Ten games that got us to Wembley

WembleyLooking back on the season that’s taken us from a League Cup win over Championship title winners Cardiff City all the way to Wembley Stadium for the playoff final, there’s plenty of key moments that make you wonder what would have happened had we not got the result, had the odd goal gone the other way or had Kelvin Langmead not been around!

So here’s my look back on ten games that went a long way in getting us all excited about our trip to the national stadium this Saturday…

18/09/12: Dagenham and Redbridge 0-1 Cobblers

The first of very few away wins this season but a vitally important one that saw the Cobblers climb to brink of the top seven. It was a cold September evening in Dagenham but one which Town edged by the single goal, a thumping header from Bayo Akinfenwa in the second half. This was the third season in a row that we had come away from Dagenham with a 1-0 win under our belts.

Nicholls...horror injury

Nicholls…horror injury

27/10/12: Cobblers 2-0 Port Vale

The incident involving Alex Nicholls will forever overshadow the result in this match with the striker, hot off some terrific early season form in his first season in claret, clattered by Vale defender John McCombe who saw red for the challenge just as Nicholls put the ball into an empty net for the opening goal of the game. Some visiting fans royally let their club down by screaming obscenities at Nicholls as he lay on the ground in agony and even as he was being wheeled away into an ambulance that had to drive onto the Sixfields pitch. That moment seemed to spark Nicholls’ team mates, though, and Louis Moult sealed a fine win with the second goal from good hold up play by Bayo.

10/11/12: Accrington Stanley 2-4 Cobblers

A superb hat-trick from Bayo lifted the Cobblers into the top half of the table. After an early header from a Joe Widdowson cross by the big man, George Miller had Stanley level. Rommy Boco made it 2-1 to the hosts but mid-way through the second half the game completely turned on its head when substitute Jake Robinson equalised before Bayo took complete control, scoring twice in the last twenty minutes (the last a thumping header) to seal a big away win for Town.

22/01/13: Aldershot Town 1-2 Cobblers

As the only game on a snowy January evening, this was a big chance that was nicely taken by Town to jump into the top three of League Two. Dani Lopez put Aldershot in front but goals from Chris Hackett (from the spot) and Clarke Carlisle before the break put Aidy Boothroyd’s men in front. It was a major victory, it being the fourth win in five after a great start to 2013.

Langers...late strike at Southend

Langers…late strike at Southend

16/02/13: Southend Untied 1-2 Cobblers

Trips to Gillingham and Rotherham, two fellow promotion chasers, ended in defeat before this one so it was crucial that we picked something up from Roots Hall. Roy O’ Donovan hooked in the opener before the enigmatic Bilel Moshsni, making his return to the Southend side, saw red for a high challenge on Chris Hackett. The ten men fought back and looked to have earned a point when Matty Lund headed in with a quarter of the game to go but Kelvin Langmead scored one of many late, late goals of his in stoppage time that helped to propel Town back into the top seven after a spell of drifting out of the playoff places.

23/03/13: Cobblers 1-0 Oxford United

Whilst the away form was hit and miss, win after win poured in at Sixfields and this victory over Oxford United was another key one. Ben Harding got on the end of a Chris Hackett cross to neatly score the only goal of a tight contest and moved us to within a point of third placed Burton Albion.

29/03/13: Cobblers 1-0 Torquay United

Another game in a similar mould was this Good Friday encounter with the Cobblers dramatically keeping themselves in contention for an automatic promotion place. Roy O’ Donovan’s goal five minutes from time made the difference as he finished from a Chris Hackett cross. With six games to go after this one there was all to play for and a playoff place at least looked certain.

20/04/13: Port Vale 2-2 Cobblers

Three defeats in a row put pay to any top three ambition and it was now all about clinching a playoff place and that was confirmed after a well fought out draw at Vale Park against a Port Vale side who were promoted on the back of the same result. Clarke Carlisle slotted in after two minutes to give Town the lead but Liam Chilvers pulled it back for the hosts. Roy O’ Donovan’s wonder goal came so close to winning it for us but an unfortunate own goal from ex Vale man Lee Collins meant that the game ended in a draw that was a decent result in the end for both. Arguably the result that helped to prepare Aidy Boothroyd and his team for the playoff atmosphere to come.

