After the lord mayor’s show come crucial questions…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…

Smith the hero again as solid Town hold on

Hoskins...match winner

Hoskins…match winner

Northampton Town 1-0 Oxford United

When the Cobblers signed Adam Smith after his acrimonious departure from Leicester City this summer, many, including myself, expected him to be playing back up fellow Sixfields bound stopper Ryan Clarke. But after impressive showings in pre-season, the rebuilding job he’s doing with his young career has well and truly rocketed off the ground. Smith is making all the early running in the Player of the Year award and after another superb showing on Saturday in a hugely needed 1-0 win over Oxford United you get the feeling that we’ve got a bit of a gem on our hands.

A penalty save with the Cobblers 1-0 up, but down to ten men thanks to Jason Taylor’s red card for an off the ball incident, was the highlight of the game for Smith but there were plenty of commanding moments including rushing out to block at strikers’ feet, quick reflex saves and a confidence that was lacking behind the back four last season.

Town needed a win like this to lift a crowd that was baying for answers to takeover questions and though the planned demonstration inside and outside of the ground had some effect it was peaceful enough that by the time Sam Hoskins grabbed his own big moment – glancing in his first league goal having come in for Alfie Potter – the focus was on unity and getting back on track.

Hoskins has been on the brink of a start and after last weekend’s disjointed team showing against Dagenham and Redbridge his energy and craft was a clever addition. The attacker is another of Wilder’s summer signings that’s been pretty consistent when he’s played and there’s no reason why he can’t be forcing his way into the reckoning on a permanent basis.

At the other end a strong backline was needed and the short term reinforcements of right back Darnell Furlong – seen playing Premier League football a few months ago – and centre back Shaun Brisley from Peterborough gave a more solid look to the defensive line that had to be strong in the face of a 10v11 second half.

That being said, Oxford appeared not to want to take the game to us and would have been disappointed that once Danny Hylton had the spot kick, awarded for Taylor indiscretion, saved beautifully by Smith just before half time they didn’t create enough to merit a point on a ground at which they blew us away last season.

It was a proper grind of a result and performance but the unity shown throughout was of complete contrast to a week ago when all involved trudged off to analyse where we went next.

That’s still the big question this week with the ‘due diligence’ period coming to an end for the takeover and if there’s still no noises coming from Sixfields in the next few days then the off field murmurs will creep back.

The ground work has been done, though, to ensure that the Cobblers are doing just enough to keep in touch with the rest of the division while the biggest saga at the club in years hopefully comes to an end.

We wait with baited breath…

Season stalling as injuries really kick in…   

Wilder...preparing for old club's visit

Wilder…preparing for old club’s visit

It’s increasingly frustrating as a football fan and in particular as a Cobblers fan when your team threatens to hit new heights, fires on every cylinder possible but then are suddenly halted and early dreams fade away even before the first leaves of Autumn hit the deck. Mid-table obscurity, at the end of the day, isn’t such a bad thing after last season’s brush with relegation but the twitches appear because we’re no longer the underdog and know full well that there’s a good side in there somewhere.

Saturday’s defeat at Cheltenham Town made it back to back league defeats for Chris Wilder ahead of his date with former club Oxford United on Tuesday night and a few things need to change if he’s to come through another big Sixfields night unscathed. What’s stopping us at the moment is the combination that comes when injuries severely throw the plans for a starting eleven.

There’s something very wrong when we get situations like this one – players are pulling up in training, getting injured in warm ups and constantly suffering setbacks en route to recoveries. We almost have a full starting eleven that’s been out of the side for a good amount of time and finding any sort of consistency in those circumstances is nigh on impossible.

So it came to pass that Town were beaten at Whaddon Road despite a couple of glimpses that we might just scrape something from the game. It’s that closeness that makes it that bit more difficult to analyse. If we were losing 5 or 6-0 every week we’d clearly know what was going wrong but with narrow defeats it means Wilder would be even more tempted to make minor tweaks to arrest certain problems.

I can’t name most of the eleven that will turn out against Oxford and they’ll visit with a spring in their step from winning a big game at the weekend against Tranmere Rovers. They’ll also likely play up to stop us from getting any foot hold in the game as well as trying to pry on our weaknesses from set plays.

