More twists as others close in

Sixfields...key to success

Sixfields…key to success

So we’re down to four games. Four games that will decide whether the Cobblers will be promoted from League Two or left to face the challenge of the playoffs or even left with an unthinkable position of losing it at the last. It’s very pessimistic to think about the latter but with last night’s results you get the feeling that any kind of slip ups in the final two home games in particular could lead to a disastrous end to what has been a terrific season.

The Cobblers are now chasing third place once again with Burton Albion recovering from a 7-1 mauling at Port Vale to beat Wycombe 2-0 last night and go back above Town in the race for third place. Aidy Boothroyd will be comforted by the game in hand – away at Wycombe – and will know that the home games against York City and Barnet as well as the trip to Adams Park hold the key to any sustained challenge on automatic promotion.

The only other fixture is away at Vale and is one that will provide the sternest of tests with the Valiants now looking a lock for second place. The lifeline there could be if Vale are already promoted and Gillingham have taken any chance away of them going for the title by then.

It’s all ifs and buts and there’s so much more to come, so many questions to be answered and challenges to be met. With the Cobblers now chasing third again rather than trying to hold onto it, could it bring out the best in us?

What of the others in the playoff positions? Cheltenham, who have some tough fixtures left, will be desperate to claw their own way back into third. Rotherham, a lot of people’s tips, seem to be finding some form again as they catch up with their games in hand will undoubtedly have a say. And Bradford themselves off the back of a victory over the Cobblers and a hammering of Bristol Rovers last night have their own spare game and are looking dangerous.

There’s still games involving all of these sides against each other and it promises to be a frantic last few weeks. For The Cobblers, we must win the two home games and probably one of the away games to be in contention for third place. It makes it a big ask but if you’re going to be promoted, now is the time to stand up and earn it.

Finger nails at the ready…

Cobblers come home pointless again…

Carlisle...late consolation for beaten Cobblers

Carlisle…late consolation for beaten Cobblers

Rotherham United 3-1 Northampton Town

League Two

Saturday, February 2nd 2013

I remember when I used to travel away via Sixfields Travel Club in the early 2000’s with the Cobblers, a group of merry men at the back of the coach expectant and care free as we set out to new adventures to the exotic Grimsbys, Oldhams and Hulls of this world. There was a time when every away day seemed to end in the immortal line from the front of the coach announcements as we pulled back into Sixfields:

“Thank you for travelling with Sixfields Travel Club – Once again we come home pointless.”

I can imagine that the ‘pointless’ line is being used a lot once again as the Cobblers come back from another trip with nothing to show, meaning that we drop out of the playoff places almost as suddenly as we announced our arrival in them.

Rotherham needed the win badly because of a recent dip in form that took them out of the top seven and Steve Evans will be delighted that his side is now back above the Cobblers in the clutch of teams gunning for any position from third place down.

After a bright opening during which Jake Robinson’s swerving effort smashed a post and Lee Nicholls produced a good save from Kayode Odejayi at the other end, the home side stamped their mark on the game to take the lead just before the break. Ben Harding’s challenge on Mark Bradley in the area was deemed to be enough to warrant a penalty and Daniel Nardiello stroked home to the left of Nicholls in the Cobblers goal. The penalty, from TV pictures looked harsh with Harding appearing to take at least a bit of the ball and the Rotherham midfielder making more than enough of the challenge but any protests were in vain and the home side went into half-time in front.

The Cobblers put up a spirited fight in the second half but ended up on the end of yet another away defeat thanks to another quick fire double of goals from the Millers. Ben Pringle, perhaps the outstanding Rotherham player from the Sixfields clash earlier in the season, hit a low shot with fifteen minutes to go that beat Nicholls again before David Noble sealed it soon after by working his way through the Town defence far too easily. Clarke Carlisle’s late goal was nothing more than a consolation and the Cobblers were once again travelling home pointless.

This away form, victory at Aldershot aside, is a massive cause for frustration. I won’t say it’s a cause for ‘concern’ because that would imply that it’s having effects that put our season in danger of collapse. The truth as it stands at the moment is that we’re good enough at home to be a top half side with the occasional look at the playoffs but as long as the away form remains as it is we’ll only be looking on with envious eyes again come May when teams that finish 4th-7th battle it out for a place in League One.

In the grand scheme of things the two defeats this week, if separated from one another at different times during the season, aren’t ones that we would get overly upset about due to the promotion chasing tags of our conquerors and we simply have to find a way of learning from some of the things that appear to be going wrong as soon as we pull out of Upton Way on the team coach.