02/05/13: Cobblers 1-0 Cheltenham Town (Playoff Semi-Final, First Leg)

The first leg was as tight as you would have predicted but the Cobblers came away from it thinking that it could easily have been more than 1-0. O’ Donovan netted the only goal after neat build up from Bayo and Hackett and set up the dramatic second leg at Whaddon Road…

05/05/13: Cheltenham Town 0-1 Cobblers (Playoff Semi-Final, Second Leg)

The one that got us there! Lee Nicholls’ early penalty save seemed to give the entire team the belief that this was to be our day and our time to go on to Wembley. Luke Guttridge’s goal will go down in Cobblers folklore along with the likes of Sean Parrish’s 1997 goal at Cardiff – a moment of pure bliss that gave us a first half lead and a 2-0 lead on aggregate. A solid defensive display and a tactical master class from Boothroyd.

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Excitement builds as tickets go on general sale!

Charlies-ticketI was fortunate enough on Tuesday evening to receive a phone call from my Dad who had took the early option on Wembley tickets and grabbed them early along with around 6,000 other Cobblers fans on the first day of sale. From the moment I had my seat confirmed it actually became real for the first time and I’m sure when tickets go on general sale this morning there will be plenty of others jumping for joy, tweeting away and planning their travel.

For anyone who hasn’t found the ticket link to buy online, it’s right here:

https://www.eticketing.co.uk/wembley03/default.aspx

The fact that we have 40,000 tickets available shouldn’t usually lead to such jubilation at confirming one but you just can’t help but get caught up in it all. Just seeing the ‘View from your seat’ page on the Wembley Stadium website gets the blood pumping and I get the feeling that this will be a memorable day no matter what happens on the pitch.

The FA Cup final this weekend should give us some extra adrenaline as we watch two teams living out their own dreams under the glare of the arch. We’ll see fans pouring down Wembley Way knowing that in a week’s time it will be us, Northampton Town, who will populate half of the famous pathway to the national stadium.

I’m still not thinking too much of the game itself and the tactics or team. It’s all about the build-up to the whole day at the moment and that’s what makes these playoff finals special. It gives teams like ourselves a chance to play out a cup final atmosphere in front of the nation. There won’t even be any Premier League games to distract the rest of the country on May 18th with their final day coming a day later so we get to be in the centre of England’s footballing world for a couple of hours come the big day.

I hope we can pack out Wembley and the first day of general sale today should prove to be a good indication of how mad we go for those golden tickets. Good luck with yours if going for them today…let’s make a sea of claret!

O’ Donovan strikes to give Cobblers slender lead!

O' Donovan...third goal in as many games

O’ Donovan…third goal in as many games

Northampton Town 1-0 Cheltenham Town

League Two Playoff Semi-Final, First Leg

Thursday, May 2nd 2013

It’s a long, long way from being over but the fact that the above score line reads in the Cobblers’ favour was always going to be the first and most vital part of any successful bid to reach Wembley. Having gone into the most recent second legs in the playoffs with a deficit (2-0 against Mansfield Town) and an uphill task (Southend holding us to a 0-0 draw at Sixfields) it’s a crucial blow that we’ve struck against a Cheltenham side that are likely to be a lot more up for attacking us come Sunday evening.

After the final whistle last night, and amidst a feeling of us doing the first part of this job right, most of the talk was about how we could and should have been more ahead in the tie going into the crunch game at Whaddon Road. The Cobblers were well worth the victory by the end of the evening and could have added to the wonderfully worked Roy O’ Donovan goal that gives us a very slight advantage.

The fact that a lot of Cheltenham fans are happy with the result this morning says a lot with their own home record meaning that they have every right to think that they are still favourites to go through having kept the score down to 1-0 last night. Their team will have to really up their game, however, to break down a Cobblers side looking to ensure that we don’t fall into the same traps that have seen us finish the League Two season with the second worst away record in the league.

