League Two Season Preview: Part One

Welcome to the first part of four League Two Previews ahead of the big kick off on Saturday. I’ve gone alphabetically so that I can look at each club in detail rather than throwing teams into groups so hopefully this provides a decent look at the Cobblers’ opposition for the next nine months.

Let’s get to it with the first six teams under the spotlight…

Bury

Last season…

There were more than a few enviable looks in the direction of Bury Football Club last summer with then manager Lee Clark overseeing a big turnaround in playing staff in an attempt to avoid a repeat of the 2016/17 season where the Shakers survived by a single point in League One. On paper, the signings of the likes of Chris Maguire, Jermaine Beckford, Harry Bunn and Stephen Dawson looked like excellent pieces of business despite the loss of James Vaughan to Sunderland and Clark’s men were given dark horse status by some.

After a poor start, Clark paid the price and Ryan Lowe stepped in briefly to attempt to steady the ship. Chris Lucketti was appointed in November, bringing with him strong links to the club he served loyally for over 200 appearances in the nineties. But just two months later, Lucketti was shown the door thanks to ten winless matches and Lowe returned until the end of a tumultuous season that saw the Shakers finish rock bottom of League One.

Three managers, shocking form, the loss of Beckford to a long term injury and a season that completely failed to live up to any kind of hype. It really couldn’t have gone any worse and the emergence of youth team graduates was the only silver lining leading to first team appearances for the likes of Saul Shotton, Callum Styles, Ryan Cooney and Joe Adams.

Another new dawn begins for Bury back in League Two and after last summer’s giddy hope there will surely be calls for a fresh approach from the powers that be.

Transfers…

In: Byron Moore (Bristol Rovers), Will Aimson (Blackpool), Chris Dagnall (Crewe), Chris Stokes (Coventry), Gold Omotayo (Unattached), Jordan Archer (Chester), Mathew Hudson (Preston), Tom Miller (Carlisle), Dominic Telford (Stoke)

Out: Andrew Tutte (Morecambe), Zeli Ismail (Walsall), Chris Maguire (Sunderland), Callum Reilly (Gillingham)

Promotion Odds…

10/3

Outlook…

In a similar vein to the Cobblers, Bury went through three managers last season and settled on Ryan Lowe, already placed in temporary charge twice before by the Shakers. Lowe’s task is to rejuvenate a club who failed miserably last season in finishing bottom of League One and the departures of Zeli Ismail, Chris Maguire and Callum Reilly back to League One clubs won’t help the cause. They’ll be looking to new signing Chris Dagnall for goals – the former Crewe man hit 17 in League Two the season before last – and will be hoping that Beckford can recover from the knee injury that kept him out of the second half of last season. If he does, he’ll feel like a new signing.

Lowe has plenty to do and I can see nothing higher than a top ten finish for his Bury side at this stage.

Cambridge United

Last season…

Cambridge had re-established themselves well back in League Two following promotion back from the National League three seasons earlier and headed into 2017/18 on the back of two top half finishes. The plan was for the U’s to kick on under Shaun Derry’s stewardship and make a fist of a shot at the playoffs.

Early season form of five wins, one draw and five defeats from the opening eleven games pointed to another season of failing to bother the top seven but still keeping their heads above water. 2018 didn’t start well for Derry, though, with back to back 0-0 home draws followed by three consecutive defeats including a 5-2 hammering at Forest Green Rovers. Another stalemate at home, this time against Lincoln City, led to Derry being relieved of his position, though the fact that the sacking was announced just three minutes after the Imps draw led you to believe that it was in the pipeline ahead of the game.

Derry left United 14th in League Two and the reins were handed to assistant manager Joe Dunne, initially until the end of the season before the role was made permanent ahead of the final game of 2017/18. Dunne will now look to help to propel the U’s to the next level and aim for a top seven place now that they have once again become established members of the Football League.

Transfers…

In: Louis John (Sutton), George Taft (Mansfield), Reggie Lambe (Carlisle)

Out: Uche Ikpeazu (Hearts), Leon Legge (Port Vale), Piero Mingoia (Accrington)

Promotion Odds…

11/2

Outlook…

It’s looking difficult for Cambridge boss Dunne in his bid to compete with the top seven or eight teams in the league and it’ll take a big effort to pull them into the top half and playoff contention. Home form will once again be key in any bid to top the twelfth place finish of last season with the U’s finishing fifth in the table for home results last time out. Away form was shaky with just four wins on the road all season.

Having not yet properly replaced top scorer Uche Ikpeazu it could well be a more underwhelming season for United so I’m going for a bottom half finish.

Carlisle United

Last season…

Three seasons after they returned to the basement division, after a lengthy spell in League One, Carlisle’s hopes were high of finally breaking down the door back to the third tier under Keith Curle, a man who had led them to the playoffs in 2016/17 only to be beaten at the semi-final stage by Exeter.

Six defeats in the opening couple of months had The Cumbrians playing catch-up, though, and a stop-start season halted any sustained challenge for another playoff campaign. Brief hope came from four straight victories in February and early March that lifted them to within three points of that target but three draws in a row followed, meaning vital points were dropped and a home defeat to Lincoln all but ended the challenge for another year.

Curle then announced at the end of April that he would be leaving the club after three and a half years at the end of the season. John Sheridan was appointed as the new boss at the start of June with the former Oldham, Notts County, Plymouth, Newport and Chesterfield man setting his stall out early by stating that he wants to be the man to lift Carlisle back into League One.

