After the lord mayor’s show come crucial questions…

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This glorious, unbelievable, wonderful season is over. A campaign that saw Northampton Town Football Club dragged to hell and back ends with a points haul of 99 points, an unbeaten run of 24 games and a highlight reel that will be replayed for generations to come.

The celebrations and outpouring of emotions came to a head on Sunday when the town came out in force to welcome its heroes on the open top bus parade and if ever you need to be reminded what this football club means to its town then look no further than the feelings expressed over the past few months and in the scenes in the town centre on Sunday. Players, staff and officials were rightly given heroes welcomes in a fitting finale with victory at Portsmouth on the final day the icing on the cake before the party could begin.

But as the dust settled, Monday saw disturbing news that could threaten to halt the momentum of promotion and the championship win. Chris Wilder and Alan Knill have been approached by Charlton Athletic and Kelvin Thomas contractually had to agree to the pair going to London for talks in a twist that not many would have seen coming.

Wilder and Knill, of course, have every right to go and talk to Charlton with both of them at a stage in their career where chances to manage at a club with such a pedigree at a minimum. But with the Addicks’ problems well documented is there really a whole lot of difference between the two clubs going into the 2016/17 season? I understand the history, the recent heights that Charlton have been playing at and the fact that theoretically they’ll be amongst the favourites for League One next season if they sort their off the pitch problems out but this still seems a little bit of an odd one to me. The momentum that the Cobblers have surely can’t be matched by many teams at the start of next season should the squad remain together and I’d argue that at this point in time we’re a much more stable place to be than at The Valley.

Things can change though and perhaps promises are being made to the duo that this is a bright new start for Charlton rather than the continuation of a downward spiral. If the powers that be manage to persuade Wilder and Knill to move then we could be facing not only the loss of the management team that have been the pillars of this incredible season but also that loss of the togetherness that they spoke of so often in the last few months.

There surely has to be part of them that wants to finish this job, whatever that entails, with a crack at League One. If they do move then there’s a massive chance that the job becomes a completely different one and the place instantly becomes restless. Will the players that were led so defiantly by Wilder up sticks as well for pastures new? Not necessarily following him to Charlton but looking elsewhere now that the heads of the operation have been taken off? Whoever would come in as replacements would face a massive task of keeping that spirit alive and convincing the key figures to hang around and really have a go with the group that fought tooth and nail together to earn promotion in the first place.

It’s all ifs and buts at the moment but it’s a situation that could put a bit of a downer on the celebrations and lead to a summer of uncertainty. The season may be only just over but we’ve certainly wasted no time in creating headlines within days of the final whistle!

Michael Appleton created a headline of his own on Saturday when he ridiculously claimed that his Oxford United side were the best in League Two just seconds after they clinched promotion. Instead of just enjoying his side’s achievements – which are impressive, don’t get me wrong – he decided to ignore the fact that the side above his not only finished on 99 POINTS but also did the double over his side. He claimed that his comments might upset some people in Northampton…Mr Appleton, it’s such a laughable comment that it becomes mere humour rather than anything that would disturb a championship parade. See you next season Mr A!

Full Circle

Wilder...preparing for old club's visit

Wilder…under pressure

What was meant to be the unofficial reboot of the season became another false dawn on Saturday as the Cobblers crashed to another home defeat and as we approach Christmas and head towards Chris Wilder’s year anniversary of being in charge we’re left with the distinct possibility of going completely full circle to where we were when he arrived.

Add to that a post-match interview where Wilder all but wrote off any ambitions for the top seven by readjusting his target to simply reaching fifty points and it doesn’t read well. The excuse of injuries has been apparent, and partly understandable, all season but the disorganisation at the back, the questionable selection policies and the lack of understanding is something that, after twenty games, should be sorted.

We’re only six points better off than we were at this stage last season when everything was closing in on Aidy Boothroyd. There’s no doubt that we have a better squad – even with those injuries – than twelve months ago so Wilder is going to need to change something fast or the restless natives are going to have the knives out.

