Job done as Cobblers secure league survival

Hereford United 0-0 Northampton Town

After months of agonising, weeks of hope, sleepless nights and nightmares of travelling to Forest Green Rovers on a Tuesday night, the job is done. It took us four attempts to pick up that last point but now it’s here we can celebrate an almighty achievement by Aidy Boothroyd and the players that he’s moulded into a squad that can compete in League Two. Back in November after that disastrous 7-2 home reverse against Shrewsbury and a 4-1 hammering at Plymouth that followed, few could have thought that we would be safe with two games to spare.

We snuck over the finish line at Hereford rather than storming over it but all that matters is that Clarke Carlisle was in the right place at the right time to clear one off the line and that Nicky Featherstone’s stoppage time screamer didn’t fly into the top corner but instead whacked the post and rolled across the goal mouth to safety. The full time whistle brought relief and reflections on a fantastic turn around by all involved.

There seemed little hope back in February when the Cobblers were three points adrift at the bottom despite form picking up slightly in early 2012. But signings like Blair Adams, Clarke Carlisle, Ben Harding, Toni Silva, Luke Guttridge and Brett Williams created a solid backbone of a side that could at least get stuck into opponents and go toe to toe with them – something we were ultimately failing to do under that last manager who shall not be named.

Harding in particular should be credited. Filling a role that often goes unnoticed can be tough but the midfielder’s absence was noticed in the last couple of games before this weekend. Carlisle has been a solid presence in the defence and Adams has given us an actual left back to cheer on. Guttridge’s quality in going forward gave us something different and Williams’ running has contributed to the cause, in particular the determination for the Oxford winner.

Of course there’s the rest of the squad that lived through the nightmare months as well to mention. Bayo has had a resurgence, Kelvin Langmead has often looked like a defender and even Ben Tozer has come back from the oblivion he found himself in. Michael Jacobs has continued to shine and John Johnson’s form never really dipped below a 7/10 rating.

The goalkeeping situation could have been a nightmare but after Shane Higgs and Chris Weale were both injured and Matt Duke recalled early by brawling Bradford, Neal Kitson stepped up in extraordinary fashion to save two penalties in his first two games and help the Cobblers to four crucial points.

The challenge ahead for Boothroyd now is to recapture this sense of togetherness over the summer. The loan players will return to parent clubs and of those I only expect us to be in with a chance to permanently go for Adams and possibly Carlisle so tying down Guttridge and Harding to permanent deals could prove vital to the continuity of the side.

What we know now that we didn’t know this time last year is that we can trust our manager going into the summer. There shouldn’t be any ‘marquee’ signings as such, with Boothroyd’s outlook appearing more to go for players who will get the job done. That job will also get tougher with the inevitable lifting of the expectations that comes with every single Cobblers summer. If we, as fans, can drop those a little to perhaps start looking as mid-table as a success then maybe we will be able to become more patient for once as well.

The bottom line is that we can look forward to two games coming up and we haven’t done that for a long time. Boothroyd said time and again that it would get worse before it got better but his underline statement was that he would take us to safety.

Mission, well and truly, accomplished!

Celebrations still on ice…

Crawley Town 3-1 Northampton Town

I said on Saturday that it was far from over in terms of the race to secure 100% safety and it’s still, frustratingly, hanging over us after a third straight defeat made this Saturday’s trip to Hereford more dangerous than it could have been. Defeat to another promotion candidate on the road shouldn’t be frowned upon too much but the mistakes that contributed to it will be a source of concern for Aidy Boothroyd.

Neal Kitson suffered the first blot on his copy book in a forgettable first half for a Cobblers side who hadn’t been entirely outplayed as the score line at half-time might suggest but who did find themselves 3-0 down by that point. Kitson’s own goal was the third of a trio of goals that on another day could have been dealt with, one of which came from the head of former Town loanee Billy Clarke.

The only thing left for us to do was to try and ‘win the second half’ and although it won’t win us any prizes we at least did that as Brett Williams pounced for 3-1 just after the hour mark. Toni Silva rattled the bar and Williams the post late on but that’s as close as we got against a side who moved into the top three and kept us on the edge of our pants for Saturday.

It’s true that we should be OK but to any Town fan that knows their club inside and out that won’t be good enough until it’s mathematically safe for us to breathe again. Victory at Hereford would do it whilst a point would also be enough should Macclesfield fail to win at Bradford. We could really do without it going to the final two games of the season with two tricky games to round it off so let’s hope for a big turnaround at Edgar Street which may include putting another nail in the Bulls’ coffin at the same time.

Again, until there’s enough daylight to be absolutely sure, the celebrations are well and truly on ice!

