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…


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.


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…



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.


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

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

Promotion Odds…



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.


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…



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.


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…



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.


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…



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.


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…



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.

Champions! So what now?

sky-bet-league-two-trophy-4x3528-2737037_478x359The title is won and Northampton Town are CHAMPIONS of League Two. Many of us never thought they would live to tell a tale of a championship winning Cobblers side but after a goalless draw at Exeter City we’ve done it and can spend a summer in the sun as a returning force to League One. Although the four draws in a row that sealed promotion and top spot weren’t a showcase of our collective powers, it really doesn’t matter with the joy that followed the final whistles at Sixfields last week and at St. James’ Park on Saturday overflowing across Town fans across the country.

Last night, the Cobblers did get back to winning ways and saw off Crawley Town in a homecoming fit for champions. Again it wasn’t a score line that blows anyone away but it was important to get back to winning ways and to keep this extraordinary unbeaten run going. The proud nature of Chris Wilder and this phenomenal group of players should mean that there’s still plenty to write home about in the final three games of the season. So here’s just a few things to keep us interested as those below us battle to join us in League One…

The 100 point dream

Last night’s victory over Crawley keeps alive the one final dream of this season – for the Cobblers to reach the magical 100 point mark. With nine points to play for, it’s tantalisingly poised with Town eight points away from reaching that particular target. Yeovil Town, Luton Town and Portsmouth stand in our way – Yeovil is certainly winnable with their safety now secure, Luton will bring with them a crowd baying for our blood that should lift the atmosphere on the day when we’ll lift the trophy whilst Portsmouth away on the final day will guarantee a party on the south coast. Pompey may still need points to secure a playoff place on that day as well so if we go into it with 98 points on the board it makes for a fascinating afternoon. First, though, to get there!

The battle for 2nd and 3rd

Just two points separate second and fifth in League Two with Accrington, Oxford, Plymouth and Bristol Rovers battling it out for the final two automatic promotion places. What a great position we’re in to be able to watch that fight unfold in the next couple of weeks and it’s a position we’ve truly earned. The fact that none of the four play each other in the final three games means it’s a case of who holds their nerve best in their own games and it’s becoming a titanic battle to avoid dropping into the end of season lottery. Speaking of which…

The Playoffs

One of the biggest reliefs about sealing promotion is that we’re not going to be involved in the playoffs. With two of the aforementioned sides guaranteed to be in that mix likely along with Portsmouth and a resurgent Wimbledon (who both still have a game in hand) it’s looking like one of the strongest line ups for League Two playoffs in years. Exciting games ahead!

The fringe

We saw glimpses last night of fringe players coming back in to attempt to persuade Chris Wilder that they have the nouse to stay in his plans for League One. The likes of Josh Lelan may be given a big chance to impress before the summer and maybe we’ll even see some younger talent pop up in the last three games.

The crowning of champions

Finally, the Luton game gives Cobblers fans the chance to herald their heroes at Sixfields one last time before the summer and we should be ready for a send-off like no other. It’s looking like we’ll lift the League Two trophy on that day and images from the end of that game will go into the annuls of history alongside the Wembley Heroes.

So there are just a few things to keep us interest in this remarkable season. It’s a chance to properly enjoy our football and enjoy our wonderful club before the summer.

Up the Cobblers!

Steady Progress…



All in all, the last few days have seen plenty to cheer and a little to raise concerns for the Cobblers but gaining a point at a current promotion rival and getting through a tough away game in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy to reach the Area Quarter Finals represents a very good return despite the pitfalls that came from both games.

The Wycombe fixture could easily have been won – Town were in decent control of the game a goal to the good at Adams Park but a ludicrous red card for Gregor Robertson waiting for a sub to be made set up what was the frantic finale resulting in the equaliser. We can’t obviously land all the blame on the referee – there was still a goal scored from a set piece that Chris Wilder won’t be too happy with – but the dismissal with five minutes to go was a real kick in the teeth.

That one felt like a defeat by the time 5 O’clock came around on Saturday but when you look at it off the back of the win at Morecambe a week earlier it represents a good little run, particularly after the third away game in a row at Portsmouth on Tuesday night.

