my football club was going. Now I feel completely different. It’s a horrible way to go out of any competition but this last seven days has restored faith to Cobblers fans. Three away games have come and gone with four points collected in the league (one of those points taken by ten men!) and on this night a team scraped together put in a performance to be proud of. Young players are stepping up, seasoned professionals are leading the way and with our backs against the walls we are seeing something that’s not been seen in a couple of years – a desire to fight for one another on the pitch and a team spirit that will hopefully keep us away from any danger at the wrong end of League Two.

Besides all that, there’s still the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy!

It’s back to the league against struggling Wycombe on Saturday in the first of back-to-back home games and we need to somehow channel the spirit of the recent road trips back into Sixfields to make inroads into the top half of the table.

Until then, I think I need a lie down after that!

Moult earns a replay against stubborn Bantams

Moult…second goal in two games

Northampton Town 1-1 Bradford City

FA Cup First Round

Saturday, November 3rd 2012

I think the phrase on many of our lips on Sunday morning was “at least we’re still in the hat”. And whilst Trevor Brooking’s top hat may not actually be the prop that hands us the big news of the draw for the next round it’s still nice to be in the pot/machine thing that’s used these days. The prize for the winner of what will be the third meeting between the Cobblers and Bradford City within three weeks is a home tie with League One Brentford. That’s the eighth home draw in a row in all competitions by my calculations and one that could still provide a big step up to the Third Round.

The Bantams have proved, though, that they’re one of the toughest nuts to crack in all of League Two and to come through a replay at Valley Parade will arguably be more difficult than the assignment that would follow with a mid-table League One side facing all the nerves and pressure that has made MK Dons and Colchester leave empty handed from Sixfields in the Johnstones Paint Trophy this season.

Not that the trophy holds much of a torch to this grand old cup competition. It’s frustrating sometimes when you get drawn against a team from your own league because you lose the magic of either causing an upset or having to overcome one whilst occasionally looking at your map of England to find out where on earth Forest Green or Canvey Island are.

This was a big test and one that Town did well to come out of with a second bit of the cherry, Chief tormentor Nahki Wells was on the bench so it was left to Will Atkinson to hand his side the lead in the first half with a well taken strike past the helpless Shane Higgs, making his return to goal after his latest injury set back.

At the other end, filling in for Alex Nicholls is Louis Moult and there’s now a big weight on his shoulders that he seems to be carrying very well indeed. Moult is a similar player to Alex Nicholls and provides such similar tools that it will hopefully mean he can pick up where his unfortunate team mate left off. He was once again well placed to net his second goal in two games in the second half to pull Town right back into proceedings with a header that beat former Cobblers loanee Matt Duke. Duke was on fine form on his return to Sixfields and prevented a good number of chances from being converted, following on from his match winning performance in the League Cup at Wigan last Tuesday night.

The rest of the game seemed fairly even and Bradford now have home advantage for a replay that neither club really needed with the injury problems that we’re both facing. In better news on that front, though, Chris Hackett and John Johnson both returned in this one and could well start again on Tuesday night in another tricky outing, this time at York City.

It’s straight back to the league after this aside into the cup then and a solid result is needed at Bootham Crescent to make all the hard work of the Port Vale game seem that bit more worthwhile. It’ll be an autumn and winter period that won’t always go our way but the youngsters being trusted with that claret shirt need our full support as we hit a pivotal section of the season. Keep our heads above water and we can have another look at things come January when there could be one or two further movements in the transfer market.

With two games before the replay from this one there’s got to be full focus back on the league form with Tuesday night’s trek to York followed by another long journey up to Accrington on Saturday so if we can pick up four points from the two I’ll be a very happy man.

I’ll be happy this week anyway as I’m away on holiday so expect minimal blogging on those two games (“No more expectations than usual then” I hear you cry, my one reader!) but I might flitter in with my thoughts on here and on Twitter (@dannybrothers).

Here’s to a good week!