I wouldn’t mind this situation half as much if I genuinely felt like Wilder had a plan or any idea about progressing. Getting to fifty points is not ambition and though we obviously need to be realistic after recent troubles it would have been better to hear that back in August from the man in charge and for him to set out his grand plan rather than play up a promotion charge and then readjust to make himself look better when things start to go wrong.

What we really needed from a post-match interview is passion and a sense that Wilder truly believes in his methods, not devaluing his squad to the point where the players might even take a step off the gas with those new expectations.

If you’ve been reading this blog over the years you know I’m no advocate for changing the manager on a whim but I just don’t have confidence in Wilder at the moment. He’s got added time for the remarkable rescue from relegation last season but there’s only so far that will get you – look at Wycombe, one of our rivals for the drop back in May, who are top of the table and showing no signs of stopping their promotion charge.

So what can Wilder do to save his own skin? The first thing, I think, is to stop these short term loans. We’ve had the situation so many times over the years and I don’t know how many times I’ve written that short term loans just don’t work. I understand the need sometimes in a shocker of an injury crisis but the supporters would understand more, correct me if I’m wrong, if a young lad came up from the youth system for a month and gave it a go rather than dropping someone in who has no affinity to the club who knows he’s off back to his League One life once he’s played a few games.

What threat is there to the first team when they know the player challenging their position is going away again once they’re fully fit? I honestly don’t see the harm in blooding one or two younger talents in League Two even if it does mean we’re in mid-table. I’d rather be in mid-table and have optimism about the future rather than dreading Saturdays again which it’s come to once more.

There’s also a huge need for defensive stability – most goals we concede are results of standing off, poor marking or opposition players just waltzing through. Even the usually reliable Matt Duke is showing signs of a decline in terms of commanding an area whilst Jordan Archer doesn’t fill anyone with confidence. Injuries again have been a problem here but the very least we can expect from experienced players is a sense of understanding. Someone needs to step up.

I really want Wilder to turn this around, don’t get me wrong, but his leadership style is worrying me. David Cardoza is getting shot at as well but I can’t see any reason why he’s being brought into why we’re doing so badly on the pitch. He has big questions to answer off it which we’re still waiting for but throwing our results at his feet is wrong in my opinion.

The chairman has backed three successive managers who had strong reputations in the lower leagues and it’s down to the latest incumbent of the office to turn things around or leave the big boss with no choice but to spend some of the possible money we get from flogging Ivan Toney off in January on paying off yet another contract.

It’s not come to it yet but with big away games against other struggling sides coming up Wilder is certainly on the brink of sink or swim territory.


The merits of early recruitment

Wilder...shaping the Cobblers squad early

Wilder…shaping the Cobblers squad early

So it’s mid-May and the season isn’t officially over with various cup finals due to keep up our footballing fix for the next couple of weeks. Usually, as Cobblers fans, we’d be relaxing into our breaks safe in the knowledge that we’re not likely to sign anyone until at least the start of pre-season. This summer, though, things have taken a different and much more welcoming turn as Chris Wilder has made the contract offers, sent out the retained list and recruited two, yes TWO, new players and has said that he wants to get business done as soon as possible.

Granted, one of the signings was Zander Diamond who had probably agreed something in principle a while back after a stellar loan spell but Wilder is saying all the right things about getting everything sorted quickly and there’s something about him that makes you completely trust in what he’s doing with the club. The signing of Marc Richards yesterday already leaves our front line looking healthier than it was at the start of this season and there’s another space on Wilder’s list for a striker too.

That list also contains a left back, a right back, a utility midfielder, a left winger and a winger who can play on both sides of the pitch.

It’s a refreshing feel of transparency going into a summer which will see plenty of changes with the talk of a smaller squad something that’s been discussed but never truly delivered on in recent seasons but something that you would hope we can stick to this time. If we can tie up the deals for the four offered new deals (Chris Hackett, Gregor Robertson, Connor Roberts and David Moyo) and add the same sort of quality that’s been captured so far then we’ll be in a very strong position.

