Edging closer…

After months of jubilation, high octane football and disbelief at a season like we’ve not seen in a generation, the Cobblers are now within one victory of confirming promotion. Though the last few weeks have seen us crawl toward the finish line rather than burst through it, nothing at all can be taken away from what’s happening at the football club that could easily have been no more.

There’s a chance that the big P could be placed next to our name in the league table this Saturday when our old friends from Bristol Rovers pay a visit to the newly revamped Sixfields which now includes seats in the East Stand once more. There should be a carnival atmosphere around the place and it’s a day where you just want to be involved in one way or another.

For the players, it’s a game that’s the most difficult of those left this season but it’s one that they should hopefully rise to. With uncertainty last weekend in the 2-2 draw with Notts County there were perhaps some nerves around with everyone so desperate to confirm League One football as early as possible. But this weekend we know what we need to do. Win and we’re up. It doesn’t get much more tantalising than that in the build up to a game.

For the fans, a step back is needed slightly from getting anywhere near a level of frustration. The last few games have seen us draw plenty but of course the incredible form of early 2016 wasn’t going to carry on forever and if you don’t win then a draw is plenty good enough in our position.

There’s plenty of history between the Cobblers and Bristol Rovers of course and many are looking to the game for the sort of feeling felt during THAT May evening in 1998. I’ve always said that level of atmosphere will never be felt again at Sixfields but after nearly going out of business and losing our club there is no doubt that if that final whistle goes with Town having secured promotion the emotions will be coming very, very close.

Here’s to getting over that line!

The relentless charge goes on…

O' Toole - brace

O’ Toole – brace

After what could constitute a Cobblers ‘slump’ with back to back draws against Hartlepool and Wimbledon, Town returned to their extraordinary and swashbuckling ways yesterday at the end of what could have been another massively tough afternoon. There’s simply no stopping us and the way in which we tore apart a Carlisle side that still have promotion ambitions of their own was another message sent to League Two.

It was also a message returned back to Keith Curle, the United manager, who had expressed shock during the week that we were the runaway leaders and in return got full proof sent straight back at him. Curle, serially bothered by Northampton Town, will now be left ruing the fact that he wrote the team talk for the Cobblers players ahead of the game.

It was another performance of high quality from Town who simply stepped up a gear in the second half when the home side threatened to fight back. The Cobblers had taken the lead through a John Marquis flicked header and a John Joe O’Toole effort before former loanee Hallam Hope halved the deficit. It’s a measure of just how far we’ve come this season that rather than give in to usual Cobblers law of conceding again and going on to lose that we just picked things up again to ram home three more crucial points.

Ricky Holmes set up O’Toole for his brace before James Collins wrapped things up in style for a resounding victory to reward the 457 Cobblers fans who had made the long journey north. The trip home would become even more celebratory as news trickled in of second place Oxford and third placed Plymouth drawing with one another and of Accrington dropping points at Wimbledon to leave us thirteen points clear at the top and a gigantic twenty one clear of Stanley in fourth.

Games in hand are yet to be played including all four sides currently occupying playoff places squaring off against each other on Tuesday night but even so the gap is now surely insurmountable enough for us to start planning for League One football. It’s now got to be a case of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ we’ll be promoted and attention will soon be turned to the title race which is still going to give us a big challenge. Chris Wilder isn’t the type of manager to let standards slip and though there must surely be a big celebration coming up in the next month or so he’ll keep feet well and truly on the ground.

For the supporters who have been rock solid throughout the troubles off the field in the first half of the season, taking the rough alongside the smooth, this is all the biggest possible reward. Pride just doesn’t seem a big enough word to some this all up at the moment but we are edging close to getting that single letter in front of our name on the league table that would mean everything…P.

A Perfect Ten!