Saturday’s goals were mainly products of needless free kicks given away and not enough urgency or organisation of the back five. We cannot keep relying on the attacking options at our disposal to keep us a step ahead of the opposition because most sides in this division will know how to frustrate and force free kicks and corners that they know they can threaten with.

At the very top we’re clearly missing Marc Richards’ presence and experience. Alex Nicholls is still working his way back and Ivan Toney is still a bit hit and miss as he grows into his boots more and more. There’s a chance that Emile Sinclair may be back soon to carry some of the burden and to insert a bit of experience in that’s lacking since Rico’s injury.

There’s plenty of nerves starting to build around the club ahead of two games that just about count as derbies. The Luton away fixture is going to ignite a red hot atmosphere on Saturday so we really have to get it right on Tuesday night to avoid going to Kenilworth Road with any added pressure.

It’s cranking up and we have to cling on, step up and rise to this latest challenge.

The Town Are Staying Up!


Northampton Town 3-1 Oxford United

League Two

Saturday, May 3rd 2014

Ten minutes have been played at Sixfields and my head’s already in my hands – all the pre-match nerves have turned into disbelief and terror. The Cobblers are a goal behind to Oxford United and Wycombe have taken the lead at Torquay. As it stands, Town are relegated and will be playing their trade in the Skrill Premier next season. What I feel is panic and helplessness. For the first time it actually feels real and like fate has played its final card.

Ivan Toney suddenly races through on goal and rounds visiting keeper Ryan Clarke. His shot rolls in slow motion towards goal but turns onto the post at the last second. Even this early in the most pivotal of afternoons since 1993 it’s looking like everything is conspiring against us. We’ve started nervously despite an earth moving atmosphere inside the ground that greeted the sides at 3pm. Oxford have seemingly come to haunt Chris Wilder and are looking more confident on the ball than us. I try comprehending what it all means when there’s a sudden incident that changes everything.

Ryan Williams, the U’s goal scorer, lashes out at Ricky Ravenhill off the ball and referee Mr Duncan produces one of the most well received red cards in the near twenty year history of Sixfields. A twist back in our favour but still plenty to be done.

The noise levels rose as we latched on to the hope that was dragging us to the point of believing once again and there was a glorious reward on the half hour mark when John Marquis found space and fired us level with a low shot into the corner of Clarke’s goal. Game on, season on, survival well and truly on!

It would only get better and better from there and as the U’s were still trying to adjust there was another moment for Toney to add to his collection when he rose to meet an excellent cross from Evan Horwood to head in his third goal in two games. Sixfields erupted and from then on the game and the tide of the relegation battle was only going one way.

Mathias Doumbe replaced Gregor Robertson at half-time as Wilder tweaked his formation and the increasingly popular defender who sealed the victory just a few minutes after the restart when he directed a header into the net from a Chris Hackett corner from the right hand side. Now it really was party time and the relief around three sides of the ground could probably be heard miles away.

Oxford had started mentally preparing themselves for their holidays and offered little going forwards which played right into our hands. We needed to do nothing more but could easily have added a fourth when a second substitute, Emile Sinclair, got on the end of a nice ball from Ian Morris but saw his shot cleared off the line at the death.

By this point Wycombe were 3-0 up and Bristol Rovers were the ones in trouble after falling behind at home to Mansfield. For Town it was all about seeing their own game out as they did last weekend at Dagenham. With every passing minute came a greater realisation that we’d done it – from seven points behind the pace at one point to survival on the final day it had been a hell of a journey.

Before the game I was a little critical of ‘celebrating’ the moment should we stay up but with the utter relief on the full time whistle it was hard to not get engrossed in the feeling that the Cobblers had pulled something major off from such a shocking position earlier in the season. It’s true that we were let down badly by some in the first half of the season but those who came in and those who improved deserved their moment to take in a job well done.

Finishing in 21st place is nothing to shout from the rooftops about but the sheer determination, passion and restored pride that’s come from the efforts of the last three months or so is something to be proud of. We’ve got our football club back and helped to save them at the death once more.

