A window of hope

The January transfer window is usually one where football fans worry about who is coming in to save their season, who will fill a gaping hole in a midfield decimated by injury or who will be the one signing that will potentially give them the final step towards promotion. But for the Cobblers yesterday the main event centred around Bayo Akinfenwa and his immediate future, just as it did back in August when the first transfer window shut.

With the big man starting the last two games, including a 2-0 defeat to one of his suitors Gillingham on Tuesday night, on the bench the speculation mounted. It was, in my eyes, useful for Aidy Boothroyd to work out ways to play without Akinfenwa should the worst happen and if it were true that Gillingham were indeed trying to lure him back to the Priestfield then it perhaps wouldn’t have been too wise to send him out from the start.

But all the talk, speculation and fears were over with a couple of hours left of the window. Boothroyd had already completed a deal for striker Roy O’ Donovan, a man he brought to Coventry City from Sunderland during his time there, but this was not to be a replacement. As the evening started moving towards the final couple of hours of the window, Bayo sent out this tweet:

BMO

 

 

 

Cobblers fans rejoiced and turned their attention to O’Donovan, some ridiculously slating his goal scoring record already! Energies might have been better spent acknowledging that not only have we signed another cog to the forward line but also that other prize assets such as Chris Hackett are still in place. Hackett in particular is one that I would have been almost as worried about leaving thanks to his outstanding and consistent contribution since signing in the summer.

O’Donovan, to me, is a very good signing for League Two and should fit the Cobblers well. He can play out wide or as an out and out striker, meaning that there’s still potential for the rejuvenated Jake Robinson to do the same. It’s another big option for the Cobblers boss with O’Donovan relatively experienced for a 27 year old.

I still sense that the mood around the club is a good one despite Tuesday’s defeat and the double good news coming out of the transfer window means that we can go to Rotherham on Saturday to face the team led by that oh so eloquent of English football managers Steve Evans on a bit of a high. After Evans’ assertion at the start of the season, following the Cobblers’ 2-1 win over his side at Sixfields, that Rotherham will definitely finish about us there should be no need for extra motivational talks for players and fans alike.

Those Town fans have their talisman to cheer again and now that the focus is off Bayo’s future he can hopefully get back his focus to help us to solidify that place in the top seven. As January turns into February, there’s room for optimism at Planet Sixfields.

Weekend victory lifts Town to sixth but is Bayo on his way?

Bayo...winning goal...but is he on his way?!

Bayo…winning goal…but is he on his way?!

Northampton Town 1-0 Burton Albion

League Two

Saturday, January 26th 2012

Two big talking points came from Saturday’s narrow win over Burton Albion, one huge in terms of the new look League Two table and one arguably even bigger coming from the possibility of the Cobblers’ talisman Bayo Akinfenwa leaving the club. Just as it was back in August we are hanging on the edge of losing the big man, this time off the back of a fifteenth goal of the season in this latest home victory.

Sixfields has been called a ‘second home’ by Bayo over the last couple of days and if he continues to be housed by our quaint dwelling on Upton Way it could well go a long way towards helping us towards holding onto this positive league position all the way up until May.

That position is now sixth following a number of postponements from other games over this weekend. It’s by no means a false position though – this victory in a way counts towards our game in hand and brings us level on games played with most of our closest rivals who are clamouring for a place in the top seven. Indeed, a victory at Aldershot on Tuesday night, a night when no others in League Two play, would lift us temporarily into third. Let’s not get that carried away just yet though!

Burton came to Sixfields looking to end Town’s run of home victories that have helped us to this elevated perch in League Two but after a first half that saw the Cobblers dominate the opening exchanges and the visitors slowly come back into things it was goalless at the break.

Cue Bayo after a run of games without a goal to notch his fifteenth of the campaign and one in a similar mould to many of his others – a header from a Ben Tozer cross. The only difference with this one was that Tozer crossed with his feet and not with his hands from a long throw but either way it was the goal we needed to clinch a tight game.

We simply must back these good home results with performances on the road if we are to stay in the running for the top seven at the end of the season and with two games on the road scheduled next there’s a good chance to put that particular trait of our season right.

There has to be a mention for the fantastic Sixfields ground staff and the twenty or so volunteers that did a superb job of clearing the pitch and the surrounding area so that the game could go ahead. The snow affected all but three League Two games on Saturday and it’s a testament to those people that ours went ahead with a slice of the winning satisfaction going straight to them.