MarquisThere’s just no stopping the Cobblers and a relentless run towards League One. Victory at York City on Tuesday night was the TENTH in a row and shot us to twelve points clear of Plymouth in second place, making this sequence mean more and more by the game. The latest chapter on the path to glory meant that a quick fire double was recorded against the Minstermen and it was again a fully deserved reward for an accomplished away performance.

At this stage of the season, teams are either fighting for their lives, gunning for promotion or standing an outside chance of the playoffs with not many sides having nothing to play for. York well and truly fall into the first category and we know first-hand how much of a struggle it can be to play against teams battling for their lives – we were one of them a couple of years ago.

So it was never a formality by any means as we headed north, backed by an impressive following of over 400. Those hardy souls came back fully rewarded while disbelief of what’s happening this season again spread across the country. More records are down – that’s the eighth away win in a row for Town – and there just seems to be immense levels of quality and togetherness roaring through this squad.

Losing Marc Richards, Town’s top scorer, would usually be a disaster at this stage of the season. Instead, John Marquis was brought in on loan and he put in a heck of a shift at Bootham Crescent including a (re)debut goal. John-Joe O’Toole missed out through injury…again a big loss on the basis of the last few months but Jason Taylor came in and was a rock in front of the back four alongside Danny Rose. Ricky Holmes was rested and started on the bench but the Cobblers still had attacking guile in abundance. The squad is as good as I’ve seen since I started watching us in the early nineties, the football we’re playing is a terrific blend of heart, commitment and pass and move action and we just feel like we’re going to score in every game.

James Collins grabbed another for his growing tally on Tuesday night and he’s another that’s come in and slotted seamlessly in to a system that’s been perfectly drilled by the management team that’s starting to etch their names in history.

Chris Wilder and Alan Knill deserve so much credit for this season but they’re both still very business-like in their approach to the media. There’s no hyperbole about them, no expectations coming from their interviews and you can tell that the ship is hugely tight. If we can hold on for a few more games, the first bottles of champagne can be popped.

Nothing is ever set in stone until points are on the board but this is close as we’ll ever get with 16 games to go to being so positive that we’re going up. Whether we’ll do that as champions is another matter but there really is now no reason why we shouldn’t be adjusting our dreams to include the lifting of silverware – something that a generation of Cobblers fans have never seen.

Long, long, long may this continue…the punch marks on my body are growing by the week but what a ride this is!

Record Breakers

dannyroseAnother game, another win, another milestone passed. Saturday afternoon saw the Cobblers move to TEN points clear of closest challengers Plymouth Argyle and this dream season is showing absolutely no sign of letting up. Wycombe, and in particular Gareth Ainsworth, would have come into the game licking their lips at the prospect of spoiling our best run of wins since the sixties and though they came mightily close to coming away with something there was no stopping a Town side who are sparring with the very best.

Before the trio of games with Orient, Oxford and Wycombe I said I’d take a five point haul – the fact we’ve got nine adds even more disbelief to a season that’s likely to be spoken of for years and years in the future.

Wycombe were set up to both frustrate and to catch us out at the back through dangerous set pieces but Town stepped up to the challenge once more.

The big news before the game was that of Marc Richard’s Achilles injury and seeing the top scorer limping around the West Stand in an air boot during the game wasn’t a promising sight. Such is the strength of the Cobblers squad, though, that James Collins moving forwards with Nicky Adams coming into one of the three attacking midfield positions didn’t make us look too much more depleted.

The first half will be mainly remembered for one of the more blatant penalty shouts being turned down as the impressive Lee Martin was clipped on the six yard line by a Wanderers defender. Referee Graham Salisbury blew up but stunned the entire ground by pointing the opposite way and booking the Town man for a dive. Why he would have even contemplate going down in that position is beyond me and it was a massive error from the man in black that could have been hugely costly.

There were chances at both ends after that with a Wycombe cross flashing past the Cobblers six yard box and John-Joe O’Toole being denied from close range at the other end but it was all square at the break.