Transfers…

In: Joe Fryer (Middlesbrough), George Glendon (Fleetwood), Macaulay Gillesphey (Newcastle), Gary Miller (Plymouth), Adam Collin (Notts County), Regan Slater (Sheffield United), Jerry Yates (Rotherham)

Out: Jamal Campbell-Ryce (Stevenage), Reggie Lambe (Cambridge), John O’Sullivan (Blackpool), Tom Miller [Bury)

Promotion Odds…

11/2

Outlook…

With Keith Curle having taken Carlisle as far as he could, it’s now down to John Sheridan to finally help the Cumbrians take a step back up the league ladder. Sheridan certainly has previous form having led Chesterfield to the League Two title in 2011 and taken Plymouth to the playoffs in 2015 but has been in and out of clubs far quicker than he would have liked in the last few seasons. This is a chance for Sheridan to really build something at Brunton Park and keeping hold of winger Jamie Devitt could be key. Devitt scored eleven times last season and had attracted interest from Swindon but Sheridan is keen to hold onto the winger.

The U’s were better on the road last season than they were at Brunton Park so Sheridan will be looking to change that in a bid to make the playoffs. But I can see another season of transition for his side, albeit with a top ten finish.

Cheltenham Town

Last season…

With one season back in the Football League under their belts, Gary Johnson’s team were looking to build on their survival in 2016/17 and the former Cobblers manager brought in a whole host of new faces at the start of the season including striker Mohamed Eisa from non-league Greenwich Borough, who would go on to be a revelation.

It was a tough opening for the The Robins, though, as they lost five of their first seven games to leave them playing catch up right from the off. Victories were to follow in September with home successes against Mansfield, Swindon and Lincoln particularly eye-catching. Form steadied from there but never kicked on enough to really trouble the top half of the table.

Looking the other way and Eisa’s goals – twenty three in the league – kept Town above water and had many suitors heading towards Whaddon Road to take a look at the talented striker. Bristol City eventually broke Cheltenham’s resistence with a bid too good to turn down and the Robins will now be looking for their next talisman ahead of the new season, hoping to improve on their seventeenth place finish. With four defeats in a row ending the last campaign, Johnson may well find himself under pressure if they don’t start well.

Transfers…

In: Alex Addai (Merstham), Johnny Mullins (Luton), Ryan Broom (Bristol Rovers), Ben Tozer (Newport), Conor Thomas (ATK), Chris Hussey (Sheffield United), Tom Smith (Swindon), Sean Long (Lincoln), Josh Debayo (Unattached), Manny Duku (Hayes & Yeading), Jacob Maddox (Chelsea), Liam McAlinden (Exeter)

Out: Harry Pell (Colchester), Carl Winchester (Forest Green), Jamie Grimes (Macclesfield), Jordan Cranston (Morecambe), Mohamed Eisa (Bristol City)

Promotion Odds…

9/1

Outlook…

Gary Johnson has gone for his usual clear out and mass signings method in an attempt to propel his Robins side up the table but the loss of top goal striker Mo Eisa is obviously a huge hit to their chances. A whole host of new faces will take time to mould into a team that can challenge but the question will linger as to whether Johnson will be given that time considering how they ended last season.

Replacing Eisa’s goals will be the toughest task and hopes are high for the striker Manny Duku who scored thirty nine times for Hayes and Yeading in the Evo-Stick South East league last season. I can’t see anything other than a bottom half finish for Town despite that but they should have enough to steer well clear of danger.

Colchester United

Last season…

After John McGreal had led Colchester to within a place of the playoffs, it was hoped that he could take them into the top seven last season. But an inconsistent campaign led to a mid-table finish in a season that also saw McGreal’s men eliminated from the FA Cup at the hands of non-league Oxford City in the First Round.

There were periods of the season that highlighted the promise within the squad, though, with patches of form that led U’s fans to believe that on their day they could be a match for anyone in the league. Three wins in a row at the end of March and start of April gave them a glimpse of a late surge but they would then go on to lose four of the last five to leave them frustrated in the middle of the division.

McGreal, like Gary Johnson, could well be feeling the heat if his side begin in the same vein this season as they did last. A trip to Meadow Lane to face Notts County probably wasn’t on McGreal’s list of ideal opening games but he’ll be looking to get out of the blocks quickly again.

Transfers…

In: Harry Pell (Cheltenham), Noah Chesmain (Millwall), Bailey Vose (Brighton), Luke Norris (Swindon), Ethan Ross (West Brom), Frank Nouble (Newport), Aaron Collins (Wolves)

Out: Drey Wright (St Johnstone), Sam Walker (Reading), Kurtis Guthrie (Stevenage)

Promotion Odds…

4/1

Outlook…

Colchester have added well to their squad from last season with seasoned lower league pros like Harry Pell, Frank Nouble and Luke Norris coming in. Nouble and Norris could well form an exciting front line for the club who have also kept hold of talismanic academy product Sammie Szmodics through the summer so far. There’s no reason, now that McGreal has imbedded his ideas and ways of playing, why Colchester can’t be at least amongst the playoff contenders come the end of the season.

Crawley Town

Last season…

Headlines were made in Crawley last summer as it was announced that former Champions League winner, Premier League star and Australian international Harry Kewell would be taking the vacant hot seat at The Red Devils. Kewell had only previously managed the Watford under 21s squad at Vicarage Road but was confident that he could make a name for himself all over again at the Broadfield Stadium.

The season didn’t start well for Kewell with three defeats in a row but he did get his first points on the board with back to back wins against Swindon and Yeovil. Town never got going in the early part of the campaign though and they would only win twice in the next thirteen outings. Just as it looked as though Kewell’s tenure might end early, his team began a terrific run from late November through to the end of February, during which they won eleven times, losing on just four occasions and drawing once. The 1-0 home success against Lincoln was their fifth home league win in a row – their best ever league run – and even had them two points from the playoffs.

That particular target was a step too far, though, and it was always going to take a lot to keep the form going all the way through to the end of the season. Town would only win once more and ended up in fourteenth place but there are signs there that Kewell is starting to build something as he really gets his feet under the table this summer and into his second season in charge.

