Can the BBC save the FA Cup?

FA_Cup_logo_(2014)The FA Cup is a competition that’s apparently lost its glow in recent years, one that’s being treated with disinterest by some top clubs as they put all their energies into finishing in the top four of the Premier League, looking to pull all the riches they can from European competitions and some struggling top flighters desperate to not disturb their survival hopes.

So it was a welcome relief to see the cup back in the capable hands of the BBC this season with Adrian Chiles and co left to watch from the sidelines to see just how you handle and promote the greatest cup competition in Europe.
To me, the FA Cup hasn’t lost any of its glitz…the early rounds in particular are fantastic at giving small clubs their moment or moments in the spotlight.

It’s not just about the games themselves, though, this year with the Beeb putting on a very good show of the First Round draw. I wasn’t completely on board with the Monday evening slot at first but placed at 7pm and including a live audience and managers involved in the draw was a master stroke.

Not only did a prime time audience come within reach but also a competition was given its rightful and important billing. If this trend continues and the future draws are also given their own slot I can’t wait to see Arsene Wenger live in the studio complaining that he didn’t see it, Louis Van Gaal calling Phil Neville ‘stupid’ or Jose Mourinho being made to stand next to the grass cutter of Ebbsfleet United. An improvement indeed on Chiles, Andy Townsend and Clarke Carlisle rocking up on a Sunday and pointing out that Bromley’s left back earns as much as Diego Costa’s first three breaths of the morning and smugly laughing at crooked corner flags that look like Deirdre from Coronation Street.

A lot of the public’s view of the cup is down to how it’s communicated to them and ITV have once again dropped the ball over the last few years. All it took was one draw for half an hour on a Monday night to convince us that the magic is waiting to be captured once again.

As for the Cobblers, well we’re paired with League One Rochdale this time out and play the role of underdog. Any sort of win won’t cause many stirs but we can at least be safe in the knowledge that the big stories of the weekend will be covered with professionalism and with the understanding of the glorious history of the competition.

Can the BBC save it? You wouldn’t bet against it.

Reality Check…

Ian-Henderson-Rochdale_3003588

Northampton Town 0-3 Rochdale

League Two

Tuesday, March 18th 2014

If the Cobblers were still in their honeymoon period of settling in and getting some big results under Chris Wilder before Tuesday night then we’re well and truly home and have started to unpack the dirty laundry now. Rochdale, intent on going top of League Two, came with no fear and from the first few minutes never looked back. Of course losing against a side vying for automatic promotion was nothing to really worry about on the face of it but the performance, flat and bereft of any urgency, definitely was.

Town were hoping to finally close the gap to zero points on Exeter just above them but from the moment ex Cobbler Ian Henderson put the visitors in front we never really looked like denting anything apart from adding more divots to the Sixfields pitch. Henderson scored a big fat zero goals in twenty six appearances for Town during his time here but has now notched nine this season for ‘Dale – two of those against us. This one coming from a well-placed left footed effort after he got on the end of a free kick and we were well up against it.

Fleeting efforts from the Cobblers to get forward were in vain and though Rochdale didn’t produce any clearer cut chances either you always felt like they had the better attacking prowess. Zander Diamond’s half time exit with an abdomen injury didn’t help matters with the defender taken off as a precaution ahead of more busy weeks of football in the coming weeks.

His replacement, Brennan Dickenson, had a shot saved early in the second half but Rochdale doubled their lead ten minutes into the second half when Matthew Lund headed in. There was brief hope handed to the Cobblers seconds later when Lund was sent off for a second bookable offence for ‘over celebrating’ (a rule I think is utterly ridiculous by the way) but it was still a massive ask.

The decision to reduce ‘Dale to ten man didn’t have much effect and it was they who found the extra gear when Joe Bunney raced through and sealed the victory with a very well taken shot from outside the area to beat Matt Duke to his left.

From then it was a case of just waiting for full time and hoping that no further damage would be done to an already flagging goal difference. To say that when playing against ten men shows how poor we were but full credit to Rochdale for producing a result and performance themselves to take them one step closer to League One.

Town were booed off and it all seemed like a big step back after all of the hard work of the last few weeks. One thing this should do is remind the players that they’ve still got plenty to do and should say to all supporters that we’re not just going to glide up the table from here on in. We’ve got to regroup and go again and perhaps an away game is no bad thing coming this weekend at Morecambe who themselves suffered a hammering on Tuesday night at one of our relegation rivals Accrington Stanley.

There’s simply no room for this sort of performance in the run in – we know that the group now put in place by Wilder do have something about them and now it’s about getting that fight and determination back before it’s too late.

That goes for all of us.