The second half began with a flurry of Cobblers chances and the pace was well and truly stepped up. The visitors looked more and more like a team hoping to cling on to a point and when Collins missed a couple of good chances and Ricky Holmes flashed a shot over it looked like they may just get it.

But just after the hour, Holmes combined well with Martin on the right and crossed for Collins to lay off for Danny Rose to finish well into the corner of the net and Sixfields erupted at the prospect of that club record ninth successive win.

Anthony Stewart came closest to bagging Wycombe an equaliser as his shot from distance was well palmed away by Adam Smith but though the nerves were jangling late on there was nothing else to threaten the latest victory being snatched away from us.

It’s the first time I’ve seen us live in a couple of months and it’s a genuine privilege these days. To see a Northampton Town side that’s equal part genuine quality mixed with absolute heart and desire is a joy to see. Every one of those players from ‘Concrete Rod’ and the unfillable Adam Smith at the back to Holmes – without doubt one of the best players I’ve ever seen don the claret –, Martin and Collins, and all around them in the squad and the bench is giving everything they have to the cause of not just gaining promotion but blowing away everyone in their path.

You can feel a change around Sixfields. There’s optimism, there’s appreciation and there’s a togetherness and bond between the fans and players that’s not been apparent for many a year. Simply everything at the club has come together and it gives us all a huge sense of pride once more in our town’s football club.

The records keep falling at our feet and this outrageous season goes on and on…

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After the disappointing news on Rico – he’ll be out for at least four weeks – came the resigning of John Marquis this afternoon. Wilder seems to have an emergency fund to cover injuries and this is a fantastic piece of business once again. Rico’s finishing will be missed but I was really impressed with Marquis during his first stint here a couple of years ago so hopefully as long as we keep making the chances his introduction will be seamless.

Another giant leap – it’s EIGHT not out!

l2EIGHT points clear. EIGHT wins in a row.

I sit here tonight speechless once again. The Cobblers have just beaten Oxford United 1-0 in a season defining result that takes us to completely new heights. It’s now EIGHT wins in a row in League Two. It’s back to back wins against two genuine promotion rivals. It goes against everything that we know as Cobblers fans and I almost don’t know how to respond, such is the rarity of this form!

Just as we did on Saturday, we rode our luck on a few occasions but once Marc Richards smashed home the winner from the spot at the Kassam there was something to cling on to, another three points to protect and the prospect of extending a huge gap between ourselves and fourth spot hanging like the juiciest of carrots.

The strength shown in defending that lead was admirable but also, in part, standard and epitomised a Cobblers side that is as resolute as it is skilful and as tough as it is flashy. It’s stuff of champions, and even I have to admit it now – we can start dreaming of not only promotion but of lifting the League Two title in May. What an absolutely incredible season this is.

I keep saying that it has to end somewhere, that the run will surely come a cropper eventually but this formidable side just keeps defying all Cobblers logic to batter League Two into submission time and time again. What we’re witnessing is close to being a season that’s etched in history in the same bracket as 1986/87 and that 99 point classic campaign. It’s once in a generation stuff.

We’re now on the brink of a bit of history after equalling the club record of successive league wins. One more against Wycombe on Saturday and we’ll be over that line into the history books. Gareth Ainsworth and his side would relish being the ones to break the run but we really should fear no-one right now.

As we look towards the final third of the season, we have to take this all in and enjoy watching this group of players that dragged us out of desperation in November and have set the league alight ever since.

This is utter, utter madness but it’s there to be savoured. It’s another hugely proud night, another one to savour. A few more and League One will start to beckon.

Get the champagne on ice…

On the brink of history…

Rod+McDonald+Northampton+Town+v+Birmingham+lXl6kUPquCRlJust when you thought it couldn’t get any better. ..Just when you thought we couldn’t score any more spectacular goals…Just when you thought we were about to stumble across a bump in the road…the Cobblers come up trumps and better themselves one more time. In a second half performance that perhaps eclipses most in this stunning run of games, the Cobblers produced four goals at Leyton Orient to remain top of the league and make every other team in the league stand up and take notice.

