The record goes but the spirit remains…

jjotThe Cobblers’ long 31 game unbeaten record may have been put to the sword a couple of weeks ago at Chesterfield but what was evident during the following glamour tie with Manchester United, in the 4-0 hammering of Southend United and at Swindon last night is that the spirit that took them to that point is still very much alive and well.

Rob Page continues to mould a team that’s organised, together and able to play in a number of different ways, all equalling a start to the season that none of us could have honestly predicted back in August.

Last night at the County Ground, Town needed to come at the game differently and did just that by producing one of the most composed performances of the season so far. Pressure had to be soaked up, individual duals had to be won and chances had to be taken when they came around. All three tests were passed with flying colours and the first league win of the season was brilliantly acheived.

Town were set up to soak up the possession based style brought in by Swindon boss Luke Williams over the last few months and had to endure long periods of the Robins having the ball, quickly picking them off and breaking whenever we had the chance. The first of these moments came when Paul Anderson was given the ball on the left and he produced a sublime piece of skill to beat his man, cut in and cross for Harry Beautyman – a reported summer target for Swindon – to tap home early on.

That gave us a platform to build on and the home side had to come out and it left gaps in their line up to exploit. For the most part, though, Town had plenty of defending to do and Jonathon Obika forced Adam Smith into his first bit of work of the evening before a scramble of epic proportions saw Smith make a fine double save and then the Cobblers defence blocked a couple of rebounds that looked destined to nestle into the net.

Obika had another chance just before the break but fired over the bar when sent through on goal and it seemed like the luck was with us with a much needed half-time whistle to settle the nerves and give us a chance to recuperate.

There was more of the same to come, though, and it was no real surprise when the Robins equalised on the hour mark when substitute Sean Murray fired home from distance. It seemed that we would be hanging on for a point until Page changed things up with Kenji Gorre and JJ Hooper summoned from the bench. Fair play to the Cobblers boss for making positive changes and not just shutting up shop and trying to hold out for a point…it would end up working superbly in his favour.

There was fifteen minutes to go when we won a corner on the right and Matty Taylor produced a trademark set piece that John-Joe O’Toole met with a majestic header to send the 400 or so travelling support wild. It was out of the blue but encapsulated the heart of this Cobblers side. O’Toole’s cult status is rising by the week and that it was he who nodded in made it that bit more special.

A dangerous looking Swindon free kick came and went just a couple of minutes later and it was the Cobblers who sealed the win thanks to a fantastic breakaway goal. There may well have been a foul in the build-up on the half way line but you have to play to the whistle and Hooper did exactly that, picking the ball up, running with it and sending in a cross that Alex Revell dummied for Gorre to meet with a controlled finish that put the cherry on top of a terrific battling performance.

Gorre is growing in confidence and needed that goal more than most in this Cobblers side – there’s definitely a raw talent in there and the end product will hopefully come. Page probably did the best thing in taking him out of the immediate firing line of the starting eleven and his place as an impact substitute could be just what he needs right now.

All in all a perfect away performance from the Cobblers and we’re now, incredibly, up to fourth in League One. The ten game marker has been laid down and a record of four wins, five draws and just that one defeat is a magnificent return. We’ve responded to the first league defeat of 2016 in style and it sets us up for a very interesting autumn.

There’s still nothing in League One that I’ve seen to worry us and Page seems to have retained some of the best qualities of last season’s championship winning squad even though some of the key personnel moved on.

We’re only just getting started and Northampton Town are still riding this ridiculous wave of positivity. League One, you have been warned…

stfc

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Identity coming through for Page’s Cobblers

revellAfter a collection of draws that clouded the view of the opening month of this season, the Cobblers are up and running and suddenly the questions that were asked about this new look squad are being answered with back to back home wins that give us a bit of space to breath. Rob Page has begun to stamp his identity on the squad and the results are a hardworking, resilient and gutsy outfit that could well start to make League One stand up and take notice.

The spotlight has well and truly been on the club ever since the League Cup win over West Bromwich Albion and the subsequent draw that saw us paired with some jokers from Old Trafford. The televised game against MK Dons shone the spotlight further ahead of that tie but, more importantly in the long term, gave us a platform on the pitch that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Storming into that three goal lead against Milton Keynes was as unexpected as it was desperately needed with a formerly reserved Town side coming to life. It stunned the visitors and the season was ignited with an ease that made you wonder what all the fuss was about from the end of the transfer window when just one deadline day deal made us collectively mop our brows for the coming months. Nerves were jangling and a sense of “Here we go” crept in when Dons made it 3-1 too easily before the break but I thought we managed the game superbly in the second half and Samir Curruthers’ late strike for 3-2 didn’t do too much damage to morale as that first win of the season was gratefully tied up.