A lot of the players who finished this match may not be around come August but the ever outstanding Cobblers support will be. If ever the fans deserved to win the Player of the Year award then this was it – the turn outs on the road and the backing particularly over the last six games make you proud to be a Northampton Town fan. It’s not been an easy season and at times it’s seemed inevitable that we’d be playing non-league football in the 2014/15 campaign. But thank you to every single one of you who kept going and helped to rescue my football club.

That goes to Chris Wilder and his staff too – an unenviable job has been complete and now comes a summer which is likely to see huge changes around the club. Not only will Sixfields begin its reconstruction but there are plenty of players out of contract. Wilder will have an idea of who he wants to bring in to add to a core group that have served him well since February and the side that starts the first game of the season (IN LEAGUE TWO!!) will be a lot different to the one that finished this one.

The inquest can now begin and we need to reflect on which cracks from the end of the Boothroyd era were simply papered over and which were built on and vastly improved. With the likes of Lewis Hornby and Alex Nicholls hopefully coming through pre-season there’s a good core of a squad in place should we tie up the right contracts. Wilder’s form in the transfer window has proven trustworthy and I look forward to the rumour mill kicking off almost immediately.

For now, though, everyone breathe, smile, enjoy the summer and please, please no-one say the dreaded words…

“We’ll never be in this position again”

Northampton Town v Oxford United: Match Preview


Northampton Town v Oxford United

League Two

Saturday, May 3rd 2014

One game of football sits between the Cobblers and what looked like the most unlikely of survivals even as recently as three or four weeks ago. A startling 3-0 home defeat by Bury had left us in a perilous position three points from safety with just six games left to turn things around. Three wins from the following five games later, though, and we’re staring safety right in the face.

We all know the permutations – Town need just one solitary point from the meeting with Chris Wilder’s old side Oxford United to guarantee League Two football again for another season. Wycombe Wanderers must beat relegated Torquay at Plainmoor to stand any chance of saving themselves and despite it all being in our hands it’s almost guaranteed that radios will be glued to ears and social media will be constantly being refreshed should Oxford silence a sold out Sixfields by taking a lead.

The last week has been spent picturing every scenario under the sun – an Ivan Toney thirty yarder in the last second to save the day, a 5-0 trouncing of Oxford to really go out in style, a gritty and heart churning draw…I’m sure you’ve all been having dreams and nightmares of similar outcomes.

The only thing that we can do is place our trust one more time in the eleven men charged with taking us over the line. We’ve got to the point now where if the worst does happen then it’ll be that bit harder to take but with momentum with us and spirit in the camp arguably the highest they’ve been since Wilder’s arrival there’s confidence in the air.

Wilder’s January jump to Sixfields was one of the big talking points of the League Two season and as soon as it was confirmed the Oxford support was talking all about the implications of this meeting on the final day of the season. The U’s, at that point, were sixth in the division and just four points from the top. They had a comfortable seven point gap between themselves and the sides outside the playoff places and chances were high that Wilder’s old side could not only relegate his new one but confirm a promotion or a playoff place at the same time.

Nineteen games later and fortunes for both sides have dramatically changed. The Cobblers, six points from safety and bottom of the table on Wilder’s appointment, are now within a point of guaranteeing league football again next season whilst Oxford have dropped to eighth and are seven points away from a playoff place that was completely lost after a 2-1 home defeat to Accrington Stanley last weekend.

That run of form for both sides doesn’t make the nerves any easier though … it’s difficult to comprehend that we’re down to one game to decide it all. After this one there are no more ifs, buts or maybes, no more fixtures to look at and plot a route out of trouble and no more chances to redeem a bad performance.

This is it…

Team News…

The Cobblers have no new injury worries ahead of the game with the only injuries being the long term casualties Lee Collins, Alex Nicholls and Lewis Hornby. Joe Widdowson’s ankle problem is also keeping him out once again but apart from that Town could line up in a similar way to how they did in last week’s win at Dagenham.

Oxford boss Gary Waddock may take the chance to blood a couple of the younger members of his squad with no chance of making the playoffs and a virtual guarantee that they will finish in eighth place.

Previous Six Meetings…

12/10/13: Oxford 2-0 Cobblers (League Two)

Oxford moved up to third in League Two with this victory against the Cobblers back in October. James Constable put the U’s in front just before half-time and the lead was doubled just a minute later when Constable was brought down in the area and Danny Rose converted the spot kick.