Good news was again tied in with bad at Fratton Park with the Cobblers winning a competitive game 2-1 thanks to goals from David Moyo and Kaid Mohammed but Marc Richards pulling his hamstring, ruling him out for 4-6 weeks. There’s an argument that Rico shouldn’t have played in such a game as he returns from injury but I really don’t think you can lay the blame at the manager for wanting his top scorer back on the pitch.

Rico could easily have picked up the same injury in a league game or in training – it just so happened that it was in the JPT where we could have been excused for resting him. Fair play to Chris Wilder for getting him out there, though, and showing at least a little intent on winning through to within four games of Wembley (I can dream can’t I?!).

The other highlight was Alex Nicholls’ return to Cobblers competitive action. It seems like every time we mention Nicholls’ name it’s with the words “his first…” in front of the sentence. The player must just be happy with being back in action again and when all has settled we’ll hopefully have another huge asset on our hands. It wasn’t his night at Pompey with two good chances missed but he’ll surely find his feet again. That could be sooner rather than later with Rico’s injury.

Here’s the options for the Quarter Final draw to be made on Saturday: Cheltenham/Bristol City (play tonight), Leyton Orient, Gillingham, Coventry, Crawley, AFC Wimbledon or Plymouth. The old preference of “anyone at home” would do here I think, though a trip to Coventry would raise the profile of the game that’s probably one round ahead of the “We can actually win this” round.

Overall, then, good work from the Cobblers against two sides who are probably going to be up and around the promotion places in League Two and another huge battle is ahead on Saturday when third place Burton Albion visit a Sixfields Stadium celebrating fifteen years of existence. Speaking of which, the votes have been counted for your top moment of Sixfields’ history and you will be able to see the results in the upcoming ‘What A Load Of Cobblers’ fanzine or here on the blog early next week ahead of the official birthday on the 15th.

A solid “Keep it up” mark for term number one of the season…

Torquay United v Northampton Town: Match Preview

Torquay-Plainmoor_1149761Torquay United v Northampton Town

League Two

Saturday, January 18th 2014

It’s been a case all ‘all quiet on the western front’ this week barring a small video release from David Cardoza so we go into the absolutely crucial trip to Torquay United with still no idea who will be taking our football club forwards. Add to that the fact that one of the candidates for the job will be sitting in the home dugout and this is a very awkward game.

Torquay made their decision early to appoint Chris Hargreaves and he’s taken no time at all to lay his marker down, leading his new charges to a 2-0 win at AFC Wimbledon last weekend. Krystian Pearce put them in front before Jayden Stockley netted in his first game back at the club since re-joining on loan from Hargreaves’ former club Bournemouth.

Other results meant that it wasn’t quite enough to take the Gulls out of the bottom two but Hargreaves was delighted at the performance and result – one that took them four points clear of the Cobblers at the bottom of League Two. The well-loved former Town midfielder can’t afford any sentiment to get in his way and will smell blood as he prepares for his first home game in charge.

Andy King takes the Cobblers reins for the fifth time at Plainmoor with one win, one draw and two defeats behind him including the hugely disappointing 2-0 home reverse against York City last Saturday. He seems as much in the dark as everyone else is about how long he’ll be here for but continues to come in and make some sort of sense from the direst of situations.

The only thing that we can do, as fans, is turn up on the day and try to put everything aside for ninety minutes to support our football club. You may not like the lack of communication, the patched up squad and the fact that we’re bottom of the league but we need to be right behind everyone representing Northampton Town for the stuff that really matters – league points.

Harding - out injured

Harding – out injured

Team News…

Torquay completed a deal for former Bournemouth defender Shaun Cooper this week and he goes straight into the squad. The Gulls have no fresh injury concerns but former Cobblers midfielder Ben Harding is still unavailable due to a foot injury. Ashley Yeoman may play some part after returning from a loan spell at Bideford.

The Cobblers have another new loan signing set for a debut with Crawley defender James Hurst joining on loan on Friday. Hurst started his career at West Brom and then moved on to Portsmouth before joining Icelandic Premier League side IBV on loan. He returned to West Brom in 2010 but only made one first team appearance, spending a lot of time out on loan at Blackpool, Shrewsbury, Chesterfield and Birmingham. He returned to Iceland again in 2013 with Valur and signed for Crawley on a one year deal last summer. He joins the Cobblers having made eighteen appearances for Crawley so far this season and comes straight into contention for the trip to Plainmoor.