The winners and promoted sides of League Two have generally been the ones who have tightness about them and the ones who don’t rely on silly one month loan deals that have been the desperate lunge of past managers in times of crisis. If you’re talking about season long loans like the successful one of Lee Nicholls last season then I’m fine with it but I’ve always been against bringing in unknown young players from a side in the higher divisions just for what could only be three or four games. Yes, it gives them experience but does it truly help us?

It’s great to see Wilder setting out his plans and making it clear that our own young lads will be getting a chance alongside the more experienced pros like Richards, Diamond and Darren Carter. That’s where we need to be – in a position where we have a strong base of a squad and instead of looking for someone else’s reserve team players look inwards and give a chance to someone knocking on your own door. At Dagenham, Wilder gave the chance to a young striker called Ivan Toney and the rest is history.

Whoever ends up lining up for the opening game of the season in August it looks like there should be a full squad in place – a squad who have come through the whole of pre-season together, a squad who already know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and a squad 100% ready to go and not one with giant holes in for us to pick apart and hope for last minute deals to fix.

It makes a very nice change!

Six things Chris Wilder needs to keep us in the Football League

Chris Wilder

Chris Wilder

Ok, Ok…so I’ve gone all Buzzfeed on you today (other list based websites are available) but with the appointment of Chris Wilder this week I thought I would try to get my head around the challenge he faces in the short term at his new club. Some of the points are very obvious and have been since last May’s playoff final defeat but it makes it pretty clear how many things need to change – and fast.

So here are the things that need to be in Wilder’s box of tricks for the remainder of this season…

Permanent signings

We’re currently up to the limit of five loan signings at any one time with James Hurst, Sean McGinty, Matty Blair, Antonio German and Hallam Hope all in the squad until different points in February. That’s a lot of players that probably don’t worry too much about the long term future of our football club, which is currently hanging by a thread. While it’s going to be extremely difficult to persuade someone to sign for the bottom club in the Football League, there should be more assurances for anyone coming in now that a permanent management team is in place.

At the very, very least we have to have loans that last until the end of the season and not just a month. I can see why we have so many on these deals at the moment – Andy King could do nothing else in his position to be fair to him – but it needs to stop here and anyone coming in surely must be on longer term contracts. Get them worrying about our future as much as we all do, teach them the history of the club and drill into them that survival can be achieved.


Let’s face it, we’re not going to be able to dismantle the squad and start again if we’re to stay up and a certain element of good fortune is going to be needed if we’re going to finish anywhere from 22nd place and above. This isn’t going to be an overnight success and there has to be something of the Pat Gavin variety along the road to survival.

Kelvin Langmead

Another thing that isn’t in Wilder’s hands is the fitness of Kelvin Langmead. An absolute rock in the run to Wembley last season after an extraordinary personal renaissance, Langmead has been sorely missed having been rushed back from his initial injury blow. He hasn’t played at all this time out and as the length of time he’s been out for went on and on so did our fall from grace and to the foot of the table. If we’re to clamber out of this mess then we need Langmead back as soon as possible.

A goal scorer

To tie in with the fact that we’ve employed two short term strikers it’s also pretty obvious that we need someone in to knock in the goals that will spearhead a launch out of trouble. Bayo Akinfenwa has not been replaced in any way and Wilder will surely be flicking through his phone book trying to find someone that is a) twiddling his thumbs somewhere else, and b) experienced in putting that round thing in between those two posts.

An enforcer

The award for most untimely loan move back to their parent club has a clear winner this season and it goes to Ricky Ravenhill. His arrival came close to saving Aidy Boothroyd’s skin and the Bradford man – a tough nut and midfield enforcer – was something that was so badly absent from the middle of the park up until that point.  Someone similar, who is a calming influence in the absolute madness that will be the relegation dog fight of 2014, is vital.


It should go without saying but Wilder and assistant Alan Knill need all the support that we can muster in the coming weeks and months. We can be a tough lot to please, us Cobblers fans.  Both men will know what to expect and we simply have to get right behind them – it’s not going to be an easy road and there will be times when it looks like there’s no way back but these are the people trusted with our league survival and there’s no room for apathy or negativity once that whistle blows on match day.

So basically we need a new spine of the first team, some goals going in off backsides, players who will commit to joining the bottom club of the Football League and a change in hearts of supporters. Good luck Chris!