23/03/13: Cobblers 1-0 Oxford (League Two)

This was a crucial win for the Cobblers towards the end of last season as Ben Harding’s goal on the stroke of half-time kept up the tremendous run of form at Sixfields that was to be the main reason for reaching the playoffs.

24/11/12: Oxford 2-1 Cobblers (League Two)

James Constable put the U’s in front on fifteen minutes at the Kassam Stadium. Clive Platt looked to have earned a point for the Cobblers but Jon-Paul Pittman struck back again for the home side moments later with the crucial deciding goal. To compound our misery, Clarke Carlisle was sent off in the final minute of the game.

06/04/12: Cobbler s 2-1 Oxford (League Two)

A cracking Good Friday match under the Sixfields lights saw Luke Guttridge score inside the first minute to give the Cobblers the lead. Christian Montano equalised before Neal Kitson saved his second penalty in as many games to keep us in it. Right at the death, Brett Williams chased down what looked like a lost cause, cut inside and curled in one of the most important goals of the season to earn a simply massive three points on the way to Football League safety.

17/12/11: Oxford 2-0 Cobblers (League Two)

This was my wedding day so I barely knew we were playing this match until my best man reminded me with a sneaky score update during dinner. Those that were concentrating saw Town comfortably beaten thanks to goals from Tom Craddock and Deane Smalley.

22/01/11: Cobblers 2-1 Oxford (League Two)

Andy Holt gave the Cobblers the lead at Sixfields going into half-time but Tom Craddock pulled things level two minutes after the break. Leon McKenzie sealed a big win, though, by putting in the winner with a quarter of the game to go.

23/10/10: Oxford 3-1 Cobblers (League Two)

Alfie Potter scored early on in this one but Leon McKenzie equalised on fifteen minutes. Josh Payne would give the U’s the lead back right on the stroke of half-time and when John Johnson was sent off for a foul in the area on ninety minutes, Tom Craddock stepped up to seal the victory for the hosts.

The man in the middle…

The referee who will hopefully remain quiet and not become a figure of folklore is Scott Duncan who has shown four red cards in his last five games. Duncan last took charge of the Cobblers in a 2-0 home win over AFC Wimbledon in September 2012.


Do I dare predict how this is going? Go on then…I’ve been keeping faith for a long time and the ‘R’ word has never been something I’ve really accepted and I’m not changing now. It’s not likely to be a clear passage to safety but I think we’ll get what we need. 1-1.


As mentioned yesterday there’s a group of Cobblers fans making the journey to Sixfields via a couple of pit stops in town…for all the details check out the chat I had with Jake Moore here or see his blog at

The man himself, Pat Gavin is going to be in attendance and presented to the Cobblers fans before the game!

Wilder appointed!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A note for Andy King…

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

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

The assistant…welcome Alan Knill

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

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


Kassam blues again for Cobblers

kassam stadiumOxford United 2-0 Northampton Town

League Two

Saturday, October 12th 2013

Josh Low collects the ball inside the Oxford penalty area, brings it down and produces one of the calmest goals of the season over the flagging Billy Turley. Amidst a sea of claret and a noise not heard in an away end containing Cobblers fans for quite some time, the delicate finish seemed almost poetic. Low’s goal made it 3-0 on the day to a rampant and upward surging Town side who went on to clinch promotion to League One the following week. Thousands of Cobblers fans had made the journey to the Kassam Stadium and all went home delirious in the knowledge that we were a win away from promotion.

It’s becoming almost a tradition to lose at the Kassam Stadium since that glorious day in 2006 and since Oxford returned to the Football League. The memories of what was a pivotal day in our last promotion season are memories that will be with anyone who was there every time they enter the home of the U’s. But, now, the teams are at opposite ends of League Two and after Saturday’s reverse it’s now four defeats in a row to Oxford on their ground.

The U’s are, of course, big hitters in League Two this season and a loss at the Kassam will get lost in the shuffle if we can bookend it with a home win over Dagenham and Redbridge next weekend. The corner is not turned full yet despite the success at AFC Wimbledon and in terms of competing with the best that League Two has to offer we’re miles away.