Transfers…

In: George Francomb (AFC Wimbledon), Brian Galach (Aldershot), Ollie Palmer (Lincoln), Ashley Nathaniel-George (Hendon), Reece Grego-Cox (Unattached), Dominic Poleon (Bradford), Filipe Morais (Bolton), Romain Vincelot (Bradford)

Out: Jordan Roberts (Ipswich), Thomas Verheydt (Go Ahead Eagles), Josh Yorwerth (Peterborough), Enzio Boldewijn (Notts County)

Promotion Odds…

6/1

Outlook…

There were patches of reinforcing to do for Kewell at the start of his important second season as a full time league manager with Jordan Roberts and Enzio Boldewijn leaving a hole in their midfield after signing for Ipswich and Notts County respectively. But Dominic Poleon is a clever signing at this level from Bradford and should replace some of the creativity that’s been lost. Romain Vincelot also joined from Valley Parade and should thrive at this level once again. Filipe Morais brings extra pedigree to the side after learning about his release from Bolton on Twitter with many Wanderers fans disappointed at his exit.

Kewell certainly seems to have the nous to spot a good player at this level already and the Red Devils are a dark horse to become playoff contenders.

Things to get excited about…

Rico...back in with a shot?

Rico…back in with a shot?

So it’s pretty much all over for this season with the Cobblers unable to escape the clutches of mid-table and late goal ultimately costing us once again in the defeats to Stevenage and Oxford this week. As soon as Simon Walton’s winner for Stevenage went in last Saturday thoughts immediately turned to next season with no realistic chance of reaching the top seven. A much needed win at Oxford was then snatched away at the death on Tuesday night despite a decent enough sounding performance which included the return, from the bench, of Marc Richards ahead of schedule.

With three games left to play you’d be forgiven for looking ahead to the summer and getting those holidays booked up for the May 23rd now that we know we won’t be busy. But there’s still plenty of interest to come and the Cobblers need to be on their game on two counts – to not end the campaign on a low that leaves us hanging over during the summer and to compete enough to make sure we have some sort of impact. The three games we have left are all against sides at either end of the season with one ‘special’ return tomorrow afternoon. So here’s a few things that will keep up the excitement during three games that may, on paper, look meaningless..

The return of the poisoned dwarf…

The most intriguing of the final fixtures is tomorrow visit from Cheltenham Town and their new boss Gary Johnson. Johnson needs no introduction of course having ‘saved’ us from the drop a couple of years ago despite us being in a reasonably safe position before his arrival, alienated the fans and blamed us when his tenure ended. Town fans have been waiting to come up against him ever since and with the amount on the line for his new charges tomorrow it makes the game extra spicy. The Robins boosted their chances of survival on Tuesday with victory over Cambridge and are now a point from safety. The carrot is there for us to send Johnson’s team a step closer to the Conference but, perhaps more morbidly for Cobblers fans, it’s also there to ensure that Johnson is back at the job centre come May. I personally really like Cheltenham as a club and would take Hartlepool and Tranmere going down any day of the week but this situation’s now like an old friend starting to hang out in dodgy company. The ideal outcome here is a Cobblers win, Cheltenham surviving still and then the Robins board seeing sense and looking elsewhere for their main man in the summer. Either way, it’s going to be tasty!

Ruining a party?

Following Cheltenham there’s a trip to league leaders Burton Albion in the final away game of the season and the Brewers are likely going to be on the brink of clinching the League Two title. A win at Morecambe tomorrow would hand them promotion and leave them within touching distance of clinching top spot. It’s their last home game and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink will be desperate to start a party on home turf. We’re probably ideal opponents on paper for that with nothing to play for and nothing at stake but there’s something to be said about arriving at a party, stealing the presents and pegging it.

The nervy Wanderers

Having nothing to play for on the final day is sometimes pretty nice. Wycombe will come to town on May 2nd with promotion still hanging in the balance by all likelihood. The Chairboys (who have done incredibly well to turn things around to challenge this season by the way) could move a step closer to League One if they win at Wimbledon tomorrow but the wild card here is the game on Tuesday night between Bury and Southend., the two sides directly behind Wanderers in the chase. That’s a game in hand for both and depending on events tomorrow (Bury go to Portsmouth and Southend to Exeter) there could be a significant closing of the gap by the time Wycombe come to Sixfields on the last day. So there should be something on it for them and it’s another chance for us to make some noise in the league before the curtains are closed on the season.

The Golden Boot…

As incredible as it could be, despite a number of injuries this season, a returning Marc Richards could yet bag himself the League Two golden boot. With Chris Wilder probably erring on the side of caution he may not get too many minutes on the pitch but with his natural goal scoring ability there’s still an outside chance that he can make up the two goal gap between himself and Matt Tubbs at the top of the scoring charts. Jamie Cureton’s hat-trick a couple of weeks ago shot him into contention while Reuben Reid of Plymouth is also a candidate but Rico is one to keep an eye on in these final three games.

Looking to the future…

Three games with not a lot on the line means that Wilder can plan for next season and we’ll get a decent insight into his plans for certain players based on the squads that compete in these games. It’s not just the immediate future we should be looking at, though, with a few youngsters hopefully getting a chance. Sam Warburton, Ben Jackson, Danny Clifton and Shaun McWilliams have all been given squad numbers and may see themselves getting a chance to shine in an end of season cameo.

There we have it – have I convinced you that there’s still a lot to be excited about or are you not bothering now until August? Well, I tried!

*I had to stop myself from pointing out that we sit seven points from the playoffs with still nine to play for…*

Season stalling as injuries really kick in…   

Wilder...preparing for old club's visit

Wilder…preparing for old club’s visit

It’s increasingly frustrating as a football fan and in particular as a Cobblers fan when your team threatens to hit new heights, fires on every cylinder possible but then are suddenly halted and early dreams fade away even before the first leaves of Autumn hit the deck. Mid-table obscurity, at the end of the day, isn’t such a bad thing after last season’s brush with relegation but the twitches appear because we’re no longer the underdog and know full well that there’s a good side in there somewhere.