Now it’s all about the panic stations that surround the transfer window and Bayo is being talked about all over again. With a contract that’s up in the summer and the Cobblers boss talking in a way that suggests there will be departures over the next week or so there’s big speculation that Akinfenwa could be off on the next leg of his trail blazing journey across the Football League.

This has to be thought about from two perspectives- the clubs and the players’. The Cobblers simply cannot afford to let go a man that is not just a leading scorer but a figurehead of the club on and off the pitch if there is no plan to bring someone else in. I would argue that that for the price that a Bayo sale would bring, there is no-one that could offer what he does. The fee will be reduced because of the contract situation so is there really another alternative that would fill what would be a pretty gaping hole in the Town attack? Of course if silly money comes in then we may not have a choice but Mr Boothroyd needs to tread very carefully, even more so considering that a mid-table season could turn into a playoff campaign with the right run of results.

Looking from Bayo’s perspective I can’t see many moves in this division that would satisfy him. I would imagine that a move to League One at this stage in his career would be one that he wouldn’t want to turn down but in League Two there would surely be nothing better for him then to lead the team from his ‘second home’ into that division.

There would be life without the big man, of course there would, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t be worrying our claret heads off over the coming few days, hoping that the window freezes shut early this year!

First comes (weather depending) that trip to Aldershot and maybe just one more chance to show the big man that his current team are good enough to carry him through to League One themselves.

Fingers crossed – on many fronts!

Bayo at it again to down Wanderers

Bayo…more goals

Northampton Town 3-1 Wycombe Wanderers

League Two

Saturday, November 17th 2012

It’s getting harder and harder to hold down expectations and excitement. I know this mini unbeaten run in the league is only just four games old but for the Cobblers to have come up with a run of three wins and a draw as well as taking technically matching Bradford over two games it’s a welcome sign of positivity. For the Town faithful, starved of any such consistency for a while now, it’s hard not to get carried away and actually start looking up League Two rather than worrying about what’s lurking behind.

The run of form has strangely coincided with Alex Nicholls’ horror injury against Port Vale with Bayo Akinfenwa filling the void of the top scorer. Nicholls was at this game, receiving the Player of the Month award and a guard of honour in a nice touch by the Cobblers players before kick-off. What he saw would have gone a long way to convincing him that when he does eventually return he will be coming back to a team rid of all relegation battles from previous years.

Wycombe made more of a game of this than the score line suggests but ultimately it was the Cobblers who were more clinical in front of goal, Bayo heading in his eleventh of the campaign and beating two defenders to the ball to put us in front in a tight first half.

The visitors were determined not to let us have things our own way, though, and Dean Morgan sent a warning shot against the post as Gareth Ainsworth’s men came out all guns blazing after the break. But when Town substitute Clive Platt was felled in the area on the hour mark the Chairboys’ resistance would begin to unravel. Bayo stepped up for number twelve of the season, mildly upsetting Jake Robinson who had belted in a wonder goal just after the whistle had blown for the penalty!

A few minutes later and it was three with Chris Hackett racing down the right and smashing in a fantastic goal into the top corner.

It was slightly harsh on Wycombe, who did pull a goal back through a Joel Grant penalty with twenty minutes to go to leave us sitting a bit nervously but Town had done enough. Bayo hit the bar as he looked for a second hat-trick in a week but was eventually denied that hope by being brought off for youngster David Mayo.

The big man had left his mark for the second week in a row. That’s five goals in two league games and now should be the time when we’re looking at offering him a new deal. It’s almost unthinkable that he came close to leaving in August. A few thought we would be OK if he did happen to leave but since then he’s proven once again what a vital cog he is in our system. With the team around him playing well in addition to his personal performances there’s a chance that we can actually make the biggest step up and challenge for the top seven.

Premature that may be but we seem to have hit a real wave of form. Morecambe will bring a great challenge to that on Tuesday night…a proper ‘League Two’ outfit as they are will be a big test, especially after they took leaders Gillingham all the way at the weekend before losing out in stoppage time.

With reduced prices for that one, there’s a chance of a high crowd and we really need to make another statement of intent before the Christmas season hits.