The qualms about having a good enough squad together from the start of the season still wrangle with Cobblers fans and on this evidence there’s not a lot of argument against Aidy Boothroyd needing to dip into the loan or free transfer system to dig out a striker again. Roy O’Donovan does his utmost to dig it out for the team but unless he’s working off a big target man he won’t be effective.

Another early sign that this may not be our day was the replacement of injured left-back Joe Widdowson with not-a-left-back-on-any-day-of-the-week Ben Tozer. Against a different side he may have survived but to Oxford it would have been like a red rag to a bull. Chris Hackett being out injured didn’t help either and the Cobblers were in trouble before a ball was even kicked.

To the side’s credit, though, they did hold out well and looked dangerous intermittently with Darren Carter and Kevin Amankwaah going close. But a minute from the break it all started to go wrong and, as is usually the case in away defeats, it was two goals in quick succession that ended our hopes for the afternoon. First, James Constable got on the end of a flick on from big Dave Kitson and finished well to give his side the lead. If that wasn’t bad enough, almost straight from the kick off the home side were given a dubious penalty through Tozer’s trip to the goal scorer.

Danny Rose stepped up and converted for 2-0 and it was always going to be a long, long way back for a Cobblers side low on confidence when they go behind.

Ivan Toney boosted the forward line by replacing Lee Collins at half-time but his couple of efforts did little to come close to getting us back in the game. It was a case of the hosts knowing that they’d done enough and Town left with yet another Kassam Stadium defeat to add to a long line of them that’s starting to build up disturbingly.

It leaves us still stuck in the bottom two, though I feel a lot more confident of escape than I did a few weeks ago. We’ve had a disaster of a start but there is still plenty of time to turn things around even before Christmas and if we can find another ball retainer up front from the midst of football’s outcasts then there can be hope at least if nothing else.

Let’s just try and avoid Oxford away in the FA Cup shall we?

Oxford United v Northampton Town: Match Preview

kassam stadiumOxford United v Northampton Town

League Two

Saturday, October 10th 2013

We’ve had a good week to be buoyant over a rare away win last Saturday with the victory at AFC Wimbledon coming at just the right time. It gets no easier, though, as we prepare to make the trip to Oxford United on Saturday. The U’s have been one of the early pace setters in League Two, though that’s been mainly based on performances on the road with form at the Kassam Stadium holding them back slightly from the coat tails of the league leaders.

This type of form has been exemplified in recent weeks with the U’s losing out by a single goal to fellow high flyers Chesterfield at the Kassam Stadium before hitting back with a 3-1 win away at Hartlepool and then stuttering again on their own turf by losing 2-0 to Southend United. Another home reverse, this time in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, on Tuesday night against Portsmouth means that they come into the game looking to give their own supporters something to shout about.

The Cobblers have shored up a shaky defence and are coming into the game off the back of two clean sheets in a row thanks to a new and developing partnership between Paul Reid and Mathias Doumbe. They should be back in place at the heart of the back line on Saturday but the problems for Town lie further up the pitch and particularly up front.

A game against a side struggling for form at home usually brings about a turn in fortunes for them when the Cobblers come to Town (see Bristol Rovers last season and many more before!) so fingers crossed for that pattern to stop and for us to pick something up from this one. Anything at all gained from what is one of the hardest games of the season so far would keep this momentum going.


Platt...still missing

Platt…still missing

Team News…

Oxford could be boosted by the return of captain Jake Wright who has been recovering from surgery on an abscess for the last four weeks. Michael Raynes has been deputising and recent performances could leave Chis Wilder with a welcome headache in terms of team selection for the visit of the Cobblers. Also returning to action is midfielder Andy Whing – he’s been suspended for the last three games following a sending off in the defeat to Chesterfield in September.

The Cobblers are still without Clive Platt whilst Jacob Blyth went back to Leicester last week. Roy O’Donovan has added to the striker crisis as he is only 50/50 for the game with an ankle injury. That’s also the case for former Oxford man Chris Hackett who is suffering with a groin injury and could miss out.


Previous Six Meetings…

23/03/13: Cobblers 1-0 Oxford (League Two)

This was a crucial win for the Cobblers towards the end of last season as Ben Harding’s goal on the stroke of half-time kept up the tremendous run of form at Sixfields that was to be the main reason for reaching the playoffs.