Elsewhere, Joe Widdowson comes back in for the Cobblers after recovering from a shoulder injury whilst Roy O’Donovan is also back in the squad after turning down a move to Dubai this week. Andy King will assess O’Donovan’s fitness, though, before making any decision to bring him back in. Chris Hackett is still missing and will be for another two to three weeks whilst Mathias Doumbe isn’t expected back into training until next week.

Previous Six Meetings…

24/08/13: Cobblers 1-2 Torquay (League Two)

Jacob Blyth gave the Cobblers a seemingly comfortable lead back in the game at Sixfields earlier this season but two goals from Jordan Chappell stunned us and completely turned the game around in the second half.

29/03/13: Cobblers 1-0 Torquay (League Two)

On a tense Good Friday evening at Sixfields the game was goalless until Roy O’ Donovan nicked in for an eighty fifth minute winner that kept up an ultimately unsuccessful bid for a place in the top three last season.

15/12/12: Torquay 1-1 Cobblers (League Two)

Former Cobblers loan striker Ryan Jarvis put the Gulls in front in the away fixture last season and it looked like we were on course for defeat until Kelvin Langmead hammered in one of his trademark last minute goals to earn Town a point.

28/01/12: Torquay 1-0 Cobblers (League Two)

Mark Ellis scored the only goal of the game in the last meeting between the sides back in January with his header fifteen minutes from time sealing three points for the Gulls.

10/09/11: Cobblers 0-0 Torquay (League Two)

Uneventful draw at Sixfields earlier that season saw both sides go home relatively happy with a point.

25/03/11: Cobblers 2-2 Torquay (League Two)

In a manic finale to this crucial game towards the end the 2010/11 season, Eunan O’Kane gave Torquay the lead early on before John Johnson levelled. Billy Kee netted a 90th minute goal to seemingly give the Gulls all three points but incredibly Guillem Bauza equalised again in stoppage time!

The man in the middle…

Michael Naylor is in charge of this one having last took a Cobblers game back in October when Rochdale scored two late goals to beat us 3-2 at Spotland. His last Torquay game was in March 2012 in a 2-2 draw with Bristol Rovers. He’s shown 45 yellow cards and only 1 red in 21 games.


It’s safe to say that I’m not the most optimistic of Cobblers fans at the moment. It feel like the spirit is being drained from us as each week brings more uncertainty. With Chris Hargreaves flying off the mark last weekend and the home fans bursting to welcome him it’s going to be a really tough afternoon for anyone of a Cobblers persuasion. It’s rare that I predict a defeat but unfortunately I see it coming on Saturday. 1-2.

From the opposition…

To read the thoughts of Torquay fan Christina Smart, click here!

Wembley 2013 – The Key Battles

wembley30_468x289The countdown is now down to just a couple of days so I thought it was time I started looking at the fact that a football match is the main focus of Saturday afternoon and not just a trip to Wembley! Aidy Boothroyd played both legs of the semi-final to perfection tactically but he’s going to have some big decisions to make in the lead up to the big day in terms of his starting eleven.

For what it’s worth, I think he may just stick with the same eleven that started the first leg at Sixfields against Cheltenham to allow for more attacking flair to match what will need to be another dogged defensive display. That team was as follows:

GK: Lee Nicholls

DEF: Tozer, Carlisle, Cameron, Collins

MID: Hackett, Harding, Guttridge, Demontagnac

ST: Akinfenwa, O’Donovan

I think the biggest locks for starting places are Nicholls, Hackett, Guttridge, Bayo and O’ Donovan. I would have said Clive Platt may feature if I’d have written this a few weeks ago but Bayo, if not on the goal scoring front, has signalled a return to form just at the right time and little Roy has shone over the past month.

Elsewhere I do think Ben Tozer will play because of his lethal weapon but with him it’s all about whether Aidy will prefer a five man midfield with O’Donovan moving back or whether John Johnson will be sacrificed at right back. I’m leaning toward the latter at the moment but there’s plenty of room for speculation (and to keep Bradford guessing!). Another argument would be Johnson in at right back and Tozer replacing Harding in the middle of the park but I would worry about the protection of the back four should that be the case.