Saturday’s defeat at Cheltenham Town made it back to back league defeats for Chris Wilder ahead of his date with former club Oxford United on Tuesday night and a few things need to change if he’s to come through another big Sixfields night unscathed. What’s stopping us at the moment is the combination that comes when injuries severely throw the plans for a starting eleven.

There’s something very wrong when we get situations like this one – players are pulling up in training, getting injured in warm ups and constantly suffering setbacks en route to recoveries. We almost have a full starting eleven that’s been out of the side for a good amount of time and finding any sort of consistency in those circumstances is nigh on impossible.

So it came to pass that Town were beaten at Whaddon Road despite a couple of glimpses that we might just scrape something from the game. It’s that closeness that makes it that bit more difficult to analyse. If we were losing 5 or 6-0 every week we’d clearly know what was going wrong but with narrow defeats it means Wilder would be even more tempted to make minor tweaks to arrest certain problems.

I can’t name most of the eleven that will turn out against Oxford and they’ll visit with a spring in their step from winning a big game at the weekend against Tranmere Rovers. They’ll also likely play up to stop us from getting any foot hold in the game as well as trying to pry on our weaknesses from set plays.

Saturday’s goals were mainly products of needless free kicks given away and not enough urgency or organisation of the back five. We cannot keep relying on the attacking options at our disposal to keep us a step ahead of the opposition because most sides in this division will know how to frustrate and force free kicks and corners that they know they can threaten with.

At the very top we’re clearly missing Marc Richards’ presence and experience. Alex Nicholls is still working his way back and Ivan Toney is still a bit hit and miss as he grows into his boots more and more. There’s a chance that Emile Sinclair may be back soon to carry some of the burden and to insert a bit of experience in that’s lacking since Rico’s injury.

There’s plenty of nerves starting to build around the club ahead of two games that just about count as derbies. The Luton away fixture is going to ignite a red hot atmosphere on Saturday so we really have to get it right on Tuesday night to avoid going to Kenilworth Road with any added pressure.

It’s cranking up and we have to cling on, step up and rise to this latest challenge.

Blair nicks a point at Whaddon Road

matty blair

Blair…equaliser

Cheltenham Town 1-1 Northampton Town

League Two

Saturday, February 1st 2014

The Cobblers came home from Cheltenham on Saturday with renewed hope. A point is just a point but the manner in which Chris Wilder’s new side battled back from a goal behind in the opening few seconds to scrape a draw showed vigour that we’ve not seen this season and it gave the new manager something solid to build on ahead of a clear week to work with his new signings and those left behind by Aidy Boothroyd.

Wilder, before joining the Cobblers, was unbeaten in all league away games with previous club Oxford United and with our awful record on the road it was hoped that he could turn around our travel sickness. After just a minute of play in Wilder’s first game in charge though it seemed as though we were about to ruin his unblemished form – it would have been typical of the Cobblers to end such a run – as Matt Duke’s rush of blood to the head let in Jamie Cureton for his obligatory goal against us. It was a hopeful lob up field that saw Duke completely misjudge the wind and Cureton nipped in for one of the easiest goals of his career. The perfect start to Wilder’s reign it was not.

The only positive from that was that there were still eighty nine minutes to pull ourselves back into the game and with new signings Alan Connell and Ricky Ravenhill slotted into starting places and Emile Sinclair and Leon McSweeney on the bench there was a new freshness about our options. Ian Morris, recalled to the side by Wilder, smacked the inside of the post in our first real chance before Duke somewhat made amends for his earlier error by tipping a good Sam Deering effort wide of the post.

With conditions playing their part it was always going to be a scrap and the game seemed to turn on a double substitution by Wilder on the hour mark as Sinclair and McSweeney replaced Connell and Tozer. Sinclair was lively for a man who had only signed for the club late the previous evening and he set up a chance for Darren Carter before we eventually got the crucial equaliser. Morris swung the ball in the right and Matty Blair tucked it in at the near post for his first in Town colours. After missing a sitter a couple of weeks ago against York City it would have been that bit more satisfying.

The final fifteen minutes weren’t just about holding out for the point either as the Cobblers boldly started to go for the three points but clear chances were limited. The fact that we weren’t just satisfied with one point says a lot about Wilder’s success and where we’ve been going wrong so many times away from home this season when holding out for a draw and coming home with nothing thanks to endless late winners.

The draw leaves us with plenty to do still but the gap between ourselves and deteriorating Wycombe who now sit in 22nd place is still six points. Wilder has a week to prepare for his Sixfields bow and this is where he must start picking up points in threes. The most important thing right now is those six points and how quickly we can bridge the gap and get on a level with the others embroiled in the relegation scrap.

Games like this go a long way in restoring the confidence of everyone at the club and having come through a really tough afternoon we must now really go for the jugular back at home. Some big, big moments need to happen at Sixfields if we’re to be playing in League Two again next season. With renewed back up on the road maybe it’s not such a lost cause after all.

Cheltenham Town v Northampton Town: Match Preview

PENTAX ImageCheltenham Town v Northampton Town

League Two

Saturday, January 31st 2014

That’s it…the transfer window has shut and we can only rely on emergency loan deals from now until the end of the season. It’s been a hectic week at Sixfields with Paul Reid, Ishmel Demontagnac, Clive Platt and Hallam Hope all leaving in some form and the arrivals of Emile Sinclair, Alan Connell, Ricky Ravenhill and Leon McSweeney giving us a freshness and revitalisation that was desperately needed.

All four of the new signings will all be available for the trip to Whaddon Road and will add some much needed craft, grit and experience to the side.