Aidy Boothroyd’s men will take a lot from last night and the final two away games in the league season where they held out for a 0-0 at Wycombe and, more impressively, a 2-2 at Port Vale in a game that we could well have won. Town were more fluent than usual and played some good stuff through the midfield as well as the usual direct balls to the recalled Bayo and the excellent Roy O’ Donovan.

It was Chris Hackett who was the real star of the show, though. The rest against Barnet seemed to have done him good as he terrorised the Rubies’ left hand side all evening. One of his darts down the wing resulted in the only goal of the game as he latched onto a good Bayo through ball to cross beautifully for O’Donovan to score his third in three games with a well taken volley. Cheltenham keeper Scott Brown could have done better with it but would later pull off a stunning save from a Bayo header to keep it at 1-0, a passage of play that could yet save his side’s playoff campaign.

Straight after the goal, Cheltenham had their best opening when Paul Benson found space but shot wide when in a good position in front of goal. The second half saw the visitors close up shop a little but there always seemed a threat when they came forward on the break away. Town were unlucky not to double their lead through that Bayo chance and Hackett’s constant threat on the right hand side.

It did finish just 1-0 but hopefully the performance gives us confidence ahead of Sunday. Key players all stepped up with Nathan Cameron putting in a fine shift at the back as well as notable outings for the likes of Lee Collins, Luke Guttridge, Hackett, Bayo and O’Donovan.

The away form has been awful this season but what better time to put it right than on Sunday afternoon when our fate will be known. Cheltenham will be well up for it and confident despite the deficit so we have to go there and stamp our authority over the game because if we can somehow get into the lead then the Wembley dream will be alive and well. An early going against us, though, could send panic through the ranks and being away from home may work very much against us.

We are only half way but at least we have a good, solid base to work from on Sunday. With over 1,500 Cobblers fans expected to be there it should be a cracking atmosphere at Whaddon Road where we are certainly going to need that twelfth man.

We’ve kept the dream alive – now let’s all finish it off so that we can live it on May 18th!

Northampton Town v Cheltenham Town: Match Preview

PlayOffTrophyNorthampton Town v Cheltenham Town

League Two Playoff Semi-Final, First Leg

Thursday, May 2nd 2013

So this is it. The playoffs kick off this evening with the Cobblers involved in the end of season lottery for the first time since 2005. Back then, we were beaten by a single goal over two leg against Southend United in a display that was desperately lacking any kind of cutting edge. A year earlier we had been involved in one of the most emotional games we’re ever likely to see at Mansfield Town, going out on penalties after a stonking come back, some shocking refereeing and awful luck in the second leg.

In both of those ties, the Cobblers were at home first and failed to get a good grip on the tie before making the journeys north and east respectively. What we need to do tonight is instead channel the spirit from happier semi-finals at Sixfields – the 3-2 victory over Cardiff City in 1997 and the best night ever to take place on Upton Way, the 3-0 turn around against Bristol Rovers a year later. Both of those were second legs of course and the problem facing us this evening is how far to push it and really go in all guns blazing ahead of a tough, tough away leg on Sunday.

The advantage to going away first is that a draw would be a good result and no doubt Cheltenham would be over the moon with an outcome like that. But Aidy Boothroyd is fired up and Sixfields needs to be the same under the evening summer lights. There should be an electric atmosphere based on some of the build-up already taking place online and no doubt in work places up and down the country this afternoon. Let’s do this!

Cheltenham’s road to the playoffs…

Our opponents were just pipped to automatic promotion by Rotherham United on Saturday but come into the game with a better run-in behind them than the Cobblers. After seeing off Town at the start of the month at Whaddon Road they were beaten by Plymouth at Home Park but recovered to beat eventual League Two champions Gillingham and playoff chasing Exeter City before holding Bradford City to a goalless draw on Saturday.