24/11/12: Oxford 2-1 Cobblers (League Two)

James Constable put the U’s in front on fifteen minutes in our last meeting at the Kassam Stadium. Clive Platt looked to have earned a point for the Cobblers but Jon-Paul Pittman struck back again for the home side moments later with the crucial deciding goal. To compound our misery, Clarke Carlisle was sent off in the final minute of the game.

06/04/12: Cobbler s 2-1 Oxford (League Two)

A cracking Good Friday match under the Sixfields lights saw Luke Guttridge score inside the first minute to give the Cobblers the lead. Christian Montano equalised before Neal Kitson saved his second penalty in as many games to keep us in it. Right at the death, Brett Williams chased down what looked like a lost cause, cut inside and curled in one of the most important goals of the season to earn a simply massive three points on the way to Football League safety.

17/12/11: Oxford 2-0 Cobblers (League Two)

This was my wedding day so I barely knew we were playing this match until my best man reminded me with a sneaky score update during dinner. Those that were concentrating saw Town comfortably beaten thanks to goals from Tom Craddock and Deane Smalley.

22/01/11: Cobblers 2-1 Oxford (League Two)

Andy Holt gave the Cobblers the lead at Sixfields going into half-time but Tom Craddock pulled things level two minutes after the break. Leon McKenzie sealed a big win, though, by putting in the winner with a quarter of the game to go.

23/10/10: Oxford 3-1 Cobblers (League Two)

Alfie Potter scored early on in this one but Leon McKenzie equalised on fifteen minutes. Josh Payne would give the U’s the lead back right on the stroke of half-time and when John Johnson was sent off for a foul in the area on ninety minutes, Tom Craddock stepped up to seal the victory for the hosts.


The man in the middle…

When you automatically shudder when you find out who the referee is you know you’re in trouble! This week, we reacquaint ourselves with Darren Deadman who takes charge at the Kassam Stadium. His last Cobblers game was the 2-1 win at Aldershot Town last season. More recently, he was the official for Oxford’s 1-0 win at Dagenham and Redbridge in April. He’s shown 28 yellow cards and one red so far this season.



The recent boost in form doesn’t do an awful lot for my ambitions for getting a result at Oxford…their poor form at home makes me think it’s going to turn for them against the one team you want to play when you’re on a bad run! I’ll have to go for an ambitious shut out draw. 0-0


From the Opposition…find out the thoughts of Oxford United blogger Scott Walkinshaw by following this link!

Fan Feature: Oxford United

oxfordThis weekend sees the Cobblers attempt to build on a morale boosting away win at AFC Wimbledon as we make the shortest trip of our season. The Kassam Stadium hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for Town over the last few years barring that fantastic day in 2006 when we took a giant leap towards promotion with a 3-1 win at the home of the U’s. The stadium hasn’t been kind to our hosts this season, though, with away form the backbone of their early success.

I’m joined for this week’s Fan Feature by Scott Walkinshaw from the excellent Oxford United blog Oxblogger and he gives his thoughts on the positive start to the season for his club and their early home struggles…

After missing out on the playoffs last season, Chris Wilder has rebuilt his Oxford side and has them already battling it out at the top end of League Two. A thumping 4-1 win at Portsmouth on the opening day sent a message to the rest of the division and set their own standards for what has been a positive opening. The U’s are unbeaten away from home but at the Kassam Stadium they haven’t won since overcoming Bury in their first home game of the season with two draws and two defeats since.

“In simple terms,” Scott says, “we’ve got a very low shots to goals ratio, we don’t miss many, but we don’t shoot much either. When we’re away from home teams tend to come at us and we have more space to attack on the break. At home teams sit back and we don’t seem to have the guile to break them down. We really need to make count the few chances we create and more often than not recently, we don’t.”

“On top of that is a growing psychological barrier; a fear that we simply can’t win at home. We’ve had bad runs before and you get to a point where you can’t imagine winning ever again. That seems to be with us at home at the moment. The Kassam Stadium is still not a comfortable home for us, there’s a sense that something about it is conspiring against us. People talk about teams upping their game at the Kassam. I don’t really buy that, but it must be an easy place to come and play. The pitch is great, the facilities are nice, and the open end of the stadium means the atmosphere can drain away so it’s not too intimidating.”