The score line on Saturday will surely have sent waves of nerves through League Two, particularly the promotion rivals that are still keeping up the pace behind us. The gap to watch – that of a huge fifteen points between us and fourth place – is growing by the week and Chris Wilder’s men are on the brink of doing something very, very special.

The victory on Saturday was made more special by some of the goals that lead to it. If an overhead kick from Rod McDonald wasn’t special enough, then this from Ricky Holmes certainly was…

Can this man do any wrong? I think not. That, my friends, is an absolute peach and if it were scored by anyone in the top flight we’d be seeing it for months on end. Take a big, big, bow, son!

Great to see James Collins wrapping things up with a scramble followed by a fine finish – both of which worked to simply put the cherry on the cake of a quite remarkable afternoon in East London. Orient will have been stunned after a first half that appeared pretty even and saw a fair few chances go begging.

Just how much further Town can go will once again be challenged with another big step up at Oxford on Tuesday night. As it would have been on Saturday, a point would be a more than useful gain from one of our closest challengers, but the onus will all be on them in one of the toughest games we have left. There should be absolutely no fear from Wilder’s men.

The manager is probably the calmest man in the place at the moment, on screen and radio at least. Wilder isn’t getting over excited or over hyping the situation which is probably what we all need right now. Inside, though, he must be swelling with pride at the job he and Alan Knill are doing and with the results that are putting him deeper and deeper into Northampton Town folklore.

Pride is most definitely the word at the moment. That, and, disbelief that this is happening to Northampton Town.

That team that you make self-deprecating jokes about…you know the ones: “Well someone has to support ‘em”.

That team you’re mocked about (Cobblers! Wobblers!)

That team that you feel will let you down at some point.

That team.

That team are on the brink of history. Hold on tight.

It goes on and on and on…

wilder.gif-470993There have been times in the past where I’ve run out of things to write on this blog because runs of form have been so desperate and games have just moulded into one week after week. Indeed two years ago when Chris Wilder took charge, Town were in a position six points adrift at the bottom of the Football League. His appointment seemed more like a preparation for the Conference than a bid to beat the drop, such was the shocking nature of our performances. There was no end in sight.

Two years later and I’m sat here with a bit of writer’s block for very different reasons. This time I’ve already used up all the superlatives, run out of times when I can say what an incredible run it’s been and how it’s a remarkable reversal from almost going out of business in November. Each victory is edging this incredible Cobblers team to new heights of history. You keep expecting the run to end, looking for edgy parts of a day that might bring us down to earth. But every test, as in the windy embers of Sixfields against the league’s bottom club York City on Saturday, is being brushed aside by a group of players that have become heroes this season.

There’s also an element of the season that’s making even the most pessimistic Town fans believe – goal line clearances from York chances, for example, came seconds before our goals on Saturday – that barring an absolute collapse the team that were within days of being torn apart earlier in the season could well be starting next season in League One.

So what more to say? Well, York can be praised for their efforts on Saturday for one – the difficult conditions affected both sides and they could well have come away with something on another day. I’m convinced that they’ll be OK in their own relegation scrap…both ends of the table are looking like having dramatic conclusions and there’s a heck of a lot of points to go for.

The next three games for the Cobblers could well be defining. Trips to Leyton Orient, buoyant under new player/manager Kevin Nolan and to promotion rivals Oxford United in the coming days will royally test our nerve before Wycombe come to town in ten days’ time.

The newly strengthened squad including the final piece in the puzzle in Luke Prosser, signed on loan on deadline day, means that we’re equipped to cope with anything that League Two has to throw at us for the rest of the season.

As the finish line slowly creeps up, there’s always going to be that element of being there to be shot down but after every examination we’ve battled through already this season there’s no sense at all that any set back would affect this squad.