I don’t buy that we’re not ‘mentally strong’ away from home. The players are the same, the pitch is pretty much the same size but the results are ridiculously opposite. If we are to live the dreams of the last month or so for real and if we are to add a memorable chapter to our history then we need to learn that Sixfields is not the only place that we can sit down to write it.

That winning feeling!

Nicholls…winner

Northampton Town 2-1 Rotherham United

League Two

Tuesday, August 21st 2012

We had no right to win this – we really didn’t! The Cobblers came up against title favourites Rotherham United on Tuesday night and came away with a 2-1 victory that will do wonders for the spirit of the team, supporters and the believing manager of our club for the season ahead. Not because we played wondrous football (we didn’t) and not because we dominated the game (we definitely didn’t) but because we grafted out a stunning victory from nowhere by defending well, keeping strong as a unit and having a sheer desire to win with a bit of luck along the way.

This was the first I’d seen of the new look Cobblers and after sitting through plenty of dismal performances last season it was refreshing to see us standing up to a side hotly tipped to be promoted to League One come May. On this showing they will certainly be up there as they possess a strong mix of characters that opened up the Cobblers on numerous occasions and who could well have won the game this evening.

The Cobblers looked completely transformed from last season, particularly at the back. In front of the outstanding Lee Nicholls in goal, John Johnson, Kelvin Langmead, David Artell and Joe Widdowson were solid as a unit and that’s a great base for a successful side. Langmead in particular seems like he’s had a top summer work out and is in better shape than ever before having been handed the captaincy by Aidy Boothroyd. Widdowson is a left-back of good quality and when you look at last season’s alternatives in that position you see an immediate difference and improvement.

Of the other new recruits, Chris Hackett stood out and opened the scoring with a blistering left footed shot after cutting inside from a quickly taken throw in from Alex Nicholls. The goal came after a decent opening from the Cobblers who had begun the game in confident fashion.

Rotherham came back into it as the game wore on, though, and were rewarded for an extended spell of pressure when Ben Pringle’s deflected shot flew into the corner of the Town net. It came seconds after Luke Guttridge had seen a glorious chance go begging by slamming a clear effort from inside the eighteen yard box down the throat of visiting keeper Scott Shearer.

Town really needed the half-time whistle and would have been happy when it came around with nothing more added to the score line. The visitors were looking stronger and stronger as the half went on and looked a real threat coming forward.

The second half saw a slow start turn into Rotherham domination for some periods and they looked overwhelmingly like they would be the ones to take home all three points with chances going begging for Kieran Agard in particular.

With ten minutes to go we were talking about taking a point and that we would have taken it if we had the offer, such was the pressure from Rotherham. But then came a real Sixfields moment to savour.

A Rotherham corner was cleared and Chris Hackett fed the ball to Clive Platt who in turn found Alex Nicholls roving forward. Nicholls composed himself and found himself one on one with Shearer in the Millers goal. Sixfields held its breath as Nicholls rounded the keeper and slotted in an extraordinary winner from out of nowhere!

Rotherham will undoubtedly be in the promotion mix come the final reckoning in League Two this season. Steve Evans is the only blot on their copy book and continues to wind up anyone who doesn’t follow his side. Constant berating of the fourth official, hands waving at every decision and general anger makes him a prime target for the pantomime villain role and tonight he played his part very well indeed. That made the late winner from Nicholls that bit sweeter as the Cobblers made it four points from two games.

It’s far too early to be shouting our mouths off that we’re ‘in the top seven’ of course but just to have this utter joy of winning a game, to feel the emotions of a late win and not come away dejected and wondering where the next victory is coming from is more than enough for now. This Cobblers side has transformed themselves from a weak, walk over of a side to a strong unit who can grind out results and I don’t care if it’s not pretty.

This winning feeling is hard to beat and however we get it is the right way as far as I’m concerned!

Northampton Town v Rotherham United: Match Preview

Northampton Town v Rotherham United

League Two

Tuesday, August 21st 2012

It’s straight back to Tuesday night action this evening as the season really kicks into gear with the first home league match of the campaign. It comes against the pre-season title favourites Rotherham United, led by the much maligned Steve Evans and boasting a strong squad of new comers to go alongside their already decent group that ended last season with a 1-1 home draw with Town at the Don Valley Stadium.