“The Firoz Kassam years were full of failure, perhaps playing in a stadium bearing his name, given the woeful legacy it carries, puts us on the back foot before we’ve stepped on the pitch. If you can knock our confidence, we can be pretty fragile. Away from home, we don’t seem to have these constraints.”

The good form has come from hard work in pre-season, according to our U’s expert, with a summer clear out followed by some tough work on the training ground. Scott says,

We had a big clear out in the summer which has made a big difference. Many of those let go, such as Michael Duberry and Peter Leven, had their moments, but they weren’t fit for much of last year. We got dragged down waiting for all these players to get fit and find form, it never really came. We didn’t put the same team out from one week to another.”

“This year we have a much more robust side and the close season focussed a lot on building fitness. That seems to be offering a bit more stability. We have a core squad of players capable of playing most of the season.”

“In addition, the club have made a commitment to developing young players. Although we haven’t seen many coming through to the first team, the long term view is welcomed by most. It feels like we’ve got a cause to get behind; a plan for the future, which has brought people back together after a fairly fractious season last year.”

wilderChris Wilder, who played one game on loan with the Cobblers in 1998 during his playing career, is now the third longest serving manager in England having joined Oxford in 2008. Whilst that says a lot about the quick fire nature of managerial jobs in the country at the moment it’s admirable that the club has stuck by the man who has led them back into the Football League. Scott says that taking the focus off the man in charge has been key:

It’s pretty ridiculous that he is the third longest serving manager given that he’s been with us for less than 5 years. Part of the key is that he brought us back to the Football League, which has bought him a lot of time with the fans. Also, our owner Ian Lenagan, I think, has been very astute in focussing on stable growth, of which keeping Chris Wilder is undoubtedly part. Lenagan’s also moved us away from the manager being the focus of all our success or failure, so if there’s a problem at the club, we don’t default to sacrificing the manager.”

“So, for example, when it came to light that we’d been signing players without putting them through medicals – meaning they’d look good on paper but they’d spend loads of time in the treatment room. The answer wasn’t fire the manager, it was to invest in a more robust sports science function.”

“That’s not to say Wilder’s untouchable. Many fans have doubts in his ability to take us further. It was a surprise when he was kept on at the end of the season, and it’s quite conceivable that failure to make the play-offs this year will see him moving on at the end of the year. Personally, I hope he does stay and succeed, I quite like the idea that our club has the maturity to retain the 3rd longest serving manager in the league.”

So what of the overall expectations for this season? After missing out on the playoffs by just four points last time out, going a few places better seems to be the general feeling. Scott explains,

“I think we’ll probably end up between 6th-8th. Chesterfield look favourites, despite their recent results. Exeter, Fleetwood and Scunthorpe all look capable of sustaining a challenge. You wouldn’t rule out Portsmouth and Southend despite slow starts. That said, Chesterfield and, at the other end, Accrington aside, pretty much everyone looks capable of going up or down. I can’t quite get to grips with where we’re at. It’s not exactly normal to win 72% of your points away from home.”

In terms of the Cobblers, it appears that Oxford fans have a bit of time for us with some shared links and history. Scott looks back on some famous players who have donned both Oxford and Cobblers shirts over the years whilst celebrating one of our more recently departed heroes.

“I think there’s quite a lot of affection for Northampton,” he says, “We have quite a lot of shared history – Martin Aldridge, Ian Atkins, Andy Woodman – so that helps. You’re near enough to make the away game a good one, far enough away to make sure the rivalry doesn’t get too bitter. I think everyone enjoyed the snow and the orange ball from last season’s game at Sixfields and you’d have to be dead not to have enjoyed the phenomena that is Ade Akinfenwa. Plus, I think you have a really nice kit.”

Finally, a prediction for Saturday’s game?

“If you get an early goal, the doubts may consume us. But, we’re not a bad team at all and it’s hard to believe that we’ll lose a 4th home game on the trot. You don’t seem to have had a great start, so I’m thinking that we’re looking at an extremely uncomfortable (for us) narrow home win.”

Oxford United Links…

Official website:

Stadium Guide:



BBC Website:




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