After that came a much needed week of rest – it had been a relentless opening month of games every few days – and Page would have been delighted to get a full midweek to gather his thoughts ahead of Saturday’s encounter with Walsall, where the good work was continued.

The Saddlers were surprisingly toothless after a 2015/16 season that saw them come so close to automatic promotion. Town came out of the blocks with confidence once again and Matty Taylor’s second goal in two games was almost a carbon copy of the one he provided for Alex Revell six days earlier. A few missed chances later, though, and we were left with worries of the early season form that saw us throw away 1-0 leads three times.

This time, though, lessons were learned and the second half saw the Cobblers become the more likely to add to the score and when Scott Laird handled ten minutes from time, Revell was clinical from the spot and that was well and truly that for another huge three points that came about much more comfortably than it could have done.

Revell is the man of the moment and his energy has been absolutely remarkable for a thirty three year old who was thought of as more of a provider of goals when he came in during the summer. He certainly is that but he’s also a warrior that epitomises what Page is trying to do here. Not since the likes of Neil Grayson and Scott McGleish have I seen someone leading the line with this much desire and will to win and that is extremely high praise. Revell is someone who Cobblers fans will quickly grow to love – he’ll get people off their seats, not for particular skill or turn of pace but for the effort and heart he puts in to each and every game.

It’s starting to rub off on the rest of the team as well – Lewin Nyatanga has taken his chance in the absence of Gabriel Zakuani whilst Jak McCourt is doing plenty of unnoticed work in midfield, keeping out player of the year John-Joe O’Toole who was available after suspension yesterday. Matty Taylor could also be set to become this seasons’ Ian Taylor in the veteran midfield role.

All in all we’re really starting to fire and now the challenge is consistency and to take this swashbuckling type of performance on the road with the trip to Chesterfield next week another big test of the now 31 game unbeaten league run (we can start to count these games now we’re winning rather than drawing!)

Rob Page has quietly gone about his job but many more results and performances like these two and the Cobblers may yet start to make a lot more noise in League One than any of us had imagined.

Up and running!

Alex RevellNorthampton Town 1-1 Fleetwood Town

It’s generally agreed that a draw on opening day is an acceptable start to most seasons so, while the Cobblers’ result against Fleetwood Town at the big kick off wasn’t the perfect beginning, the 2016/17 campaign is up and running in promising fashion. Rob Page needed a result and a performance to match and his new side, boosted by plenty of solid debuts, gave him just that despite a late wilting in the traditional heat of the first day of the season.

Bigger tests than this will follow in the coming weeks, not least the trip to Charlton Athletic next weekend, but Page would have been encouraged by an outing that started with the Cobblers completely on top in the first half and fully deserving of a half time lead given to Town through a combination of Alex Revell’s shot, the post and the back of goalkeeper Chris Neal’s head.

Marc Richards, starting up front with new boy Revell, and Kenji Gorre both had good chances to double the lead and the fact that we didn’t put ourselves in a more commanding position by the break will be one of the only disappointments taken from the game by Page and his enthusiastic and committed team.

Credit to Fleetwood, though, who took advantage of the Cobblers’ rustiness in front of goal to claw their way right back into the game thanks to Victor Nirennold’s header just after half-time. The Frenchman, in his second year in English football following a move from Miami in 2015, got on the end of Bobby Grant’s cross to nod in the leveller and his first goal for the Cod Army.

The game petered out a little as it went on with both sides tiring and both would have been reasonably happy to come away with a point.

The promising debuts of Gabriel Zakuani, a step ahead of our central defensive options from last season, and Matty Taylor, who showed glimpses of real quality with some fine passes and crosses, gives us reason for optimism for the potentially tough season ahead. The worry that Page may have is the strength of the bench which could still do with some tweaking with so many games coming up in the next few months. Page has suggested that there could well be a couple of new additions by the time the transfer window closes with Barnsley defender Lewin Nyatanga a rumoured target to further bolster the back line.

The attacking sphere would also benefit from another pair of legs. While Revell and Rico are old hats at this level, a younger striker who knows where the back of the net is would be massively useful.