Kelvin Langmead is one who you would never have imagined being considered for a place on the bench in the biggest match in many a year but the inspired form of Clarke Carlisle and Nathan Cameron in the semi-finals have given Boothroyd a good headache there. I say stick with Cameron and his pace with Langmead coming off the bench late on for one of his dramatic injury time winners! Based on what I think Aidy will do, then, here are some of the key battles that will likely take place on the hallowed turf of Wembley on Saturday afternoon…


cameronwells Nathan Cameron v Nahki Wells

As mentioned, before the playoffs you would have put Langmead in here without question but Cameron was outstanding in both legs of the playoffs. His pace is likely to win him the battle to get into the Town side because of the nippy and energetic Nahki Wells leading the threat of the Bantams’ attack. Wells has a good history against the Cobblers with a hat-trick in last seasons’ 3-1 win at Sixfields and the only goal of the game in both of the league meeting between the clubs this season.

The Bermudan forward is City’s top scorer with 21 goals and his form in the final should have a major hand in which way this game goes. Cameron was drafted into the Cobblers side towards the end of the season after cutting ties with Coventry City and after a shaky start helped the side to three clean sheets in a row. He will need to be alert for the entire ninety minutes – keeping Wells quiet could well prove key.


guttsjones Luke Guttridge v Gary Jones

After the 2-0 home defeat to York City that all but ended our automatic promotion hopes, every Town fan wanted Luke Guttridge back in the team to provide his energy, experience and craft in the middle of the pitch for the season’s run-in. We got just that and were unbeaten for the rest of the season with the midfielder striking a goal that will go down in Cobblers history at Whaddon Road in the playoff semi-final as well as scoring in the final league game of the season against Barnet.

Guttridge faces a big test at Wembley against the vastly experienced Gary Jones. Jones has been consistent in the Bantams side this season and was key to their push into the playoffs late in the campaign with his usual committed and hearty performances. This is likely to be a real battle in the middle of the park and I’m betting that both men cannot wait!


hackettmeredith Chris Hackett v James Meredith

Chris Hackett’s performance will be huge for us on Saturday and he comes up against one of the best left backs in League Two in James Meredith. Meredith has been another consistent performer for the Bantams since joining them in June of last year and has had an excellent first season in Bradford colours. He’s a full back that loves to get forward so it will be interesting to see if Hackett is able to cope as well when pushed back.

The Cobblers man has bags of pace and seems to have rediscovered his form of late, creating the Roy O’ Donovan goal in the first leg of the playoffs and terrorising the Cheltenham full backs all night. He had a quieter second leg but with a big pitch at Wembley to escape on to he will be desperate to really get at Meredith from the get go.


bayodavies Bayo Akinfenwa v Andrew Davies

Will Beast Mode be on at Wembley? We have to hope and pray that it is because Bayo has a stiff test ahead of him as he comes up against former Middlesbrough and Stoke City man Andrew Davies. The 6 foot 3 defender is rock solid and managed to keep Burton Albion’s star striker Calvin Zola under control in the playoff semi-final second leg having missed the first leg. Davies, then, will be confidant of keeping Bayo quiet too, though the man who could be playing in his final game for the Cobblers is out to banish the memories of his last playoff final appearance.

Akinfenwa was a part of the Swansea City team in 2006 who were beaten on penalties in the League One playoff final against Barnsley and missed a crucial spot kick in that shoot out. A lot may also depend on Bayo’s patience as the game wears on and if referee Keith Stroud takes the usual stance of giving free kicks against him for standing up. Both players have bags of experience and Bayo needs to keep it calm and do what he does against very strong opponent here.


aidyparkinson Aidy Boothroyd v Phil Parkinson

The main battle is between the two managers and that in itself is as intriguing as it comes at this level. Both men are in the process of rebuilding their respective reputations after tasting life at a much higher level earlier in their careers. Boothroyd took Watford into the Premier League in 2006 whilst Parkinson was, at the same time, taking charge of Hull City. After relegation for Boothroyd at the first attempt and a bad start for Parkinson at Hull, both found themselves in League One by 2009 – Boothroyd at Colchester United and Parkinson at Charlton, who were relegated from the Championship under his watch.

