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…*

NTFC Season In Review 2011/12: November

Johnson…November exit

November would be a month of more disasters on the pitch but some relief off it as we were finally separated from Gary Johnson’s regime. It wasn’t to be a happy divorce with the two games that preceded Johnson’s exit epitomising his eight month reign at Sixfields.

The first was an all-out attacking set up at Gillingham which, to be fair, the Cobblers were actually unfortunate to lose at the death following a stirring fight back. The Gills, though, tore us apart early on with Frank Nouble making a mockery of Ben Tozer at right back and terrorising him for most of the game. That led to Jo Kuffour scoring a first half hat-trick. In between times, Saido Berahino pulled one back for the Cobblers but there was still a mountain to climb in the second half. Kelvin Langmead shot us back into contention though and Berahino rammed in a first time effort from a free kick to pull things back to 3-3 before a massive turning point. Bayo Akinfenwa was clean through on his old stomping ground and had headlines in his sights but pulled his shot over the bar. Inevitably, the Gills went on to snatch it with a second penalty of the game which Danny Kedwell converted.

Johnson was on borrowed time and going into the FA Cup First Round clash with Conference side Luton Town you got the feeling that it was do or die. And so it was that Adam Watkins’ eightieth minute goal was the one that ended Johnson’s time at the club, knocking us out of the cup with a whimper. Rumours were flying around from the minute the game ended up until Monday morning when the announcement came that the manager was gone.

The outgoing boss then appeared in the national media saying, basically, that it was the fans’ fault that he was sacked with our high expectations and all! After the way he left the club it wasn’t the best way to make peace with some members of the claret faithful, some of whom had stuck with him over the previous months.

Anyway, onwards and upwards and a home game with Shrewsbury Town was next up with Johnson’s assistants Dave Lee and Andy Holt taking temporary charge. With my stag do on the agenda for that weekend I thought it a good idea to invite a group of mates up to Northampton to take in a game before hitting the glorious lights of Northampton’s bars. On that day and night I was dressed in a huge white beard (during the match), a Father Ted outfit and as Supergirl but none of that was anywhere near as embarrassing as watching the Cobblers surrender to a 7-2 hammering at home. I’d rather not relive that match again so here’s a photo of me in a beard instead…

It's Beard-face'

Dave Lee was duly sent on his way and Tim Flowers would have a go at being in the hot seat for the big trip to fellow strugglers Plymouth Argyle the following weekend. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, Argyle – at this point the league’s bottom club – smacked in four goals in the first half through Simon Walton, Nick Chadwick, Will Atkinson and Ashley Hemmings. Yet another unmitigated disaster with Bayo’s goal in stoppage time barely registering with those brave souls who had made the journey to Home Park.

So four defeats, a cup exit, three managers and sixteen goals conceded. November 2011 could well go down on record as the worst month in Cobblers history and boy did we need something to turn the season around. Luckily, December would see us find an answer and although it wasn’t with immediate effect we would at least have some stability by the time Big Ben took us into 2012…

Highlight of the month: Gary Johnson’s departure.

Lowlight of the month: Every single match in the month had its own!

Player of the month: The long suffering Cobblers fans