It’s a great feeling to have to be back on the winning trail and long may it continue! (Here’s to no kisses of deaths before Tuesday night)

Bayo hat-trick lights up the weekend

Bayo – hat-trick hero

Accrington Stanley 2-4 Northampton Town

League Two

Saturday, November 10th 2012

It was almost the ideal away day. So many subplots, positive talking points and a result to be delighted with at the end of a game that looked to be going the same way as some of the previous disappointments away from home this season. All that plus a hat-trick from a man who is steam rolling towards the Northampton Town record books and into a status that is becoming ever more legendary.

When Accrington turned around a lead given to us by Bayo Akinfenwa in the first half with a well taken strike from George Miller and Rommy Boco’s long ranger it all looked like yet another reverse on the road for a Cobblers side that were flagging badly on their travels up until yesterday with just one win away all season.

But the man who won it on that occasion, a 1-0 victory at Dagenham, was the man in the middle of it all once again as Town produced a superb fight back. First, though, another story for the headline writers to get their teeth into. Jake Robinson only returned from a loan spell at Luton this week and was put straight back into the squad in what was a wise move considering our injury situation at the moment.

Robinson was brought on mid-way through the second half and had an immediate impact, repaying the terrific support from the away terrace by firing in to equalise and jumping into the crowd in a moment of sheer joy for him and the fans that have stuck by him through a tough few months. A rejuvenated Robinson could be just what the doctor ordered at the moment and it’s fantastic timing for him to come back and hit form just as we lose Alex Nicholls to his broken leg.

Robinson would continue to threaten and you got a sense that if anyone was going on to win this game then it would be the Cobblers. The manner of the win made it so much more special, though. Bayo produced a majestic moment to put us into the lead with a diving header at the back post from an Emyr Huws cross and the stage was set.

The big man had never before scored a hat-trick, a surprising stat considering his prowess over the years, but popped up with fifteen minutes to play to volley in from close range. Bayo immediately grabbed the ball, celebrated in front of the travelling fans and wrapped up a memorable afternoon.

The win takes us into the top half but more importantly it breathes fresh life into a campaign that was becoming annoyingly inconsistent. If Bayo can continue to build his growing legacy and help out his supporting stars then all may not be lost after all!

This mini run will be tested by Bradford (again) on Tuesday night with the FA Cup First Round replay taking up another midweek slot in the schedule but with Town in high spirits we have a chance of coming away with something more to cheer. Jake Robinson’s brief appearance in the cup with Luton means he’ll have to sit out whilst Louis Moult serves the second game of a suspension (the first was served at Accrington) but with Bayo in this mood we will always be in with a shout.

Two home games follow in the league and this is where we’ll need to be really kicking on. At times this season has been waiting to kick into gear only for a couple of dodgy results to halt progress but now is the time for the battling troops to make even bigger names for themselves.

Led by our hat-trick hero, anything seems plausible!

NTFC Month in Review: August-September 2012

Nicholls…good opening month

So this is a new feature I’m going to try to stick to on the blog for the coming season. It’s not going to be the usual run through of results and key moments I usually produce at the end of each season but more a look at some of the things that have gone well, disappointed us and surprised us in the month in question.

Seeing as though we kicked off the season on August 14th with the League Cup it makes sense to do these on a similar date of each month rather than just at the end of the month, which will then mean I end them in mid-May unless there’s some sort of end of season business to deal with. We won’t talk of anything near that question for a fair few months yet though!

So here we go…any comments always welcome!

What’s gone well?

The defence (sporadically) – The big question marks have been about the defending but for a large majority of the first month we’ve seen some solid displays. Kelvin Langmead looks like a new player and appears to have shed a stone or two over the summer. Coupled with a new partner in central defence, the towering David Artell he seems to be flourishing, especially having been handed the captaincy over the summer. Joe Widdowson, John Johnson and new boy Danny East have been solid either side whilst Lee Nicholls has enjoyed a terrific start to his loan spell in goal. More on him later. With one or two blips (the nine goals conceded in the three games against Southend, Wolves and Plymouth) there’s still some work to do but for the most part it’s nice to know that we can be hard to beat on our day and that’s a start!