Since then, Aidy has spent time at Coventry City whilst Parkinson saw his Charlton side beaten by Swindon Town in the 2010 playoff semi-finals, eventually departing The Valley in January 2011. The paths of the two managers then brought them both into League Two by the end of 2011 and since then they have both been through a rigorous process of making their squads capable of first competing and then winning at this level. Both have created squads that are capable of escaping League Two at the right exit after coming so close to losing their places in the league just twelve month ago and both should be commended for the efforts of reaching Wembley just one year later.

Tactically, Boothroyd gets unfair criticism for his ‘long ball’ tactics but you would struggle to find many League Two sides playing flowing football I would suggest. His direct approach has worked and if it gets us over the line on Saturday I can’t see many of the 20,000+ Cobblers fans in attendance complaining! Parkinson has already helped Bradford to the League Cup final this season, of course, and that run saw some outstanding performances full of organisation and utter commitment to the cause. It’ll be a cracking head to head on the benches!

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!

Barnet down with a whimper as Cobblers set up Rubies tie

O' Donovan...another Cobblers goal

O’ Donovan…another Cobblers goal

Northampton Town 2-0 Barnet

League Two

Saturday, April 27th 2013

It’s become a staple to see a certain set of photos and videos at this time of the year. You know the ones – supporters up and down the land with heads in their hands, tears rolling down their painted faces, weeping into their fancy dress costumes and being consoled by their fellow fan. Indeed the Cobblers have made us into those very news items over the years, most recently at Elland Road where a hardy band of souls dug deep for one last time only to see their side surrender a place in League One at the death. We suffered together in that corner of the old stadium and hoped that we wouldn’t have any feelings like that again for a long, long time.

So when Barnet came to town on Saturday looking for the victory that would ensure a fourth consecutive last day escape from the drop to the Conference you would have expected similar images all over the place when they failed to pick up anything and realised that, due to AFC Wimbledon’s 2-1 win over Fleetwood Town, this time they were down.

But what transpired was less emotional out and more physical pour out – pouring out of the gates that is, just as the Bees players came over for their consolatory greetings. The mood in the visitor’s end reflected what had just gone on in front of them. The hearty fight to the death never materialised. There was to be no more heroics, no more saviours and no more death defying and unthinkable victories that would save them this time. In fact, Barnet were relegated with a whimper and you have to feel for those supporters who appeared to have given up the ghost as soon as the second Town goal went in.

I wish them luck. It’s not easy to be relegated and particularly to the Conference where more and more it feels like a resting place for former league clubs, all battling to reclaim past glories. I don’t want to start glorifying a relegation that must have hurt so many people and would rather now focus on the brighter side of the day, that of the Cobblers’ winning end to the league campaign and what is now building up to be an exciting time with playoff tickets selling like hot cakes on the first day of release.

Town took a long, long time to get going and the first half was a bit of a haze. It felt very much like Barnet were waiting for something to happen at Kingsmeadow before making their first move. There were no scores on any doors up until the break but as soon as the whistle went for the start of the second it seemed like something clicked and you could tell that panic and realisation had finally set in with the Barnet faithful.

Just past the hour mark, word filtered through that Wimbledon had taken the lead through Gary Alexander’s header. Soon after, the Cobblers took the lead as Roy O’Donovan raced onto a through ball to coolly slot the ball into the corner of Graham Stack’s net. Home fans celebrated but there was a brief bit of hope for those to our right as Andy Mangan had equalised for Fleetwood against Wimbledon and Barnet were suddenly safe again.

Almost as quickly, though, their hopes were obliterated as Town took a 2-0 lead through a well taken Luke Guttridge shot from a fine Bayo Akinfenwa hold up and pass whilst Wimbledon won a penalty at Kingsmeadow and Jack Midson converted to seal the fate of our opposition and his former club.

Bayo had replaced David Moyo in attack in the second half and it was this change, as well as the terrific work rate and doggedness of Luke Guttridge that helped us to do our bit and at least clinch sixth place. Bayo has work to do to get back into form but his touches and all round play signals a return to form. Guttridge’s recall has arguably been one of the key elements of Town bouncing back from the home defeat to York City and giving us hope that the playoff campaign could actually end in glory.