Still entrenched in bottom two after shaky few days…

Northampton Town 2-2 Dagenham and Redbridge

Rochdale 3-2 Northampton Town

It never rains, it pours. As storms sweep across the country this evening, the Cobblers are on their way home from a long journey north licking the wounds of a morale deflating late reversal that saw Rochdale score twice to deny us first a draw and then anything at all. At the moment it’s hard to find the words to describe what is going on as week after week goes by and the small scraps of positivity are balanced out by some silly decisions, poor tactics and individual silly moments.

Last season Town had a big problem away from home in that as soon as we conceded one goal we would go on to let in another moments later and that trend is worryingly coming back into play this time around in confidence shattering regularity. First came Oxford ten days ago and then at the weekend we were in good fettle and a goal up against Dagenham thanks to new boy Luke Norris scrambling the ball in before the Daggers turned the game around with two goals within the blink of an eye of one another.

To our credit we came back and claimed a favourable draw in that one and headed to Rochdale this evening looking to keep up the more positive aspects of recent performances. Norris, who joined from Brentford for a month last week, made it two in two games when he fired in from long range after just twenty six seconds and there was something to cling on to.

Ian Henderson, never anywhere near a high scorer in his time with us, inevitably was the man to bring the game level but having overseen that panic we were back in front when another loanee scored his second goal for the club with Stuart Dallas shooting low into the corner of the net.

So 2-1 up at half-time away from home and an unfamiliar position this season, Wimbledon aside, for the Cobblers. Unfortunately by the end of the game we were looking at all too familiar territory despite coming so, so close to bagging all three points.

The game seemed to turn on Norris being replaced as the lone striker by young Ivan Toney and while it’s completely unfair to blame Toney himself it appeared to take the steam out of Norris’ hold up play with the striker doing well in the ‘defending from the front’ role. Rochdale started to press and press and we’ve been here so many times before that it almost felt like we were waiting for the equaliser, which duly came when Michael Rose curled in a free kick that beat Matt Duke all ends up. There were questions about the wall and whether Duke had it positioned correctly and it’s details like this that are crucial to the current predicament.

Having lost the lead there was only one thing that could have made the night worse and, of course, that arrived when George Donnelly beat Duke in stoppage time. That last five minutes undid a lot of good work for the previous eighty five and will do massive damage to an already fragile Cobblers confidence, players and fans alike.

It’s three times in three games that we’ve let in goals one directly after another and it needs to be addressed. It seems that at the moment the minute we think the defence is sorted we can’t score and the minute the goals return the defence starts shipping goals again! It’s something that happens only when you’re in the thick of a dog fight at the wrong end of the table.

Rochdale flew to the top of League Two thanks to this result and we look up with envy whilst looking over at shoulder at Accrington who, with their first win of the season, closed the gap to two points to make us nervy about hitting rock bottom once more.

It really isn’t making for good reading at the moment and thirteen games in is probably enough to say that we’re in a relegation battle this season. At best, it looks like we’ll be fighting for scraps in mid-table and the mistakes that still stem back to the summer transfer activity, in my opinion, are going to end up costing us a second shot at promotion under Boothroyd.

It won’t get any better by simply replacing the manager because it simply means someone else comes in, gets his own ideas and still the best we can realistically hope for is top half. Boothroyd has perhaps the biggest few months in his career coming up and we are the ship that he’s steering. Short term loans won’t get him out of trouble by themselves though and results have to be ground out by whatever means necessary as the tough winter starts to kick in.

Cheltenham Town come to Sixfields on Saturday to give us an untimely reminder of happier times when we were celebrating a trip to Wembley at their expense back in May. How times can change so quickly…

Home front stands firm as ‘Dale are beaten

Bayo...penalty

Bayo…penalty

Northampton Town 3-1 Rochdale

League Two

Saturday, February 9th 2013

And so it goes on. The pattern of the Cobblers’ season continues to remain intact with another home win balancing out the away defeats at Gillingham and Rotherham United, putting us back into the top seven for the time being. It’s getting almost predictable week by week as form at Sixfields mysteriously disguises some poor results on our travels.

Not that the home support will be complaining. With the attendance creeping above the 5,000 mark and expectations rising Town produced yet another home success to keep us at least on track for having a go at the playoffs over the next few weeks. The big turning point will come for Aidy Boothroyd’s men when one set of results, home or away, changes. Lose at home and suddenly there’s nothing to keep us in the hunt but win away, or even pick up the odd draw, and there’s a chance that the dreams of finishing the season a little later than most could become a reality.

This win was typical of some of those home wins that we’ve come to rely on with a quick fire response to the visitor’s equaliser the key turning point in a tight contest. In a closely fought first half, Clive Platt’s header from a Chris Hackett cross had put the Cobblers in front but ‘Dale were right back in the game on the hour mark thanks to Jason Kennedy’s equaliser.