Northampton Town v Bradford City: FA Cup First Round Preview

FA Cup First Round

Northampton Town v Bradford City

FA Cup First Round

Saturday, November 3rd 2012

After the events of last Saturday it’s perhaps a welcome break this weekend as the Cobblers are back in action in the First Round of the FA Cup. Alex Nicholls’ injury overshadowed an excellent win over Port Vale and we now go in search of progression in the cup against a Bradford side that beat us just ten days ago and who are coming into the game on the back of a giant killing in another competition…

Giant Killing Bantams…

Not many would have given Bradford a chance against Premier League Wigan Athletic in the League Cup Fourth Round on Tuesday night but the Bantams did themselves and League Two proud by taking the Latics all the way to penalties before dumping them out of the competition and progressing through to a mouth-watering Quarter Final clash with Arsenal at Valley Parade. Former Cobblers loanee Matt Duke was the spot kick hero as he saved from Jordi Gomez to send his side into the last eight.

City back at Sixfields after single goal win…

In what was widely regarded as the worst game of the season so far involving the Cobblers, Bradford went home with all three points ten days ago as Nahki Wells scored the only goal of a scrappy contest to keep Bradford in the running at the right end of League Two. Their only other league game since then was a 1-0 defeat at Burton Albion.

 

Duke…Sixfields return

Club Links…

City keeper Matt Duke was on loan with the Cobblers last season, playing nine games during our bid to avoid the drop. Despite only staying a short amount of time, Duke was a popular figure with Town fans.

Cobblers striker Louis Moult was on loan with Bradford in 2010, scoring once in ten outings with the Bantams.

 

Team News…

The Cobblers will, of course, be without Alex Nicholls who suffered a double leg break last weekend which is likely to keep him out for up to a year. John Johnson and Chris Hackett gave Aidy Boothroyd a timely boost this week, though, by returning to training and both could come straight back into the side. Ben Harding, Luke Guttridge and David Artell are still missing with Artell and Guttridge not expected back until the New Year.

Bradford have their own problems with defender Andrew Davies facing four months on the sidelines after he picked up a knee injury during the game at Burton last weekend. Fellow defender Luke Oliver is another set for a long spell out after he picked up an Achilles injury in the same match. Nahki Wells, Rory McArdle and Zavon Hines all face late fitness tests after picking up knocks in the win at Wigan on Tuesday.

 

The Man in the Middle…

The referee for this cup tie is Stephen Bratt. Bratt hasn’t taken charge of a Cobblers game since 2009 in a 2-1 home win over Hereford United.

 

Prediction…

After Tuesday night’s exploits many hopes will lie with Bradford not being ready for the game that comes ‘after the lord mayor’s show’ but City were the first visitors to Sixfields after our big win at Anfield in the same competition and we ended up winning that one! We need to manoeuvre around Alex Nicholls’ injury and Louis Moult will be the one in focus if he starts with Bayo. I’m going for a more entertaining game than last time out against the Bantams and I’ll go for the Cobblers progressing to Round Two with a hearty 2-1 win.

It’s not over yet!

Wells...hat-trick

Northampton Town 1-3 Bradford City

We’re not quite there just yet. This was meant to be the day when safety was ensured, when it went beyond mathematics and the day in which we could all rejoice in confirming league status for another season. Unfortunately Bradford City didn’t see things that way and were on the hunt for precious survival points as well. They clearly hadn’t read our carefully laid out script and forced the Cobblers out of the game to ensure themselves the luxury of survival instead.

The difference in the first half was the burying of chances – quite a simple difference but one that’s effective in winning football matches, I find. Bradford’s Nahki Wells converted twice to have his side in front by the break, either side of three Cobblers chances that were all cleared off the goal line and one Ben Tozer effort that struck the bar.

There was the briefest of responses from Aidy Boothroyd’s men with Clarke Carlisle heading in his first in Town colours but within seconds that two goal lead was restored as Wells completed an impressive hat-trick and virtually ended the match despite there being over half an hour still to play.

You got the feeling that it just wasn’t to be our day. There would be no late come back this time, no drama in stoppage time. Quite simply Bradford seemed more up for it and we have to be careful not to let complacency slip in for the final few weeks of the season.

With Macclesfield picking up a point against Crewe we are eight points clear of the drop with the bottom two having nine to play for. It’s a massively unlikely possibility that we’ll be scrapping away for survival on the final day but I wouldn’t fancy us too much at Crawley on Tuesday meaning that next weekend’s trip to Hereford could be the one where we either confirm safety once and for all or get sucked right back into the race.