For that to happen, we’ll need to get past a team that have done the league double over us this season in Cheltenham Town. The Rubies’ draw with Bradford City means that they dropped to fifth thanks to Burton’s good home win over champions Gillingham and they will now provide the opposition for what will be a tense and enthralling couple of games with a trip to Wembley the ultimate prize.

They’ve demonstrated in both of those victories over us that they can be resilient (coming from two down to win 3-2 at Sixfields) and determined (edging the Cobblers out 1-0 at Whaddon Road) and it’s going to be need a huge effort for us to end up walking down Wembley Way for the first time in fifteen years.

The thought of that sends shivers down spines and with tickets selling fast (only 230 Cobblers tickets for the away leg out of 1500 remain at the end of Sunday) we’re sure to have a massive backing. Thursday sees us host the first leg, another sell out for sure, whilst the return leg is at Whaddon Road on Sunday evening.

Until then, I hope you all have a good few days…from past experience the waiting is the hardest part for the playoff games and this should be no different. Get right behind the team for this and we could be etching more names into the history books to go alongside the likes of Atkins, Woody, Clarkson, Frain, Razor, Sammo, Rennie, Parrish, Hunter, Gayle, Lee, Larry, Deano Peer and Jason White White White.

Bring on the playoffs!!

Looking on the bright side

Boothroyd...plotting a promotion run-in

Boothroyd…plotting a promotion run-in

Scouring the Interweb forums, articles and endless predictions (including my own of course) I’ve realised that we all seem to have got into a state of panic over the last few days. I’ve fallen into the trap myself as third place in League Two slipped away from us last night. But should we really be this anxious?

With four games of the league season to go, Northampton Town are FOURTH in League Two. I believe many of us said at the start of the season that a playoff place would be a good return after the last couple of seasons of almost falling into the abyss of non-league football. We are four games away from the end of this roller coaster ride that has seen us claw our way into contention for not just that but a genuine chance at the top three.

Should Town overcome York City at Sixfields on Saturday and both Exeter and Chesterfield both lose, we will be guaranteed a playoff place with three games still to play. It would also set up the trip to Wycombe on Tuesday night in style and mean that even in the worst case scenario we would know that a win would definitely put us back into the automatic promotion places.

It’s certainly not going to be easy with York fighting for their lives and other teams coming to the fore but let’s try to embrace these moments and be thankful that this team have brought us to this point over the last few months. This is arguably the hardest part, to seal the deal, and we need to be fully behind our own team first and foremost rather than panicking about others.

If the Cobblers win four games of football then we’ll be a League One club. If not, then we can look at how we may get there with less. If it’s the playoffs, so be it. We may struggle against the likes of Rotherham United, Cheltenham Town, Bradford City or Burton Albion over two legs but then again what better carrot on a stick than a potential trip to Wembley being two games away?

And even if it all does go to pot, we are very likely indeed to be in the mix and have a shot, have a chance at promotion. That’s a huge credit to Aidy Boothroyd and his players. So enjoy the drama, enjoy the blood, sweat and tears that these four games are going to bring. It’s all a part of a journey that we thought would be a great achievement when we were making our predictions back in August.

Get right behind the team in the run-in. I’ll be screaming at my laptop from the other side of the world but will be back in time for the Barnet game – one where we should be celebrating an achievement of some kind. Let’s make it the best one possible!

Cobblers clinging on despite defeat

Cheltenham Town 1-0 Northampton Town

League Two

Monday, April 1st 2013

The dream scenario that could have come from this first six pointer of the run-in was unfortunately a step too far on Monday afternoon as the Cobblers were beaten by the narrowest of margins. There was such a thin line between the standings as they are now and how they would have looked had Town nicked an equaliser but as it was we came home with nothing and are left trying to build ourselves back up for another difficult trip to Bradford on Saturday afternoon.

Incredibly we still ended the day in the top three thanks to a late, late goal from Accrington’s James Beattie that earned his side a draw against Burton Albion who were looking set to leap back into third place as their game entered stoppage time. But as the run in is narrowed to five games, the Cobblers desperately need to find form on the road ahead of some tricky trips if we are to be celebrating more than a playoff place in a few weeks’ time.