Cue the big moment in the game as the action went straight to the other end as Kelvin Langmead claimed the final touch from a scrambled spell in front of goal to put us straight back in front. The seal was placed on the victory when Town won a penalty after Hackett was fouled and Bayo Akinfenwa got back in the goals by slotting in the spot kick.

And so it was that the Cobblers rose back into sixth place and the fortress remains standing for another couple of weeks. Away days at Southend and Wimbledon are next up and it can’t be stated highly enough that we’re desperate to get something from each of those games and at least stay in the mix by the time Plymouth Argyle visit in the next test of the home resistance.

This season began with the type of performance we now need away from home, a solid draw at Rochdale and looking back now I don’t think any of us would have sniffed at sixth place come the time when the teams met again. Now’s the time to put it right again on the road…

Calm steps forward as Town claim Spotland point

Rochdale 0-0 Northampton Town

League Two

Saturday, 18th August 2012

And so to another league opener. The official opening day of the season after Tuesday night’s cup upset against Cardiff City brought about a solid point against a side expected to be among the challengers for at least a playoff place. That, couple with a clean sheet and a dogged performance, means that we come away much more satisfied then we have done in the last few years following first league outings.

It was the fourth consecutive season in which the Cobblers had failed to score on the opening day and the third big kick off in those four seasons that have ended with a blank score sheet. But this would arguably be considered the most pleasing in terms of both result and overall outlook following the game. The fact that we came away from Spotland, a difficult place to go for most League Two sides this season, having got off the mark in the league and also held firm at the back means that the first week of 2012/13 can be called a success ahead of Tuesday night’s visit from title favourites Rotherham United.

It won’t go in the ‘classics’ folder for either side but both should come out feeling pretty good about the road ahead. ‘Dale shaded it in terms of chances with a post struck in the first half by home striker Ashley Grimes in their best effort of the game. Lee Nicholls, coming in for young Dean Snedker in goal for his full debut, did well to keep out the other Rochdale forward Dele Adebola, before Town started to build their own attacking prowess.

The big chance of the game fell to Alex Nicholls who was looking to add to Tuesday’s match winner but his header was off target this time.

So that was about that as the final twenty minutes produced no onslaught or real chances with both sides happy to start the season with a point. Dale will continue their tricky start with trips to Chesterfield and Torquay in the coming seven days with the Cobblers hosting Rotherham and Southend United.

All in all, it was just great to see the Tweets, messages of support, photos and general excitement building up to 3 o’clock today as football fever kicked in for good. The dry run of the League Cup was exciting but you can’t beat the 3-5pm period of a Saturday afternoon with scores rolling in and stories being written all across the country.

For the Cobblers, this early chapter of 2012/13: The Novel will go down as a promising start. When I look back on this in a year’s time I hope I’m reliving the start of something positive.

Happy Football Season to you all!

Rochdale v Northampton Town: Match Preview

Rochdale v Northampton Town

League Two

Saturday, August 18th 2012

After the delightful opening to the 2012/13 season on Tuesday night that saw Cardiff City disposed of in the Capital One Cup, it’s down to the graft of league action as the Cobblers’ League Two campaign gets underway on Saturday with a trip to recently relegated Rochdale. The ‘Dale will be looking for a flying start back in the division that they made their home for many, many years and will provide Town with one of the toughest starts possible.

Promotion Party memories…

Our hosts this weekend will have fond memories of the last meeting between the clubs as they were promoted from League Two after a 1-0 victory over the Cobblers on April 17th 2010. That win helped them to third place in the final standings and ended a run of thirty six straight seasons in League Two.

A summer of change…

There’s been a bit of an upheaval at Spotland over the summer with thirteen new faces arriving including veteran striker Dele Adebola who joined from Hull City to fill the gap left by Reece Gray who suffered a horrific injury during a behind closed doors friendly with Liverpool recently and who is likely to be out until at least the New Year. Former Tranmere and Carlisle striker Craig Curran and goalkeeper Ben Smith are the latest recruits and were both on the bench for last weekend’s season opener in the League Cup.

Cup Epic at Spotland…

Dale have already been a part of a classic cup tie at Spotland having been edged out by Championship side Barnsley last weekend in a seven goal thriller that went all the way to extra time. Andrew Tutte put them in front before the Tykes turned it around thanks to goals from John Stones and Craig Davies. But, after a red card for Barnsley keeper Ben Alnwick, Jason Kennedy converted a penalty to take the game to extra time. In a frantic scrap of the extra half an hour, Chris Dagnall scored twice for the visitors and, despite another Kennedy spot kick, helped them to an eventual 4-3 victory.