The game is, of course, a repeat of the playoff semi-final second leg with Wilder’s first game in charge set to come on the same ground as Aidy Boothroyd’s last real moment of success. The Rubies have come a long way since our 1-1 draw at Sixfields earlier this season and have dragged themselves out of the relegation dog fight.

Mark Yates won the League Two Manager of the Month award for December after three wins out of five but they’ve not got going in 2014 yet having lost at Burton and at home to Accrington before last weekend’s draw at Plymouth. It leaves them in thirteenth place and facing an uphill battle if they’re to challenge for the top seven again. Coming in for them this week is Swansea City midfielder Lee Lucas, who spent time on loan with Burton Albion last season, on a one month loan deal and Mitch Brundle on loan from Bristol City.

Chris Wilder will be well aware of what he needs to do and the bottom line is that we need points and need them fast. Let’s get going with this great escape!

Connell...in line for debut

Connell…in line for debut

Team News…

Cheltenham will have Lee Lucas available after joining from Swansea and also signed defender Mitch Brundle from Bristol City in time to feature. Michael Ihiekwe has extended his loan deal from Wolves until the end of the season and may make his home debut for the Rubies. The hosts will be without David Noble, though, as he is still out with a hamstring injury.

As mentioned, the Cobblers will have four new signings ready to go at Whaddon Road with Alan Connell, Emile Sinclair, Ricky Ravenhill and Leon McSweeney all hoping to make their Town debuts. Chris Hackett is still touch and go with Chris Wilder unlikely to risk him unless he’s 100% fit.

Previous Six Meetings…

26/10/13: Cobblers 1-1 Cheltenham (League Two)

Earlier this season the clubs played out a tight draw at Sixfields as Byron Harrison shot Cheltenham in front before Cobblers loanee Luke Norris levelled just before the break.

05/05/12: Cheltenham 0-1 Cobblers (League Two Playoff Semi-Final, Second Leg)

In a tense second leg of last season’s playoff semi-finals, Luke Guttridge scored with a stunning volley from a Bayo Akinfenwa knock down to seal a place at Wembley for the Cobblers. Earlier in the game Lee Nicholls had saved a penalty from Marlon Pack and he was one of the key reasons for the score remaining in our favour.

02/05/13: Cobblers 1-0 Cheltenham (League Two Playoff Semi-Final, First Leg)

Roy O’ Donovan finished off a flowing move involving Bayo Akinfenwa and Chris Hackett to set up the second leg with Town a goal to the good. Akinfenwa could have added another in the second half but for a terrific save from Rubies keeper Scott Brown.

01/04/13: Cheltenham 1-0 Cobblers (League Two)

As the Cobblers sat three points ahead of Cheltenham at the start of April last season, the Rubies had to win to close the gap on a Town side who still had a chance of automatic promotion. After a quiet first half, Steve Elliot netted the crucial winner on the stroke of half-time to set up a dramatic final few weeks of the season.

08/12/012: Cobblers 2-3 Cheltenham (League Two)

The Cobblers looked set for a good home win when Bayo Akinfenwa scored after just two minutes and Billy Jones put through his own net soon after. But Darren Carter and Chris Zebroski levelled things up before even half an hour had passed and it was left to Darryl Duffy to slot in the winner for a stunning turnaround late on for the visitors.

03/03/12: Cheltenham 2-2 Cobblers (League Two)

Ben Tozer and Bayo Akinfenwa gave the Cobblers a surprise two goal lead at Whaddon Road in the first half but the hosts hit back in the second as Darryl Duffy slotted in a penalty before clinching a point for his side in stoppage time.

The man in the middle…

The referee at Whaddon Road will be Paul Tierney who has shown 71 yellow cards and 9 reds so far this season and last took charge of the Cobblers in last season’s 3-1 home win over Wycombe Wanderers.

Prediction…

With so many new faces likely to make their debuts for both sides it’s hard to pick a winner for this one. Chris Wilder will be desperate to recreate the away for that took Oxford into the top seven before he left and fingers crossed for a good start to his reign. If the game goes ahead I can see us nicking a point. 1-1.

Weather Watch…

As of 8am, Cheltenham are saying that the pitch is looking OK and will keep monitoring the situation as the morning progresses. More rain is expected so it could be another game at risk from the weather.

Still no escape as Rubies frustrate

aidy boothroydNorthampton Town 1-1 Cheltenham Town

League Two

Saturday, October 26th 2013

The Cobblers continue to tread the line at the bottom of League Two with a home draw yesterday against an improving Cheltenham side providing another example of Aidy Boothroyd plugging gaps and scrapping out for points rather than showing any real intent of blowing teams away at what was, last season, a fortress. Of course, last season’s phenomenal run at Sixfields didn’t start until the end of December but at the moment it’s very difficult indeed to envision anything even close to that sort of form this time around.

Oddly, we’re only four points worse off than at this time last year (I envisioned it being more) but the general mood is not one that would suggest that supporters believe in the current crop of Town players to pull off a second successive run from nowhere to challenge at the right end of the table. What is apparent, though, is that Boothroyd and his men need to start delivering points in threes to get out of this mess. While we try to do that, we may not get the most sparkling performances but I get the feeling that anxiety is spreading from the stands to the players with shaky defending and miscued passes still in abundance.

The issues with scoring goals is still providing a lot of worry with Luke Norris the only one looking likely to be consistent in that department. Norris has scored three in three and the nature of his loan deal means that he’ll be reporting back to Brentford soon so we need to try and get him tied up for the season and give him some support up front. Roy O’Donovan is now out for a month whilst Clive Platt isn’t the answer so the promised new loan forwards could do with finalising their deals too. The very fact that we’re relying on these short term solutions could well link to supporter apathy. There’s clearly been some missed chances in the transfer window over the summer and we must learn lessons. As fans we need players who are going to come in and make the claret shirt their own…it’s great when you get a fantastic loanee but short term deals never capture our imagination as much as someone that we know will be playing solely for the Cobblers.