Again, really weird to be so optimistic but seeing the Cobblers on top of a league is something I honestly thought I wouldn’t see for many, many years so we have to ride on the crest of this glorious wave.

Top…of…the…league!

Rod+McDonald+Northampton+Town+v+Birmingham+lXl6kUPquCRlIt’s happened. After weeks of three points being packed into our points bag, the Cobblers are top of League Two as this incredible form continues to show no sign of letting up thanks to a comfortable victory over a Morecambe side who showed little resistence after going a goal behind. This is fast becoming one of those seasons that goes down in folklore and with Town now eleven points clear of fourth spot even a horrible run of form at some point in the remaining nineteen games shouldn’t derail us enough to stop a promotion challenge by the time we get to the final furlong.

There really is something special about this group of players and they showed on Saturday a new side to themselves. Having been beaten at MK Dons on Tuesday in a replay that could have set us up against Chelsea, you’d forgive them for letting it play on their minds but instead it was a determined Cobblers side that took to the field looking to clear those cobwebs in the only way they know how.

The fifth win in a row and tenth in eleven league games looked all but wrapped up by half time thanks to James Collins sweeping home a second in two games since joining from Shrewsbury on the half hour mark and John-Joe O’Toole deflecting in Ricky Holmes’ cross shot. Collins was quiet for most of the game but he’s someone that can have an impact with one moment in a game and such was the case here. O’Toole’s renaissance season goes on meanwhile – who would have imagined that he’d be a shoe in for a starting berth week in, week out when he was being offered around back in August.

Another to completely turn around public opinion is Rod McDonald. At the start of the season, McDonald was being shown up for his rawness and inexperience but since coming in to cover injuries has forced Ryan Cresswell out of the side and offered that bit of pace at the back that was missing. His header at the back post sealed this win a few minutes after the break, showing another new threat to his game at the other end.

Morecambe pulled one back when the bustling Kevin Ellison forced the ball to break to Paul Mullin who finished well to put a few doubts in our minds but this Town side knows how to see out games and snuffed out any further chances.

With Plymouth and Bristol Rovers drawing at the Memorial Stadium, the result gives us this beauty of a picture…

TOP

We go into a couple of week’s break now with scheduled opponents Oxford involved in the FA Cup next weekend but the pressure is on Plymouth going into their game at home to Wycombe which will mean they will have played two games more than us by the time we host York in two weeks’ time.

That particular race for top spot is a huge bonus with the gap on fourth place the one to watch in the coming weeks. It really is mind blowing after the genuine thought that we were going to our last games watching the Cobblers in their current form back in November. Once again, as superlatives run out, we march on and on and on.

EIEIEIO…

 

The hour I first believed…

Ricky HolmesThere’s certain times in a successful season that you look back and point to as moments when you started to believe that it would be ‘our year’. In 1997, a run of high scoring home wins in January, including a couple in deep snow, in 2000 back to back 1-0 wins at far flung Carlisle and Darlington to rescue a flailing promotion bid and 2006’s win at London Road featuring that slip by Sean St. Ledger. If we’re looking back in May having secured promotion, this last week could well be reflected on as a similar milestone.

Winning at Plymouth last Tuesday night took the campaign to a level not seen by an entire generation of Cobblers fans. Saturday’s effort at Dagenham simply reinforced the feeling that even the most pessimistic Town supporters now must have – that belief is running through the entire club that this is a season like no other.

Gone are the injury time turn arounds, gone are the missed chances, gone are the unlucky bounces and the false dawns.  This squad has something very, very special and anyone that knows me knows that I don’t have this much optimism about the Cobblers easily! We’re brimming with confidence, playing some outstanding football and digging in when we need to. It’s a feeling of invincibility that has to end sometime but there’s every confidence that when the run does come to an end that it won’t last long enough to pull us away from the promotion hunt. After all we’ve been through as a club since the start of the season it’s just incredible.