Widdowson…Spotland return

Quick return for Joe…

New Cobblers signing Joe Widdowson makes a swift return to Spotland on Saturday having played over fifty times for Rochdale over the last couple of seasons. Widdowson joined on a free transfer having turned down new terms with ‘Dale at the end of last season and made a confident debut for Town on Tuesday night against Cardiff.

Team News…

Rochdale are definitely without Reece Gray with the striker ruled out for months with the aforementioned injury whilst midfielder Luke Watson is also out after suffering a knee injury in training following a collision with goalkeeping coach Bernie Hirmir.

The only Cobblers change from Tuesday night should see Dean Snedker return to the bench to allow Lee Nicholls to make his full debut. Nicholls was ruled out of that one because parent club Wigan Athletic wouldn’t allow him permission to take part.

Club Links…

As mentioned, Joe Widdowson has spent the last two seasons at Rochdale, both of which has seen them playing League One football.

Fellow new signing Clive Platt also had a successful run at Rochdale early in his career, playing over a hundred and fifty games for the club and scoring thirty times in a four year stint.

Last Six Meetings…

17/04/10: Rochdale 1-0 Cobblers (League Two)

Chris O’Grady’s twenty second minute strike was enough to send ‘Dale into League One with the single goal coupled with a tense second half confirming their promotion.

19/09/09: Cobblers 1-2 Rochdale (League Two)

Earlier that season, the Cobblers had slipped to a 2-1 home defeat with O’Grady scoring in the opening twenty minutes. Ryan Gilligan levelled for Town but Will Buckley scored with a stunner of a goal just a few minutes later to send his side home with all three points.

08/04/06: Cobblers 2-2 Rochdale (League Two)

Josh Low put Town in front at Sixfields and Scott McGleish looked to have given us another stepping stone towards promotion but a second half double from Rickie Lambert, including a last minute penalty, pulled it back for the draw.

02/01/06: Rochdale 1-1 Cobblers (League Two)

Pedj Bojic looked to have given the Cobblers a big win with the first goal of the game early in the second half but a Josh Low own goal meant that we came home from Spotland with just the one point.

08/03/05: Rochdale 1-0 Cobblers (League Two)

Prolific striker Rickie Lambert was again a thorn in the Cobblers’ side as he scored the only goal of the game in March 2008 with Town going on to lose out in the playoffs at the end of that season.

23/10/04: Cobblers 5-1 Rochdale (League Two)

A storming with for the Cobblers with former Town defender Daryl Burgess having a day to forget as he scored an early own goal to put us in front before seeing red ten minutes later. Martin Smith scored twice before the break before another own goal, this time from Neil Edwards, made it 4-0 mid-way through the second half. Gareth Griffiths got a consolation for ‘Dale but Josh Low wrapped things up in stoppage time.

The Man in the Middle…

The man in charge of the Cobblers’ first league game of the season is Tony Harrington who is in his first season in the Football League having worked mainly in the Blue Square Premier League last season.

Prediction…

It’s a really tricky opener for the Cobblers and I would be happy to pick up a point from this one. After Tuesday night’s cup exploits for both teams there’s goals in it so I’m going for a 2-2 draw.

Next four up as previews near the end!

Another four teams are in the spotlight today with Plymouth, Port Vale, Rochdale and Rotherham United coming under scrutiny. To view the previews, click on the relevant links below:

Plymouth Argyle

Port Vale

Rochdale

Rotherham United

And for links to all 20 of the previews that have been posted so far, click here!

Tough start to the season expected as fixtures are released!

Spotland...hosts the Cobblers' league openerSo here we go again! A new set of fixtures, a few old faces to come up against and a highly competitive League Two season. The 2012/13 fixtures are out and the Cobblers have been handed an away trip to the glorious Spotland and to relegated Rochdale to kick start the season. The ‘Dale will provide a tough test but I would prefer to kick things off with a game like that than have heaps of pressure on a ‘winnable’ home game as has been the case for two out of the last three seasons.

The difficult looking start to the season continues with visits from two of the favourites for promotion, Rotherham and Southend before a second away game at Plymouth kicks off September.

The Cobblers make first acquaintances with Fleetwood on September 15th whilst Boxing Day sees us travel to AFC Wimbledon. 2013 will kick off with a home game against Dagenham and Redbridge and the season finishes with a home game against old rivals Barnet at Sixfields.

It’s always a hugely exciting day, this, so I’m off to have a better look at the fixtures, which you can see in full here via the official website. I’m happy with the tougher start to the season…I had high hopes last season when we had a decent looking opening and didn’t take advantage. Added to that, it might be the best time to play some of the promotion favourites rather than when they’ve had time to fully pick up a head of steam. All in all, it’s made the anticipation for next season that bit higher and I can’t wait for it all to get started again.

Bring it on!