Wilder appointed!

wilderThe weeks of speculation, drama and frustration are over – Northampton Town have a new manager as Chris Wilder was appointed today on a three and half year contract following a weekend of confusing statements and mystery as to just what was going on after Oxford’s 1-0 home win over Torquay United. Wilder stayed in his post at the Kassam Stadium just long enough to do us a favour and take three points from one of our rivals but no-one seemed to know just what was actually happening after the final whistle.

The Cobblers had just been beaten for the third time in a row at home against Chesterfield despite taking an early lead but ultimately it was the events off the pitch that were the prime focus come 5pm. It was probably best – at a rain sodden Sixfields Town were well beaten by the Spireites and it was another game that once again highlighted the job that Wilder has put himself in for.

Reports came out of Oxford that Wilder had said his goodbyes and resigned at around 6pm on Saturday but then out of nowhere came a statement that he actually hadn’t officially gone just yet. I’m assuming legal talk halted the move initially but on Sunday night it was 100% confirmed when we agreed a compensation package with the U’s and were given permission to talk to him.

It brings to an end a process that’s been far too long but now it’s time to finally look forward and focus on keeping our Football League status. Wilder has one heck of a job on his hands with the transfer window closing on Friday evening and for once it’s looking like a very, very busy end to the window for the Cobblers. Players clearly need to go and there just has to be a core group of players coming in that can attempt to turn this disastrous league season around. We’re not the greatest of lures for potential signings but anyone who does help towards what would be a magnificent escape will forever receive idol status with the long suffering Town fans.

Wilder himself has pedigree and I don’t understand a lot of the complaints already from some of the claret faithful. His style of play has come into question from both Oxford and Cobblers fans but if we’re in a position of 22nd or above come May then I really don’t care if we win every game 1-0 with our only shot on goal through a goal mouth scramble. The objective is safety and I’ve said before that League Two isn’t about fancy football unless you’re running away with the league.  And when did we last have a manager who promoted free flowing football at this level?

To appoint a manager who took Halifax to the Conference playoff final during a successful period at the Shay and then brought Oxford back into the Football League via the playoffs is a wise move and his record at League Two is above average. He will have gained a shed load of experience over the last few seasons and, crucially, know the division and what it takes to win games in it.

The big questions now all surround who Wilder can find to spearhead his bid to enter himself into Cobblers folklore by keeping us in the league. The length of the contract is something that really stands out as well and it’s pretty clear that if the worst does happen then Wilder will be the man charged with getting us back to the league.

The road ahead is a shuddering one but now we finally have direction and full time leadership we have to put all our energies as supporters into getting behind our club and playing our part as well.

It’s been a long, long month – now comes three and a half months that will define the future of our football club.

A note for Andy King…

In the midst of all this drama, Andy King has had to keep the Cobblers running with no real personal incentive attached. King comes across as a good guy and though results haven’t all gone his way he was in a position where he had little to no hope of putting his own mark on the team. By the end of his tenure in charge, King’s exhausted state reflected how most of us felt and you have to give him some credit for even staying sane during this whole process.

I’m not sure where he goes from here but in a month where everything seemed to be falling apart around him King has kept an air of dignity about him and that’s to his huge credit. Hopefully he manages to stay in the game in some capacity because you could tell that the passion is still there – all the best to King in the future.

The assistant…welcome Alan Knill

Joining Wilder at the club is his new assistant Alan Knill. It’s a role reversal of the pair’s time at Bury when Knill was in charge with Wilder as his assistant so there’s clearly plenty of trust there. Knill’s management career began at Rotherham United before he moved to Bury in arguably his most successful role, taking the Shakers to the brink of promotion from League Two. He joined Scunthorpe United in 2011 but only lasted a year and was appointed Torquay United’s interim boss in 2013 following the illness of Martin Ling.

When Ling left the Devon club in the summer, Knill was given the job full time but a poor first half of this season saw him sacked just after Aidy Boothroyd was shown the door at Sixfields. He should also bring a good amount of experience to the club and hopefully what a successful partnership in the past will be rekindled here. Welcome Alan!