League Two Relegation Battle: The Run Ins…

It’s that time of year when graphics appear across Sky Sports News, Match of The Day and newspapers analysing the run-ins for the key battles of promotion, playoffs and relegation issues so I thought I would throw in a look at the League Two basement battle for good measure. The Cobblers are by no means out of it…I will be including teams from ourselves in 18th down to the bottom of the table. I would have included Burton but their mid-week victory has them ten points clear now and that should be enough.

Here goes then!

Northampton Town

The Cobblers have a game in hand on most teams below but face five away games in the last eight, starting at playoff chasing Crewe on Saturday. An Oxford-Swindon double over Easter looks daunting the say the least so the home clash with Bradford and trip to Hereford could well decide a part of our fate…

Fixtures: Crewe (a), Oxford (H), Swindon (a), Bradford (H), Crawley (a), Hereford (a), Gillingham (H), Rotherham (a)

Bradford City

One place and one point below Town are Bradford City and they go into a huge six pointer at Plymouth this weekend before facing one of the tougher run-ins of all the teams in trouble. Games against promotion chasing Southend, Shrewsbury, Cheltenham and Swindon as well as that trip to Sixfields make it a nervy ending for the Bantams…

Fixtures: Plymouth (a), Southend (H), Shrewsbury (a), Northampton (a), Macclesfield (H), Cheltenham (a), Swindon (H)

Barnet

Home form will be crucial for Barnet as they look to keep their heads above water. The Bees are currently three points clear of the bottom two but have a tough Easter week that takes in a Tuesday night visit from Swindon, a Good Friday trip to Cheltenham and a Holiday Monday clash with Crawley. They also face a massive home game with Hereford on Friday 13th April…

Fixtures: Torquay (H), Swindon (H), Cheltenham (a), Crawley (H), Hereford (H), Southend (a), AFC Wimbledon (H), Burton Albion (a)

Dagenham and Redbridge

John Still’s men have clawed their way out of the bottom two in recent weeks and their destiny is in their own hands and they look to avoid a second successive relegation. The Daggers’ run in doesn’t look as bad as it could be and they will be quietly confident of survival…

Fixtures: Port Vale (a), Burton Albion (H), Gillingham (a), Aldershot (a), Crawley (H), Shrewsbury (a), Bristol Rovers (H)

Plymouth Argyle

The Plymouth board have decided that they will review manager Carl Fletcher’s position at the end of the season and survival would be a massive tick on his name should he help the Pilgrims to overcome the tense finale. They have a big couple of weeks coming up with the home game with Bradford coming up on Saturday before a trip to Hereford on Good Friday and a Home Park visit of Aldershot on Holiday Monday…

Fixtures: Bradford (H), Hereford (a), Aldershot (H), Swindon (a), Oxford (H), Morecambe (a), Cheltenham (H)

Macclesfield Town

Macclesfield are fifteen games without a win and have sunk into the bottom two so they face a mammoth task to pick up the pieces and get out of the downward spiral they find themselves in. The Silkmen have four games out of seven away from home and it’s a pretty tough looking run of fixtures for an out of form side…

Fixtures: Gillingham (a), Shrewsbury (H), Port Vale (a), Crewe (H), Bradford (a), Burton (H), Southend (a)

Hereford United

Rock bottom of the table are Hereford and their fate could be held in the three games against fellow strugglers in Plymouth, Barnet and the Cobblers because the final two games of the season see them come up against two of the current top three in Crawley and Torquay…

Fixtures: Rotherham (a), Plymouth (H), Accrington (a), Barnet (a), Northampton (H), Crawley (a), Torquay (H)

In conclusion…

So who goes down? I’m absolutely shocking at predictions, as highlighted by my predicted league table that I came up with at the start of the campaign so should probably keep quiet but I’ll stick my neck out and say that Hereford and Macclesfield will be the ones to eventually fall through the trap door. It’s likely to change a lot in the next few weeks but momentum is key at this stage and with some tough fixtures coming up for both I’m going for the current inhabitants of the bottom two to still be there come May 5th.

Northampton Town v Port Vale: Match Preview

It’s feels like an age since the Cobblers last participated in a Saturday match and after a couple of good Tuesday night victories you could forgive Town fans for wanting to keep on replacing weekends for nights for the rest of the season. But we’re back in action tomorrow with a third home game in a row with Port Vale the visitors.

Vale are once again on the brink of the playoffs having recovered from a poor start to 2012 to record four games without defeat (three of those producing wins) including a last gasp Mar Richards penalty handing them all three points last Saturday at home to Gillingham. That left Micky Adams’ side within two points of the playoffs as they head towards the final furlong of the season.

Form…

The Cobblers have taken six points from their only two games this month, both of which have come at home and in the course of doing so have tripled their home wins count for the season!

As mentioned, Vale are unbeaten in four having disposed of Rotherham, Plymouth and Gillingham either side of an away point at Bradford City.