Alex Nicholls – What a start to his Cobblers career. Five goals in all competitions has set the former Walsall man on the way to what looks pretty certain to be his highest ever scoring return for a season (previous best is eight with Walsall). Nicholls has played on the wing in the past but was signed with the knowledge that he’d be played in his more natural position of front man and boy has he flourished. His added work ethic and battling qualities make him a prime candidate for fans’ favourite and if he can keep up a record anything even close to his first month then we’ll be in for a good season.

Chris Hackett – Hackett seems the type that fans can often get frustrated with (a la Josh Low). He’s undoubtedly talented and for this level can have a massive impact but you get the feeling he’s a confidence player. More often than not, though, he’s been the spark that we’ve been lacking for so many seasons and will add another goal threat in every game. A key figure to the team if he can stay fit.

Bayo as a super sub – I’m the first to call for Bayo to start games but when you have a beast like him on the bench then you’re automatically starting games with an ace up the sleeve. As defences tire, the big man comes on and changes games, something that he seems happy to do for the time being. Setting up both goals during the win over Wimbledon last weekend was the typical impact he’s had in this opening month. #Beastmode at its best!

Effective loans – Not many things bother me more than short term loans that don’t have any impact on the side, staying for a month for fitness or ‘experience’ before leaving and not forming any sort of connection to the club. Part of Stuart Gray’s downfall in his last months in charge involved this sort of player, and the wrong sort of player. Aidy Boothroyd has been sensible in choosing the right type of player and the right type of deal as and when they are needed. Lee Nicholls has been outstanding in goal, Danny East solid as cover for John Johnson and Henoc Mukendi, though raw, is here for the long term and is looking honest enough a player to learn.

Progression in the JPT – The Johnstone’s Paint Trophy isn’t for everyone but I’m all for a rare run in the one cup competition that we’re realistically able to have a go at. Beating the plastic Dons made the First Round win that bit sweeter and with some fringe players getting some good game time it was a complete win to set up another decent tie at home to Colchester in Round Two.

Robinson…Twitter trouble

What’s not gone so well?

The defence (sporadically) – Yes, the defence makes both categories. Like I mentioned before, it’s been good for the most part but there’s been small bursts of panic that reminded us of last season which we certainly don’t want to revisit. A couple of the Southend and Plymouth goes in particular were disappointing to concede and we need to be a little bit more solid when under that sort of pressure.

Jake Robinson’s Twitter outburst – Now I’m not one of those who called for Robinson’s head when he tweeted about not being in the squad for the trip to Rochdale on the opening day but it wasn’t the best outlet for his frustration. Bayo was out of the side back in January, kept his head down and worked his way back in so that Aidy Boothroyd couldn’t ignore him. That’s what Robinson should have done. It was almost wiped out by that stunner of a goal against MK Dons and there could yet be a place for him at Sixfields but whilst we continue to be fruitful in front of goal it makes sense that he’s able to get games, and hopefully more goals, under his belt down the road at Luton. Hopefully he’ll come back all the better and the Cobblers front line will be that bit stronger.

Tired Legs – Playing Championship side Wolves on a Thursday and then travelling to Plymouth on the Saturday was never going to be easy and even the most cryogenic of chambers would struggle to put the Town players back in tip top condition. It’s no coincidence that those were the only two defeats of the season so far and hopefully now things have started to settle down game wise we’ll be in better shape.

The Sixfields PA system – It feels like the same pre-match CD is being inserted that was doing the rounds in 2001 and the general sound doesn’t seem to travel well at all still. A pre-match atmosphere is more important than it might seem to get supporters ‘in the mood’ and the Sixfields system needs some sort of overhaul to lift us before a ball is kicked.

Steve Evans – An automatic entry to this category for simply being allowed into Sixfields. Enjoy your time at home for the next six games, Steve! (By the way, I have nothing at all against Rotherham United at all and find their supporters to be as realistic and friendly as any in League Two but with Evans in charge it unfortunately puts a temporary black mark against your team!)

How can we improve?

By shoring up the defence (not by any new players – I feel the right men are in place – but by more consistency) and by continuing to produce good form at home. Only Wolves have won at Sixfields so far with a last gasp Southend equaliser preventing a three game winning run in the league. Couple that with battling points away from home and we won’t be far wrong. Easier said than done of course!

Goal of the month

This category is for Cobblers goals only and is a decent competition this month. Jake Robinson’s stunner against the plastics would have usually won it every other month but, for me, I enjoyed the sheer pace and skill of Chris Hackett’s strike against the real Dons a few days later.