Anyway, that’s all to be sorted hopefully if the ever growing quotes of “the new striker will be here tomorrow” or “we’re very, very close to a deal” are to be believed.

Back to yesterday and Cheltenham were in no mood to feel sorry for our plight with their own plight to deal with. They started off where they’d left off against Morecambe on Tuesday night when Byron Harrison found far too much space in the area to rifle in the opening goal after just nine minutes. That was exactly what we didn’t need.

There seemed no real threat to that lead with Harrison coming close to doubling it in the best opening of the first half an hour but just before the break Town grabbed a life line, seemingly out of nowhere. Confusion in the Rubies’ area was capitalised on by Norris who took his chance to round the keeper and slot in to continue his terrific loan spell. 1-1 at the break and it would get no better for Boothroyd.

In fact, Matt Duke was the star man again which says a lot about how the second forty five minutes went. Sam Deering, creator of the first goal, raced through one on one but Duke did well to get down for the save before Harrison was also foiled by the Town stopper.

Ishmel Demontagnac came on and was, inevitably, involved in the final few minutes with a good run and shot as well as being fouled by Jason Taylor. Taylor was booked but knew exactly who he was dealing with and stood over Demontagnac, winding him up enough to draw a booking for the Cobblers player as well. The conundrum that is Demontagnac will puzzle us right up until he departs our shores but at the moment he’s a wild card that we arguably could make use of, particularly off the bench when there’s little time (supposedly) for him to get into trouble and tired defender to charge at.

So another home draw and still no progress up the table with Accrington’s win at Morecambe taking them to the same amount of points as us. Suddenly it’s all tightening up and we simply have to get out of this pack as soon as possible. Easier said than done!

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The FA Cup First Round draw takes place on Sunday afternoon

The FA Cup First Round draw takes place on Sunday afternoon

This afternoon sees the FA Cup First Round draw and I’ve heard a lot of people calling for a clash with the Posh in a local derby. Whilst that would give us something fun to look forwards to, do we really want to face a side that scores for fun, is well drilled and who will likely provide us with a derby day to forget and Boothroyd with yet more pressure?

No thanks, a fun non-league team at home would be my pick…I’ve always enjoyed learning more about ‘smaller teams’ down the footballing pyramid and mixing with fans you would never usually see so this afternoon I’m hoping for a tie with Biggleswade or Stourbridge rather than a potentially damaging derby. We’ll have Posh in Round Three when we’re back in mid-table and on an upward curve. The kiss of death…

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Northampton Town v Cheltenham Town: Match Preview

 

sixfieldsNorthampton Town v Cheltenham Town

League Two

Saturday, November 26th 2013

The Cobblers could do with getting ahead of the game and there’s a chance to do just that on Saturday when we kick off at 2pm against last season’s playoff semi-final opponents Cheltenham Town. Times have dramatically changed for both clubs since the Cobblers won 2-0 on aggregate back in May to clinch a place at Wembley with both of us suffering from hangovers that have kept us in the lower reaches of League Two.

The Rubies have started to improve as of late with a 2-1 win at Dagenham a couple of weeks ago and a 3-0 rout of Morecambe on Tuesday night sandwiching a late defeat at home to Rochdale. Mark Yates has urged fans to stay patient and loyal and his side appear to be making a move in the right direction.

The Cobblers have been through spells of anything and everything running against them with red cards, late goals, injuries and individuals’ lack of form and ultimately we are running out of excuses. After coming so close to three points at Rochdale on Tuesday night only to lose the game you start to wonder if confidence will be drained ahead of a tough home game.

We simply cannot keep coming away from games saying that this or that went against us, that a bad decision or moment of madness cost us – three points need to be delivered to match what has appeared to be decent enough performances in the last couple of weeks.

Don’t forget that early kick off –all fingers crossed for a morale boosting victory and, finally, an escape from the bottom two.

 

Team News…

Joe Widdowson returned for the Cobblers on Tuesday night and he will likely keep his place at left-back. Kevin Amankwaah suffered a pulled hamstring at Spotland and will be out for a couple of weeks so Lee Collins should deputise at right back. Clive Platt is still missing whilst Roy O’ Donovan is doubtful once again meaning that loanees Stuart Dallas and Luke Norris – both scorers on Tuesday night – should start.

Cheltenham are without Craig Braham-Barrett with Matt Richards set to take his place at left-back. Ashley Vincent is unavailable due to a personal matter but Sam Deering, Terry Gornell and Dave Noble should all keep their places in the starting line-up.

 

Happier times...Guttridge seals Wembley place in May.

Happier times…Guttridge seals Wembley place in May.

Previous Six Meetings…

05/05/12: Cheltenham 0-1 Cobblers (League Two Playoff Semi-Final, Second Leg)

In a tense second leg of last season’s playoff semi-finals, Luke Guttridge scored with a stunning volley from a Bayo Akinfenwa knock down to seal a place at Wembley for the Cobblers. Earlier in the game Lee Nicholls had saved a penalty from Marlon Pack and he was one of the key reasons for the score remaining in our favour.

02/05/13: Cobblers 1-0 Cheltenham (League Two Playoff Semi-Final, First Leg)

Roy O’ Donovan finished off a flowing move involving Bayo Akinfenwa and Chris Hackett to set up the second leg with Town a goal to the good. Akinfenwa could have added another in the second half but for a terrific save from Rubies keeper Scott Brown.

01/04/13: Cheltenham 1-0 Cobblers (League Two)

As the Cobblers sat three points ahead of Cheltenham at the start of April last season, the Rubies had to win to close the gap on a Town side who still had a chance of automatic promotion. After a quiet first half, Steve Elliot netted the crucial winner on the stroke of half-time to set up a dramatic final few weeks of the season.