We’re off and running, though, and after waiting months for the proper football to return, we’re now thrown into a hefty fixture list that sees us play five more times – starting with the tough trip to Championship Barnsley in the League Cup on Tuesday night – before the end of August.

The claret boots are under the League One table…it’s pretty comfy here!

The first chinks of light

Alex RevellIt’s been a pretty slow, concerning pre-season so far truth be told with the Cobblers squad being slowly chipped away at and poor old Rob Page trying to appease the situation with hopeful interviews and calming messages. So it was with a bit of relief that Page’s latest test, a friendly against QPR that in other pre-seasons wouldn’t have come under half as much scrutiny, was somewhat overcome thanks to a solid rear guard showing and a well taken goal from one of his new recruits.

It’s always a bit of a funny period in the build up to the big kick off but if we’re going to despair in the 4-2 defeat to Brackley then surely we should herald the merits of a draw with a decent Championship side. At the same time, if we don’t care too much that we shipped four goals on Saturday, we shouldn’t be getting overly excited by a strong defensive showing on Tuesday.

Either way you look at it, the QPR performance was an improvement and two new signings – at each end of the pitch – look decent acquisitions based on the feedback so far. Gabriel Zakuani has settled well at the back and Alex Revell continued a decent run in front of goal with an eye catching finish in front of the home crowd for the first time.

In the middle of the park, 17-year-old Shaun McWilliams provides a hope for a piece of home grown talent in the build up to the season. Having signed his first professional deal in May, McWilliams is now fully involved and by all accounts didn’t look out of place on Tuesday night. If his development kicks on it’ll be a massive bonus in a season when every place in the squad counts.

There are still questions on attacking intent with the obvious Ricky Holmes shaped hole just begging to be filled. Anyone looking for a direct replacement in terms of flair, creativity and style will likely be disappointed but if Page can pull a rabbit out of the hat in the form of a winger even close to Holmes’ ability then the first eleven will start to look more than capable of holding their own.

Port Vale’s player of the year Anthony Grant is the only target officially rotating around the Cobblers rumour mill as things stand with the midfielder the subject of an offer from his former boss that was described by Vale chairman Norman Smurthwaite as one that wouldn’t fuel his car for a year. Until we know what kind of motor Smurthwaite rolls around Burslem with we won’t know the true value of our offer but the point is that it was far beneath what Vale would require.

There’s surely plenty bubbling along under the surface but credit to Page for not rushing out and signing any old Tom, Dick or Harry just to appease the impatient among us (myself included!).

On the pitch, Tuesday night was a welcome relief and hopefully now that we’re well into the pre-season campaign some of the niggles will begin to iron out.

The final furlong – two weeks to go until the season starts – is upon us this weekend!

Ten years down!

stock-photo-25724593-number-ten-10-chocolate-birthday-cakeA couple of days late this may be but this here blog has just passed its TENTH ANNIVERSARY!

In the absence of the ability to share cake and party hats with you all, instead I’ll celebrate by bringing you a retrospective of sorts with some hopes and dreams for the future of Northampton Town Football Club for the next ten years.

We head into 2016/17 going back into League One off the back of a majestic promotion winning season, one of scintillating football at times, battling qualities at others and uncertainties about the very future of the club at extreme. But the summer has begun in not so celebratory mood with the departures of a highly rated manager and a star player amongst others. As I started this blog ahead of the 2006/07 season things looked pretty similar, barring the title win and off the pitch shenanigans, with promotion followed by Colin Calderwood leaving for Nottingham Forest and Martin Smith leaving a giant football genius shaped hole in the Sixfields turf. John Gorman was brought in to steady the ship but ended up leaving by December with Stuart Gray picking up the reins and the form to steer us to mid-table.

So what’s changed in the ensuing ten years since I first put fingers to keys in an attempt to chronicle the fortunes of my beloved Cobblers? On paper, not a lot – we’re back where we started, about to make an assault on League One with uncertainties abound over what the squad will look like. Away from the simple league placing, though, this club has certainly been through the ringer – takeovers, dodgy owners, seven full time managers, many flirtations with our very existence (through league position and incompetence at the top) and Leon Constantine.

My favourite Cobblers related moment of those ten years? Without a doubt, THAT night at Anfield. How a group of League Two players could not just go to one of the most famous arenas in the world and come away victorious but also look like they completely belong alongside full internationals still gives me goose bumps. I’ve never had a feeling at a football match quite like that night and the fact that a true Cobblers legend like Sammo could lead us through it as manager just made it that bit sweeter.