Player of the Month

Again a stiff competition for the first time in a while with plenty staking their claim but I can’t look any further than Alex Nicholls for his all round game and five goals.

Month rating

I’m going to give the month of August-September a mark of 8/10 with plenty more to be happy about than to be negative about. Two wins, two draws and one defeat in the league, progression to Round Two of both of the early cup competitions and some positive play means that it’s been a very good start to the campaign. Keep it up boys!

NTFC Season In Review 2011/12: December

The Boothroyd era began in December…

A new era was dawning in December for the Cobblers with Gary Johnson’s departure a month before sparking the usual clamour of names being linked to the club. After back to back hammerings at the end of November it was perhaps good timing that we had a couple of weeks break to name the new man and to recover with a free weekend thanks to our exit from the FA Cup.

After much debate and speculation it was with great pleasure that we welcomed Aidy Boothroyd to Sixfields and immediately set his stall out with positive interviews that were as honest and passionate as Johnson’s were strange and disconnected. Boothroyd, quite rightly, said that things would get worse before they got better as he attempted to transform a squad that were, at that point, completely demoralised.

The first assignment for the new boss was a home game with Crewe Alexandra and a creditable 1-1 draw kicked off the Boothroyd era. Bayo Akinfenwa put the Cobblers in front early on and looked like giving the team a perfect start but Byron Moore’s equaliser meant that we had to settle for a point. After the last couple of results, though, that was more than enough!

Next up was a trip to the most local side in the league, Oxford United, and after a tight first half, the U’s took charge and after Tom Craddock had put them in front, Deane Smalley finished us off with three minutes to go.

Boxing Day saw another chance for the home fans to witness the start of the new chapter as Burton Albion came to town. An extraordinary start saw Saido Berahino give the Cobblers the lead inside the first minute and Cleveland Taylor level it up just seconds later. A Michael Jacobs penalty put the Cobblers back in front in a frantic opening that eased off towards the break. Chris Palmer turned the scales back in the Brewer’s favour and the visitors went on to nick all the points with two minutes to go thanks to a Justin Richards penalty.

Boothroyd and the Cobblers needed desperately to see the end of 2011 but there was one more game left in the calendar year as Paulo Di Canio’s Swindon came to town. Michael Jacobs continued to make his mark under the new manager with a first half penalty but Alan Connell made it yet another game that was turned on its head. Di Canio would become the centre of controversy in stoppage time when he ran the length of the pitch to celebrate Alan McCormack’s winner in front of the South Stand.

So one draw and three defeats to start with for Aidy Boothroyd but though it did get worse as the new boss said, the New Year and transfer window would sow the seeds for what would be the saving grace of the season.

Jacobs..top man in December

Highlight of the month: Aidy Boothroyd signs on and starts with a home draw with Crewe.

Lowlight of the month: Three out of four games saw Town in winning positions only to drop points. The most irritating was Swindon’s victory and subsequent Di Canio celebration that was completely over the top.

Player of the month: Michael Jacobs continued to impress his new boss in his first month in charge.

Cobblers catch up!

Platt…first signing of the summer

After a week in sunny Birmingham, intensely locked away with a Post Graduate Certificate residential, I’m back and thought I needed to catch up on some of the news from Sixfields this week, including the first new signing of the summer!

I have to first mention the Richard Butcher Memorial match that took place at Sixfields last week and after a shaky start in terms of people not knowing where or when to pick up tickets that in turn led to a delayed kick off it sounded like a really positive evening that featured most of the Wembley ’97 team, led by Ian Atkins, taking on a mixed bag of opposition led by Kevin Wilson. I hear Atkins even brought himself on for the final ten minutes. How he must have wished he could have done that back in those glory days! All in all, a 1,500 attendance and some good old fashioned nostalgia was a fine show for a fine man.

The biggest debate this week comes from Clive Platt’s signing and whether or not he’s a ‘Bayo replacement’ with the big man, and last season’s leading scorer, thought to be available to offers this summer. I’m not necessarily in the camp that says just because we’ve signed another big striker that the other one is on his way out. Platt has a decent record at the lower levels but has never been known solely for goals, something that Bayo has always provided. One thing that is clear from the interviews with Aidy last week is that Platt was high on, if not top of, the ‘priority signing’ list this summer. Having seen his signings in the last few months then I have no doubt at all that a 34-year-old signing a two year deal is a bad thing. Experience is massive in League Two and time will tell as to whether Bayo will be working with or competing with Platt. I’m still not convinced that Bayo is going.