Today will hopefully be just a wakeup call that some of the players needed. There’s areas of the pitch where massive improvement is needed and it’ll be a long, hard slog of a summer for Boothroyd to get a squad together. That, unfortunately, starts with players leaving and those on the brink of departure need to step up their games now or they will definitely be on their way, especially if the manager does indeed intend to crop the squad down to nineteen or twenty players.

Let’s hope for better at Crawley…I for one would love us to put a dent in their automatic promotion hopes by securing safety. Stranger things have happened…

Northampton Town v Bradford City: Match Preview

So we’re one win away from winning the battle for good. The battle against the drop has been long and arduous but it could all come to a head this weekend should we overcome Bradford City at Sixfields. It’s been a monumental effort to get ourselves in such a position where we could still have four games to play after earning safety and what a great feeling that would be.

Bradford are no mugs though and can be dangerous on their day, as proven by their 2-1 victory in the reverse fixture back in October. Both clubs have suffered through a tough relegation scrap since that day, though…

Form…

The Cobblers may have lost on Easter Monday at Swindon but had, before that, only been beaten once in nine games. Home form has also picked up with five wins, one draw and just one defeat from the last seven at Sixfields.

Bradford are still looking over their shoulders slightly going into this weekend after three defeats in the last four games saw them fall to 21st in League Two. They’re still seven points clear of the bottom two though, so should be safe but for a disastrous last few weeks of the season.

Team News…

Aidy Boothroyd has revealed that he may make one or two changes for this one with a possible return for Toni Silva who was missing last Monday due to a family bereavement. If Silva doesn’t make it, Lewis Young may be one to get a chance after coming off the bench at Swindon.

Bradford have two players back that were suspended after the after match brawl with Crawley with keeper Jon McLaughlin back in the frame and Luke Oliver also available but City boss Phil Parkinson has made no guarantees for either to start. That might mean a quick Sixfields return for Matt Duke who spent a decent few games on loan here before his recall.

Duke...Sixfields return?

Club Links…

Matt Duke was, of course, recalled by Bradford from the Cobblers a couple of weeks ago thanks to an almighty brawl against Crawley that saw first choice keeper Jon McLaughlin sent off along with two team mates. Duke played nine times for Town during his loan spell at Sixfields.

Bradford defender Guy Branston is another former Cobblers loanee having played three times for Town in 2007.

Last Six Meetings…

22/10/11: Bradford 2-1 Cobblers

Earlier this season, the Cobblers fell to a narrow defeat at Valley Parade with Michael Jacobs’ belter of a strike cancelled out by a Craig Fagan penalty before James Hanson completed the fight back with the winner soon after.

19/03/11: Bradford 1-1 Cobblers

Gary Johnson collected his first point in charge of the club at Bradford in this draw back in March 2011. Jake Speight had given the Bantams the lead with an early penalty but Shaun Harrad cancelled that out with a spot kick of his own on the hour mark. Jonathon Worthington was sent off in stoppage time for the hosts.

25/09/11: Cobblers 2-0 Bradford

Just a few days after the big win at Liverpool in last season’s Carling Cup, the Cobblers kept up the high spirits with a comfortable home victory. Billy McKay and Ben Tozer scored the goals at Sixfields.

01/05/10: Bradford 2-0 Cobblers

Bradford all but ended the Cobblers’ feint playoff hopes in our last away game of the 2009/10 season as a brace from Gareth Evans was enough to see us off. Dean Beckwith’s 37th minute red card didn’t help things!

03/10/09: Cobblers 2-2 Bradford

The Cobblers fell two goals behind in this entertaining contest in October 2009 thanks to goals from Simon Ramsden and Michael Boulding in quick succession. But substitute Alex Dyer pulled one back before John Johnson equalised in the final minute of the game.

17/03/07: Bradford 1-2 Cobblers

Billy Paynter gave the home side the lead in this relegation battle in League One but Bradley Johnson equalised just two minutes later. And with two minutes to go, Kenny Deuchar scored the winner to push the Cobblers ever closer to safety.

The Man In The Middle…

Oliver Langford takes control of this one having already been involved in a Cobblers match this season. Unfortunately it was one to forget – the 4-1 reverse at  Plymouth Argyle!

Prediction…

So one more win and we’ll be over the finish line barring some ridiculous miracle of maths. I’ve got a good feeling that we will seal it on Saturday so am going for a 2-1 home win!