Fleetwood and Southend’s draw early in the day meant that we are looking ever more likely to finish at least in the top seven, something of an achievement in itself after the last couple of seasons battling the drop, but Cheltenham managed to ensure that they stayed on course for the bigger prize by dragging us to within a couple of goals’ difference.

The first half was innocuous enough right up until the last two minutes. The Cobblers were holding out well and were looking like heading into the break on level terms thanks to reducing the home side to long range efforts for the majority of the half. But Aidy Boothroyd’s team talk was changed when Steve Elliot followed up a parry from Lee Nicholls to slot the Rubies in front.

Goals around the rest of League Two were tipping the scales of the promotion race this way and that but whatever happened elsewhere it could have been a massive moment had we found the leveller after half-time. Town came out with more purpose and Bayo Akinfenwa headed over before Chris Hackett hit a rocket from range that the home keeper did well to tip away for a corner.

There was to be no late show this time from Boothroyd’s men though and it was then all about checking the other results. Burton were 3-2 up right up until the last seconds of injury time at Accrington but former England striker Beattie scrambled in what could be a game changing goal to mean that the Brewers dropped two points. The psychological effects of that could be lasting and they will need to find something extra when they visit Port Vale on Friday night.

By the time we go to Bradford we will know what at least two of our rivals have done but the main thing about Saturday is that we need three points away from home more than ever. If we can nick it at Valley Parade it would set up a home game against York City nicely and suddenly there could be a chance of not only confirming a playoff place but of making the automatic promotion dream a big possibility.

This one wasn’t the end of the world if we can dig deep and pull something out of the bag in Yorkshire in a few days’ time. The drama goes on…

Perfect Ten for Cobblers!

O' Donovan...winner

O’ Donovan…winner

Northampton Town 1-0 Torquay United

League Two

Friday, March 29th 2013

I forgot how special and emotional these promotion pushes can be. Sat in a pool side restaurant here in Peru, five hours behind English time and with the sun beaming down it would be easy to feel detachment from the Cobblers’ Good Friday encounter with Torquay United. But as soon as the game started and I found relevant connection to stream commentary I was right back in and it was as if I’d never left the shores of England, for a couple of hours at least.

This was set to be a big one, with any sort of victory set to propel us into the top three in League Two. It reminded me a lot of Ian Taylor’s solitary goal in a 1-0 win over the Gulls during the promotion season of 2006. On that occasion, Colin Calderwood was masterminding a campaign of success thanks to many victories of that kind and it seems Aidy Boothroyd has the same formula. On that occasion, Town won the game to go second in the table despite a backdrop of ridiculous booing of the Scottish Cobblers boss up until Taylor’s goal. This was a similar outcome but there’s no chance of Boothroyd receiving such negativity from the stands.

Instead, he’s slowly rebuilding a reputation and whether you like him or not, with six games to play he is at the helm of a side well in the running for automatic promotion. Despite much of the usual optimism at the start of the season I don’t think any of us would have expected to see that sentence being written back in August.

Torquay gave as good as they got by all accounts and were desperately unlucky not to have been given the chance to take the lead in the second half thanks to what seems like a stone wall penalty missed by the officials.

It’s this sort of luck that’s helped us along the way in recent weeks with last minute goals, stubborn defensive displays and a home record to savour creating the perfect mix for the run in. This was no different as Town notched the only goal of the game through Roy O’ Donovan’s strike five minutes from time, creating a roar not heard at Sixfields for a very long time.

The visitors left wondering how they had failed to take home at least a point from a game that they were always in but in terms of a relegation battle they should be pretty comfortable based on this showing.

With six games to play this promotion race is becoming ever more real and the game at Cheltenham Town on Monday afternoon is a six pointer in every sense of the word. The Cobblers sit three points clear of the Rubies with a game in hand so any sort of result there would be a big step towards keeping them at arm’s length. It’s that, and the other three of four away games that are likely to shape whether it’s automatic promotion or a place in the playoffs come the end of April.

The fact that we’re talking of the playoffs as a genuine option now and a possible worst case scenario is amazing. If we can keep our nerve away from home and continue this astonishing run at Sixfields then the roar heard today – epicentre at Upton Way with ripples reaching around the globe – is just the beginning.

Burton Albion…it’s your move next…