Michael Jacobs, meanwhile, most certainly is. There appears no doubt in anyone’s mind that the midfielder will be at least a Championship player come August. Derby are the hot favourites to net the Cobblers’ Player of the Year and, with their new emphasis on recruiting young, raw talent from the lower leagues, seem an ideal fit. It’s surely only a matter of time and I personally wish him well. Get some clauses in there, though, Aidy!

So that’s about it unless I’ve missed anything else?! There’s some more Season In Review parts on the way this week and then all eyes will be on the summer rumour mill et al as the blog rolls on towards 2012/13!

Pancake Day success as Cobblers record back to back wins!

Bayo...tenth goal of the season

Ingredients:

3 x goals scored by Michael Jacobs, Luke Guttridge and Adebayo Akinfenwa  

Only 2 x conceded goals

3 x points

4484 x Northampton Town supporters

45 x Macclesfield supporters

A slice of good fortune

A sprinkle of hearts for the mouth

Mix all ingredients together to create the perfect ‘Cobblers Pancake’ and soon enough you will be to within touching distance of escaping the bottom two.

Last night all of the above came together to create one of the nervier and entertaining games of the season so far. It was crucial that we picked up maximum points by any means necessary and that’s exactly what happened with Macclesfield now suffering from eight defeats in a row. Indeed the Silkmen are now right in the thick of a relegation battle that can be argued to include anyone from Barnet in 18th down to bottom club Dagenham and Redbridge, who The Cobblers now sit three points clear of.

It was by no means silky, slick and overpowering as performances go but that’s not going to come into anyone’s minds this morning from a Cobblers persuasion as we look at the League Two table a lot happier. It’s a sign of how low things have got when we’re over the moon with being level on points with the team third from bottom but Aidy Boothroyd is putting his stamp on this team and looking upwards.

The signing of a player from one of the relegation rivals in Bradford keeper Matt Duke could be seen as an odd move but he started for the first time and became the fifth stopper to don the Cobblers gloves this season. His experience, if anything else, should come in very handy but I wonder if it came to it whether Bradford would quickly recall him should it come down to us and them for one of the final places in the drop zone?! That debate is for another day and after this tension filled game we are hopefully on the way to ensuring that the only thing we’re playing for at the end of the season is points and not the future of the club.

It’s become a rarity for Town to fall behind in games under Boothroyd but that we did on the fifteen minute mark with George Donnelly firing in from close range. The lead didn’t last long though and Michael Jacobs’ goal direct from a corner, whether he meant it or not, was crucial in getting us back on terms within eight minutes.

It would get better as a first half turn around was complete right on the whistle with Luke Guttridge continuing his terrific return to the club with a well taken header from a Ben Harding free kick. Just what the doctor ordered!

The next goal was always going to be the big one and it certainly turned out to be just that with Bayo Akinfenwa bringing the ball down for a crisp volley to net his tenth goal of the season. Anyone questioning the need for the big man in the team over the transfer window may be thinking again after Bayo’s impact in the last few weeks. The fact is that there is no other player like him in the league and I still think we would be foolish to have him leave. Akinfenwa would later depart as a substitute for Ben Tozer to a standing ovation.

The script wasn’t all to go to our plans though and while some of us were calculating that just one more goal was needed to escape the bottom two on goals scored, Macclesfield suddenly hit back for 3-2. Ben Tomlinson grabbed the opportunity after some shaky defending and reduced the deficit to start the nerves of final few minutes.

One more chance went begging for the visitors as a low cross was held well by Duke. Sixfields (minus 45 South Stand observers) exhaled, the whistle finally blew and the win was ours!

So not only is it two wins in a row but it’s two home wins in a row, an even rarer treat on a night where tickets were halved in price. The same initiative, with 40% going towards Macmillan Cancer Care.

The excellent venture is in place for Saturday’s home game with Port Vale and hopefully it will lead to a decent attendance once again…it’s a tougher game on paper so the support is greatly needed as we edge closer and closer to a great escape!