There have, of course, been numerous moments that would attempt to make us all forget that incredible night but what you learn in following your team across the country is that any collection of disappointments become completely worth it once something historical happens once in a while.

‘Off the pitch’ so to speak, I was just coming out of university when this blog began. Ten years later I’m a husband, a father to two and as much of a Cobbler in exile as I was all those years ago, albeit now living in beautiful Somerset. Has being distant in miles made me distant in thought? Never. Has it meant that I can’t get to as many games as I’d like to? Of course. But what many who follow the Cobblers (or any team for that matter) from afar will tell you, you feel every kick, header, booking, tackle, goal and moment just as hard as if you were live watching your heroes do their thing.

I’d be lying if I said I haven’t thought of stopping the blog a few times over the last few months. Ten would be a nice number to end on, a nice chronology in a neat package to look back on. But something about that thought niggled away at me. What if something extraordinary happens again? What if the Cobblers (unlikely as it may be) propel themselves up the leagues? What if indeed we ended up going the other way? And all of that with only my brain to rely on? I don’t think I could justify it to myself. What I love about having this is occasionally being able to look back on how I felt during certain matches or time periods and I’m not quite ready to stop trying to put words to this crazy journey of ours.

The blogs may be getting more sparse and there are others around the great Interweb who can likely give much more of an up to the minute account of proceedings but while I’m still able to and while I’m not getting comments telling me to quietly disappear into cyber space, I want to keep this going.

So where do Northampton Town go from here?

There’s plenty of work to be done in the close season. Ricky Holmes has by no measure been replaced and we arguably need an additional winger to give us confidence at League One level. Defensively I still don’t feel 100% comfortable and another younger striker would be nice. That’s the short term, though, and it’s vital that we at least stay up this season.

From there it’s a case of establishing ourselves outside the basement division as a club that players want to come to and a place where young talent wants to stay rather than being linked to supposed ‘bigger’ sides. We must get issues with Sixfields sorted, a proper East Stand back in place and a long term plan for not just surviving but for taking ourselves to the next level.

Of course, football is never that easy and I could end up being back here in ten more years in exactly the same place again. But however it works out, we’ll enjoy the moments, the joy, the laughter and the tears together. I love every one of you who continues to read this blog and thank you for your thoughts, comments and support over the years.

Onwards to another ten!

Papering over the cracks as Town return!

Ricky HolmesIt’s been a summer of uncertainty for The Cobblers so far – one that started just days after the final whistle was blown and the last bus on the celebration parade turned off its engine. Chris Wilder’s departure can only, at this point, be seen as the catalyst for what’s been a concerning pattern of key players deciding that their own futures also lay elsewhere.

Ricky Holmes was always going to be the most high profile negotiator and once the mercurial winger had put his cards on the table and handed in a transfer request there was no stopping him making the move to Charlton Athletic. Coming after Danny Rose joined Portsmouth and Nicky Adams also dropped back to League Two with Carlisle United, it meant that three big components of the team spirit forged by the outgoing Wilder gave Rob Page his first headaches since joining the club.

You have to feel sympathy for the tough job that Page now faces so soon after making a leap of faith by leaving relative comfort at Port Vale for Sixfields. But the rebuilding has begun and while new signings haven’t been ‘household names’ there’s plenty of reasoning behind each new addition that means we should have a great shout of at least a season of consolidation back in League One.

Alex Revell, while never a 20-goal-a-season striker, brings huge experience and knowhow of this level and beyond while Gabriel Zakuani will do the same at the other end of the pitch. Admittedly I don’t know a lot about Jak McCourt or Raheem Hanley – both in their early twenties – but both appear to be squad players who’ll look to give competition to the established first team that are left of the championship winning side.

David Cornell rounds off the summer incomings so far with the keeper joining from Oldham Athletic. Ryan Clarke’s departure was perhaps the least damaging to Page’s plans and the instant swoop for Cornell tidied that problem up pretty quickly. He’ll need to do a lot to dislodge Adam Smith of course, a man who gives us hope (as long as he stays) that our rear guard will be in good shape come the start of festivities in August.