Every player is doing their bit but having Ricky Holmes back is adding that bit of extra quality to an already blossoming squad. The way he’s taking his goals, the runs he’s making and the little touches that create space are making him the main man, however long he’s on the pitch for. It’s a big thing to proclaim but Holmes is having the type of influence that Martin Smith used to have and (whisper it quietly) may even have that little bit extra. Having the likes of Rico and James Collins ahead of him and the energy of the likes of Sam Hoskins, Lawson D’Ath, Nicky Adams and Alfie Potter alongside him it’s one of the most exciting front lines we’ve ever had. With Rod McDonald now coming into his own, Adam Smith pulling off his own miraculous stops and the back unit now as solid as they’ve been, it’s a team to be proud of and one that’s capturing the imagination of the town once more.

Added to the league form is the small matter of an enormous FA Cup replay at Milton Keynes on Tuesday night. Around 7,000 Town fans are travelling and with the carrot of a home game with Premier League champions Chelsea hanging in front of us, it’s got all the feel of the 2004 epic at Rotherham United. It’s obviously still a massive task but with a backing like that, it can be done.

Just as I run out of things to say when things are awful, the football is rubbish and the manager is clueless, it’s odd to be here thinking what more I can now say about the ridiculous form and performances of my team and the staff who have steered them to the edge of glory. The next few weeks will enable us to see things even clearer but it’s hard not to just sit and take it all in for now.

Bring on more of the same!

Christmas Bonus…

James CollinsSix points, a grip held on second place and a genuine powerhouse of a signing at League Two level – it’s not been a bad Christmas and New Year period for the Cobblers as the home defeat by Portsmouth that derailed the fine run of form was quickly forgotten about with two very different victories.

It’s a stark contrast to twelve months ago when Town headed into the 2015 on the back of five straight defeats. We were two points from the drop zone having collected just 24 points from 23 games. Fast forward twelve months and 2016 begins with us five points clear of fourth place with a game in hand and with more than double the amount of points on the board.

The victories that keep us in touch with leaders Plymouth Argyle and the chasing pack were a good indicator of where we’re at. Fellow promotion hopefuls Accrington were the better side at Sixfields a couple of days after Christmas but an out of sorts performance still ended with us nicking the win thanks to the reliability of the blossoming pairing of Ricky Holmes and Marc Richards, Rico heading in the only goal of a tight games.

Barnet were more straight forward opposition for once and when you brush past the Bees, a perennial bogey team of ours, you start getting the feeling that we’re going to be in with a huge chance of keeping up the pace with a group of sides that are showing no signs of blinking in this huge promotion race.

The fact that the ranks were boosted on Tuesday by a beast of a signing – Shrewsbury striker James Collins on loan until the end of the season – surely makes everyone else sit up and take notice. It’s s statement of intent that means that the attacking options are even more potent than ever. The exit of Dominic Calvert-Lewin would have been disappointing after the youngster made a good impression in his short time here but given that the focus is now on promotion the moves in and out make a lot of sense. Calvert-Lewin certainly has potential but it’s understandable that if someone like Collins becomes available you have to go for him.

Collins’ first involvement will be a top of the table clash at leaders Plymouth on Tuesday night but first comes a rare appearance in the FA Cup Third Round on Saturday. It’s been one of the most dramatic cup runs in recent times with the victory at Coventry drawing all the emotion possible from a travelling contingent that were genuinely believing that it could be the final ever away game for the club and then a remarkable turnaround against Northwich Victoria threw us into the hat.

It’s not the glamour tie it could have been at this stage but the appetite and desire of a squad chomping at every bit of opportunity that comes their way means that there’s a big opportunity for an upset and progression to a stage not reached since 2004.

It’s still ‘pinch me’ territory from where we were before that game at Coventry and whatever happens on Saturday and then on Tuesday, you have to be thankful for this completely opposite style of ‘worry’ we’re facing in the next few days.

As we settle in for this double header, let’s first check out the latest man to tie his flag to the mast of the good ship Cobbler…