Yates...winner as a player

Yates…winner as a player

Rubies’ playoff history…

The Rubies have a decent record in League Two playoffs having beaten Rushden and Diamonds 3-1 at the Millennium Stadium in the 2002 final and Grimsby Town by the single goal (scored by future Cobbler Steve Guinan) in the 2006 showpiece. In the first instance, now manager Mark Yates captained the side and lifted the trophy for the club he now leads into a fourth playoff campaign.

Last season, Cheltenham were beaten at Wembley by Crewe Alexandra and will be coming into this one hoping to erase all of those memories and make it four finals from four attempts.

 

Team News…

The Cobblers have almost a fully fit squad to choose from with Kelvin Langmead, Clive Platt and Ishmel Demontagnac all coming back into contention. Joe Widdowson is the only one not 100% and who could be left out in favour of Lee Collins. Alex Nicholls is, of course, the only long term absentee after his broken leg back in October against Port Vale.

Cheltenham also have a near to full strength squad available with Harry Hooman the only possible absentee as he is set to sit out for the remainder of the season. Paul Benson is back from an ankle problem and came off the bench in Saturday’s draw with Bradfor.

 

Previous Six Meetings…

01/04/13: Cheltenham 1-0 Cobblers (League Two)

As the Cobblers sat three points ahead of Cheltenham at the start of this month, the Rubies had to win to close the gap on a Town side who still had a chance of automatic promotion. After a quiet first half, Steve Elliot netted the crucial winner on the stroke of half-time to set up a dramatic final few weeks of the season.

08/12/012: Cobblers 2-3 Cheltenham (League Two)

The Cobblers looked set for a good home win when Bayo Akinfenwa scored after just two minutes and Billy Jones put through his own net soon after. But Darren Carter and Chris Zebroski levelled things up before even half an hour had passed and it was left to Darryl Duffy to slot in the winner for a stunning turnaround late on for the visitors.

03/03/12: Cheltenham 2-2 Cobblers (League Two)

Ben Tozer and Bayo Akinfenwa gave the Cobblers a surprise two goal lead at Whaddon Road in the first half but the hosts hit back in the second as Darryl Duffy slotted in a penalty before clinching a point for his side in stoppage time.

20/08/11: Cobblers 2-3 Cheltenham (League Two)

In the second home game of last season, Darryl Duffy opened the scoring from the spot for Cheltenham on eleven minutes but goals either side of half time from Arron Davies and Bayo Akinfenwa steered the game in our favour. The Rubies had other ideas though and Duffy got on the end of a cross from ex-Cobbler Josh Low to level it before Low himself won it ten minutes from time.

08/01/11: Cobblers 1-1 Cheltenham (League Two)

The first of many draws in 2011 saw Billy McKay give the Cobblers an early lead before Wes Thomas netted the equaliser just after half-time.

09/10/10: Cheltenham 1-0 Cobblers (League Two)

Dean Beckwith’s red card at Whaddon Road saw the Cobblers reduced to ten men within the opening quarter of the game. It took until the hour mark, though, for Cheltenham to take advantage and Brian Smikle scored the winner.

 

The man in the middle…

The man trusted with the first leg is someone who has been involved in controversy this season in Mick Russell. Russell was the man who showed two yellow cards to Sheffield Wednesday’s Jeremy Helan and failed to send him off during a game at Huddersfield Town back in December. Russell was taken off duty for just under a month after the incident and went on to referee seventeen more games this season. Russell was in the middle for the Cobblers’ 1-0 win at Dagenham and Redbridge last September and for the dramatic cup replay at Bradford in which Town lost on penalties. He last officiated a Cheltenham game in August of last year, a 2-2 draw at Torquay.

 

Prediction…

It’s so hard to predict a playoff game, especially one that involves your own team. I’m dreading putting anything down for the ‘kiss of death’ implications. So I’ll go for a draw to keep me from anyone saying it was all my fault. This should be a tight, tense game that is likely to be well in the balance come Sunday. 1-1.

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!!