The season will kick off against Fleetwood Town at Sixfields on August 6 and without meaning any disrespect to the Cod Army you couldn’t have asked for much better a start to the season than a home game against a side who just survived the drop last season. It remains to be seen where each side will be at come that day but it should be an opener to at least give us a bit of hope for a positive start to what could be a challenging season. Looking down the fixtures list makes you realise just how big a step up this could be but with the right replacements for Holmes, Adams and the like there’s no reason why we can’t compete.

The holes that remain, from what I can see, is a rough and ready central midfield leader who’ll ruffle feathers in the middle of the park and compete with John-Joe and Joel Byrom, a couple of high quality wingers and a younger striker with a proven record of goal getting at this level. The latter is something that, of course, every League One side will be looking for but could well be the difference of a few league places. Rico and Revell will knock in a good number but both may struggle to complete the full season.

There’s still plenty of time to form the team that will hopefully establish the Cobblers back as a competitive force in League One and the contracts up and down the country that end today should mean a bit more movement in the transfer market. Watch this space, and keep that faith!

Page unveiled as the new man for Cobblers

523390419TM00005_PORT_VALE_The usual time scale for naming a new manager – particularly at the end of a season and before playoffs are complete – is pretty lengthy and drawn out but Kelvin Thomas and the Cobblers have worked fast to get their man as Port Vale’s Rob Page was unveiled this afternoon at a Sixfields news conference. It was clear from the start of the process last week that Thomas had some ideas in mind as to the type of profile he wants for the new boss and Page is likely to have been one of the candidates identified early on.

He’s by no means a high profile appointment but after plenty of recent appointments before Chris Wilder that have flattered to deceive in terms of coming with a load of hype and expectation it’s maybe for the best that we’ve gone for a young manager who has already done a decent job at League One level. Vale was Page’s first managerial position and having led them to safety in his first few months in charge at Vale Park, it’s notable that he helped them to defy last season’s relegation odds (Vale were second favourites for the drop at the start of the campaign) to finish in the top half of the table.

To me, that’s a key point of the whole appointment. He’s worked on limited resources to stabilise Vale and has worked above and beyond the goals that would have been set for him a year ago. Though his experience as a manager isn’t as vast as many on the list, he’s preferable to me to the likes of Gary Bowyer for his knowledge of the division both as a player and during his couple of years as a manager. He’s proved to be a good communicator and man manager and obviously has motivational skills to get players to play above their potential – particularly the likes of JJ Hooper who the Cobblers released in 2014 but reappeared for the Valiants with goals and performances of some maturity this season.

Vale fans were disappointed at the news of Page leaving too, which is a pretty good indicator, though some of their reasons for why he shouldn’t choose Northampton are questionable to say the least!

The appointment is early enough now for the Cobblers to move on and Page will have the entire summer to prepare for life in League One with his new charges. The key tasks will be retaining the likes of Adam Smith, Ricky Holmes and John-Joe O’Toole and dipping into his contact book to bring in the right players that won’t disrupt the team spirit of a club that went through every emotion possible together this season.

With all of this in mind, here are a couple of key points from this afternoon’s press conference where Page was formerly announced as the new Cobblers boss..

Kelvin Thomas welcomes his man…

Thomas welcomed Page to the club and emphasised his delight at bringing in an “outstanding young manager” who is “energetic,  young and ambitious.” He was looking for a manager to come in and continue the work done by Chris Wilder and Alan Knill.

John Harbin joins as Performance Coach…

Joining Page at the club is Performance Coach John Harbin who has a background in Rugby League and football and has previously held similar posts at Oldham, Crystal Palace, Charlton, Coventry, QPR, Swansea, Plymouth and with Page at Port Vale.

Further announcements to come…

More backroom staff appointments will be made “in due course” with the assistant manager position still open at the time of writing. Rumours of Marc Richards agreeing to become a player/assistant are rife but that’s yet to be confirmed.

The first words…

Page was immediately interviewed by Sky Sports News this afternoon and gave a steady, confident interview and emphasised the need to manage expectations. He mentioned that he’s not met the players because they’ve already gone off on their holidays but is already looking forward to pre-season. Page acknowledged Chris Wilder’s work and said that he’s spoken to the former Town boss, who was hugely complimentary about the squad.

He also gave his first Cobblers Player interview and said it was a “no brainer” to join the Cobblers after speaking with Kelvin Thomas, who he seems to credit a lot to in terms of the decision to leave Vale Park for Sixfields. He again praised the efforts of the players last season and expressed it as a “great opportunity” to work with them.

Overall, Page seems in a very calm mood on his first day in the job.

Let the new era officially begin!