08/12/012: Cobblers 2-3 Cheltenham (League Two)

The Cobblers looked set for a good home win when Bayo Akinfenwa scored after just two minutes and Billy Jones put through his own net soon after. But Darren Carter and Chris Zebroski levelled things up before even half an hour had passed and it was left to Darryl Duffy to slot in the winner for a stunning turnaround late on for the visitors.

03/03/12: Cheltenham 2-2 Cobblers (League Two)

Ben Tozer and Bayo Akinfenwa gave the Cobblers a surprise two goal lead at Whaddon Road in the first half but the hosts hit back in the second as Darryl Duffy slotted in a penalty before clinching a point for his side in stoppage time.

20/08/11: Cobblers 2-3 Cheltenham (League Two)

In the second home game of the 2011/12 season, Darryl Duffy opened the scoring from the spot for Cheltenham on eleven minutes but goals either side of half time from Arron Davies and Bayo Akinfenwa steered the game in our favour. The Rubies had other ideas though and Duffy got on the end of a cross from ex-Cobbler Josh Low to level it before Low himself won it ten minutes from time.

 

The man in the middle…

Taking charge of Saturday’s game is Martin Atkinson, a top flight official who has officiated games including Man United v Chelsea and Holland v Hungary in a World Cup qualifier last week. His last Cobblers game was way back in 2006 as Carlisle won 3-0 at Sixfields.

 

Prediction…

I don’t know what to expect from the Cobblers at the moment but it’s clear that we need a win by any means. Whether we can beat an improving Rubies side is another matter and I fear that we could be heading for a frustrating time. There’s usually plenty of goals in league games between the clubs at least and I’ll go for 2-2. 

 

From the opposition…

Rubies’ fan Matt gave his thoughts on his side’s season so far and more here.

Fan Feature: Cheltenham Town

Cheltenham-Town-FC-logo (1)Fan Feature: Cheltenham Town

As the Cobblers host Cheltenham Town in a repeat of last season’s Playoff Semi-Finals, Rubies fan Matt gives us his thoughts on what has been a stuttering start to the season  and whether Mark Yates can turn things around at Whaddon Road for another shot at promotion. You can follow Matt on Twitter at @ctfcMatt.

The Rubies have had a similarly poor start to their season as the Cobblers albeit with a couple of more victories and Matt says a lack of consistency has been the main issue.

“After a pretty promising summer, in which we bought in a few new players, (Terry Gornell, Jamie Cureton, Matt Richards) to name a few, the feeling around the camp is that we had experience, and these guys knew what it took to gain promotion,” he says,

“I think most Cheltenham supporters went in to the opening game of the season high on confidence but after losing a two goal lead, and star-man Jamie Cureton to a dislocated shoulder, an opening day draw at home to Burton Albion was not a bad result at all. Since then, with a fantastic trip to West Ham United in-between, we haven’t even come close to showing the kind of consistency which is needed to gain promotion, or even replicate last season and climb in to the play-offs.”

Before the 3-0 win over Morecambe last weekend, manager Mark Yates appeared to under some pressure and fans have been split over whether he should stay and have another go at promotion. Matt says:

“It’s a tough one. His strength, without a doubt, is finding himself a player. In his past few seasons here we’ve seen plenty of players come in who look like they could cope at a higher level (Marlon Pack, Luke Summerfield, Sido Jombati) to name a few. His weakness however, this being key, is his tactics. Since his arrival, we’ve never really had a solid foundation to build on. He doesn’t always know how he wants to set up his own team, and tends to favour certain players, despite their performances, higher in the pecking order than others, which at times is frustrating.”

Matt goes on to state that the Rubies’ defence is the key thing that his side needs to work on if they’re to start moving back towards the right end of the table. He says,

Having been hit with a few injuries early on, our problem, without doubt, has been in the defence. With the back four being different every week, we’ve shipped so many sloppy goals this season, I have started to lose count! Scoring goals definitely hasn’t been a problem this season, but like I say, conceding them has been!”

cureton2

Cureton…landmark goal

At the other end of the pitch, Jamie Cureton scored his 250th career goal a couple of weeks ago having joined the club from Exeter City in the summer but others seem to have upped their game to give Yates a welcome headache in the striker department.

“After getting hit with an injury on the opening day of the season,” Mark says, “he (Cureton) certainly has hit back with some vital goals. Terry Gornell and Byron Harrison didn’t struggle during his absence, and in my opinion, those two should be the two that start, but it’s always a luxury to have well-travelled player like Jamie at the club.”

As always, we end with our guests’ score prediction with Matt going for a narrow win for his side:

“Cobblers 1 – 2 Rubies/Robins…Harrison and Matt Richards with our two goals.”

Cheltenham Town Links:

Official Site: http://www.ctfc.com

Blogs: http://cheltenhamtownchatter.blogspot.co.uk/

http://www.wearegoingup.co.uk/category/cheltenham-town/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ctfcofficial

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CTFCofficial

Forum: http://www.robinsnestforum.co.uk/

BBC Site: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/teams/cheltenham-town

Local News: http://www.thisisgloucestershire.co.uk/cheltenhamtown#axzz2ifiujpvQ

Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheltenham_Town_F.C.

Stadium Guide: http://www.footballgroundguide.com/cheltenham_town/

Que Sera Sera!

WembleyCheltenham Town 0-1 Northampton Town

League Two Playoff Semi-Final, Second Leg

Sunday, 5th May 2013

It was tense, it was heart stopping and it was dramatic. It was everything we expected but the most important, and incredible, thing that comes from the Cobblers’ win at Cheltenham (yes, an AWAY WIN) is that it means we will be playing at Wembley Stadium for the first time since 1998. The pain of Mansfield and the desperation of Southend were both playing on my mind this evening as I sat down to watch what I knew would be one of the most frightening ninety minutes of my life.

But the Cobblers rose to the occasion and did a thoroughly professional job to not only hold out with a one goal lead on aggregate but to add to it and defend like warriors to make sure that we spent Sunday evening plotting our routes to Wembley.