Team News…

There are no new injury worries for the Cobblers going into the game with Nana and Shane Higgs the only long term absentees who won’t play again this season. But there were no knocks from Tuesday’s win over Macclesfield so expect a pretty similar starting eleven from Aidy Boothroyd’s men.

Chris Birchall, Port Vale’s most capped player, returned to the club last week and could be in line for a start at Sixfields after receiving international clearance on his month-to-month deal back with the club he began his career with. Birchall left LA Galaxy in December and has been training with Mickey Adam’s side. He played in a reserve team game on Wednesday and is set to play some part tomorrow afternoon.

Richards - former Cobbler

Club Links…

Marc Richards made over fifty appearances for the Cobblers between 2003 and 2005 with the striker netting ten times during his spell at Sixfields. He struggled to get going at first but a superb spell towards the end of the 2003/04 season saw his goals help us into the League Two playoffs. That run included all four goals in the 4-0 win at Macclesfield Town and a screamer at Hull in memorable 3-2 victory. After leaving the club in the summer of 2005, Richards spent time at Barnsley before joining Vale in June 2007.

Previous Meetings…

14/10/11: Port Vale 3-0 Cobblers

A horror show of a first half sees the Cobblers three goals down inside twenty five minutes thanks to goals from Tom Pope, Anthony Griffith and John McCombe and we have no answer in the second half.

12/02/11: Port Vale 1-1 Cobblers

Abdul Osman was sent off for the second time in the season against Vale but the Cobblers held out for a point earned a few minutes prior to the red card thanks to an equaliser from Leon McKenzie. Justin Richards’ penalty had given Vale the lead but McKenzie swooped three minutes later to earn a point.

13/11/10: Cobblers 0-0 Port Vale

Stale mate at Sixfields as Abdul Osman is sent off just after half-time.

06/03/10: Port Vale 1-3 Cobblers

As the Cobblers made a late surge towards the playoff places in 2010, this was a crucial win against one of the teams chasing the same goal. Ultimately neither side made it but it was still a memorable away day with Bayo Akinfenwa giving us the lead. Doug Loft equalised but Abdul Osman and Billy McKay won it before the break.

12/12/09: Cobblers 1-1 Port Vale

As the 2009/10 season crept towards Christmas, the teams shared the spoils at Sixfields. Marc Richards’ penalty gave him a happy return to his former stomping ground but after John McCombe was sent off just after half-time, Bayo converted the spot kick to grab a point for Town.

26/04/08: Port Vale 2-2 Cobblers

In the final away game of the 2008/09 season, Ryan Gilligan and Andy Holt put the Cobblers in control but Richards halved the deficit before Danny Glover made it 2-2 in the second half.

The Man In The Middle…

Taking charge on Saturday at Sixfields is Gavin Ward, a man who last refereed a Cobblers game in a 3-0 home defeat to Aldershot back in February 2010 on a night where he showed an early red card to Kevin Thornton from which we never recovered. Ward has been involved in a few thrillers this season including MK Dons 6-2 Chesterfield, Barnet 3-6 Burton and Brentford 3-3 MK Dons.

Prediction…

It’s a much more difficult game on paper than the previous two victories and the Cobblers will have to step it up in order to escape the bottom two this weekend. With Plymouth hosting Dagenham and Hereford going to Bradford it’s a huge weekend at the bottom but a point would be seen as a decent return from this one so I’ll go for 2-2.

All eyes on rivals on blank weekend for Town

It’s a chance to relax this weekend with no game for the Cobblers as we wait to see how our relegation rivals get on instead. The negative is that there could be a three point gap between ourselves and the duo of Plymouth and Dagenham should they pick up maximum points but having crucially won on Tuesday night we could actually be lifted off the foot of the table without even kicking a ball.

That would happen if Dagenham lost by a couple of goals at home to high flying Cheltenham Town or if Plymouth suffered the same fate at Accrington. The Daggers have won three of their last four home games so they’ll be up for a battle with a Cheltenham side who will be looking for not only all the points but goals as they’re locked in the tightest of battles for top spot. The Robins were beaten at home by Torquay on Tuesday night and will be desperate to get back on track.

Up at Accrington, Plymouth will be gunning for only their second win of 2012 having drawn their last two at home to Southend and Barnet. Stanley are on the verge of a playoff place and having lost to promotion rivals Rotherham on Tuesday they will also be hoping for a maximum haul from the weekend. With sides like Hereford (who host Swindon), Bradford (who travel to Torquay) and Tuesday’s visitors to Sixfields Macclesfield Town (at home to Aldershot) can be dragged in if their poor form continues with the Silkmen on a dire run of six straight defeats.

There’s usually at least one team that gets dragged into the relegation battle and last season saw Lincoln drop like a stone and eventually go down on the final day so there’s still plenty of time for the same to happen this time! So as Aidy Boothroyd prepares for Tuesday night, we can all chill out and hopefully watch others crumble tomorrow afternoon!