It’s an extraordinary turnaround from Aidy Boothroyd who, on taking the job eighteen months ago, stated that things would get worse before they got better. That, they most certainly did. I wrote a blog here at the end of January 2012 where I submitted to relegation and accepted what I thought was inevitable despite small improvements from Boothroyd. To be dancing around my house just over a year later having seen a group of players give their all and fight to the death to cling onto it all for us is remarkable.

Tonight was a story of two key moments but many, many heroes. Lee Nicholls’ save from Marlon Pack’s penalty early on was out of the top drawer and his many, many saves during the night kept us in it, earning him the rightful man of the match award. In front of him, Nathan Cameron put in another behemoth of a performance and alongside Clarke Carlisle will even be making Kelvin Langmead worry about his place in the Wembley eleven. Ben Tozer and Lee Collins put in their own solid shifts whilst the midfield five was a masterstroke from Boothroyd with not one of those in there stepping out of line.

Bayo led the line to perfection and did all that he could do being a lone striker. Over these two legs he’s been back to his very best and anyone who thought he had lost his way can now breath easily again. Beast Mode has been switched back on at just the right time.

And then there was the goal. What a belter and one that fit the occasion. Luke Guttridge, the man who has pulled us through this final furlong of the season, just smashed the ball into the roof of the net to stun Whaddon Road and to give us even more than the hope we came with.

From then on we knew we would be clock watching. And boy, were we clock watching. It’s incredible how time stands still in these situations. Ten minutes felt like an hour, every cross into our box felt like it was going to end up in the net. I even panicked when my wife dropped a glass of water on the floor, thinking it was an omen for what was to come!

But the goal never came and Cheltenham were running out of time. They smashed the bar late on and suddenly you felt it was our night. As the clock reached 90 minutes and the ball was booted towards the fantastic Cobblers support we could start to celebrate. The final whistle will have seen man, woman and child up and down the country and around the world with a Cobblers persuasion jumping for joy, embracing strangers and screaming in big letters on social media. Moments like this should be treasured and there’s only one way that we can top it…by winning the final.

That brings us to what I could only call ‘the W word’ before Sunday evening. Wembley Stadium and the League Two Playoff Final against Bradford City. We’ve got plenty of time to worry about Bradford and the challenges that they will bring so for now let’s pinch ourselves once more, go to sleep and wake up in the middle of the night to make absolutely sure that we’re not dreaming this all up.

Northampton Town are going back to Wembley. I’ll see you there!

O’ Donovan strikes to give Cobblers slender lead!

O' Donovan...third goal in as many games

O’ Donovan…third goal in as many games

Northampton Town 1-0 Cheltenham Town

League Two Playoff Semi-Final, First Leg

Thursday, May 2nd 2013

It’s a long, long way from being over but the fact that the above score line reads in the Cobblers’ favour was always going to be the first and most vital part of any successful bid to reach Wembley. Having gone into the most recent second legs in the playoffs with a deficit (2-0 against Mansfield Town) and an uphill task (Southend holding us to a 0-0 draw at Sixfields) it’s a crucial blow that we’ve struck against a Cheltenham side that are likely to be a lot more up for attacking us come Sunday evening.

After the final whistle last night, and amidst a feeling of us doing the first part of this job right, most of the talk was about how we could and should have been more ahead in the tie going into the crunch game at Whaddon Road. The Cobblers were well worth the victory by the end of the evening and could have added to the wonderfully worked Roy O’ Donovan goal that gives us a very slight advantage.

The fact that a lot of Cheltenham fans are happy with the result this morning says a lot with their own home record meaning that they have every right to think that they are still favourites to go through having kept the score down to 1-0 last night. Their team will have to really up their game, however, to break down a Cobblers side looking to ensure that we don’t fall into the same traps that have seen us finish the League Two season with the second worst away record in the league.

Aidy Boothroyd’s men will take a lot from last night and the final two away games in the league season where they held out for a 0-0 at Wycombe and, more impressively, a 2-2 at Port Vale in a game that we could well have won. Town were more fluent than usual and played some good stuff through the midfield as well as the usual direct balls to the recalled Bayo and the excellent Roy O’ Donovan.

It was Chris Hackett who was the real star of the show, though. The rest against Barnet seemed to have done him good as he terrorised the Rubies’ left hand side all evening. One of his darts down the wing resulted in the only goal of the game as he latched onto a good Bayo through ball to cross beautifully for O’Donovan to score his third in three games with a well taken volley. Cheltenham keeper Scott Brown could have done better with it but would later pull off a stunning save from a Bayo header to keep it at 1-0, a passage of play that could yet save his side’s playoff campaign.

Straight after the goal, Cheltenham had their best opening when Paul Benson found space but shot wide when in a good position in front of goal. The second half saw the visitors close up shop a little but there always seemed a threat when they came forward on the break away. Town were unlucky not to double their lead through that Bayo chance and Hackett’s constant threat on the right hand side.

It did finish just 1-0 but hopefully the performance gives us confidence ahead of Sunday. Key players all stepped up with Nathan Cameron putting in a fine shift at the back as well as notable outings for the likes of Lee Collins, Luke Guttridge, Hackett, Bayo and O’Donovan.

The away form has been awful this season but what better time to put it right than on Sunday afternoon when our fate will be known. Cheltenham will be well up for it and confident despite the deficit so we have to go there and stamp our authority over the game because if we can somehow get into the lead then the Wembley dream will be alive and well. An early going against us, though, could send panic through the ranks and being away from home may work very much against us.

We are only half way but at least we have a good, solid base to work from on Sunday. With over 1,500 Cobblers fans expected to be there it should be a cracking atmosphere at Whaddon Road where we are certainly going to need that twelfth man.

We’ve kept the dream alive – now let’s all finish it off so that we can live it on May 18th!