New York, New York…

The Millers began their new lives at the New York Stadium with a comfortable 3-0 win over ten man Burton Albion on Saturday afternoon, signalling their immediate intent for the coming campaign. Daniel Nardiello (with a penalty) and Kayode Odejayi had good starts to their Rotherham careers by scoring the first two goals at the new stadium against a Brewers’ side who had Lee Bell sent off for two yellow cards in the second half. Ben Pringle’s deflected cross sealed a fine start to the season for his side and they will be full of confidence going into this evening. They also took Championship side Hull City all the way to penalties at the KC Stadium in the League Cup a few days earlier.

The pantomime villain of League Two…

Steve Evans should provide his usual brand of ‘enthusiasm’ to proceedings at Sixfields tonight after he joined the Millers towards the end of last season. His outspoken and angry nature has upset even the mildest heart of a League Two fan over the last year or so having brought Crawley Town into the league and proceeded to get under everyone’s skin. He’s not even many Rotherham fan’s cups of tea but if promotion is won I’m sure none of them will argue!

Mullins…expected to feature

Team News…

The Cobblers look likely to keep the same team that secured an opening day 0-0 draw at Rochdale with latest signing Lewis Moult set to make the bench once again. Luke Guttridge was withdrawn after an hour at Spotland but is OK to take his place in the starting eleven again.

Rotherham expect vice-captain Johnny Mullins to be fit in time to face the Cobblers after he was forced off at half-time during the Millers’ 3-0 win over Burton at the weekend. Boss Steve Evans was boosted by the return of Lawrie Wilson and Gareth Evans in that game and both should make the squad again. But Nicky Hunt, despite making a quicker recovery than was initially expected, does miss out alongside fellow right back Dale Tongue.

Club Links…

New Cobblers left-back Joe Widdowson spent time on loan with Rotherham from first club West Ham United back in 2008, playing three times for the Millers.

Another new recruit, David Artell, began his career with the side he comes up against this evening, scoring four times in thirty seven games during a five year spell at the club.

Last Six Meetings…

05/05/12: Rotherham 1-1 Cobblers (League Two)

The final day of last season saw the Cobblers travel to the Don Valley Stadium with the Millers playing their final game at the athletics arena before moving to the New York Stadium for the start of this term. Alex Revell set them up for a fond farewell with a first half goal but Bayo Akinfenwa had other ideas and notched his eighteenth goal of a strong campaign to earn a point for Town.

29/10/11: Cobblers 1-1 Rotherham (League Two)

Gary Johnson’s final home game in charge of the Cobblers saw Gareth Evan’s second minute strike cancelled out by a Conrad Logan own goal mid-way through the first half.

22/04/11: Cobblers 2-2 Rotherham (League Two)

The infamous celebrations that followed a Cobblers recovery from 2-0 down on Good Friday two seasons ago has been etched into memory more than the game itself. After Leon McKenzie and Liam Davis had cancelled out a Paul Rodgers own goal and a Ryan Taylor effort, Cobblers fan Derry Felton invaded the pitch in his wheelchair to create a moment of humour in last season’s relegation battle!

23/11/10: Rotherham 2-2 Cobblers (League Two)

The Cobblers had already come back from two down against Rotherham earlier in the season as well. Having gone behind to Ryan Taylor and Marcus Marshall goals, Abdul Osman and Andy Holt replied within minutes and the half-time score of 2-2 remained until the end.

13/04/10: Rotherham 1-0 Cobblers (League Two)

Red cards everywhere in this one as Adam Le Fondre’s goal settled a promotion battle at the Don Valley Stadium. Ryan Gilligan had already missed a penalty when Craig Hinton conceded a spot kick of our own that Le Fondre scored from and Hinton was shown his marching orders for the challenge. Luke Guttridge and Danny Harrison were also sent off later in the game meaning that we ended with nine men and Rotherham finished with ten.

29/09/09: Cobblers 3-1 Rotherham (League Two)

Ryan Gilligan and Courtney Herbert had the Cobblers in control in this Tuesday night encounter before Ian Sharps’ own goal made it 3-0. Adam Le Fondre’s penalty was only a consolation on this occasion.

The Whistling Kettle…

The Man in the Middle…

This gives me shivers whenever I write it but the man trying to keep order will be Trevor ‘the whistling’ Kettle. Whenever a ref’s reputation goes before him there’s bound to be trouble and Kettle is becoming one of the stand out villains of the Football League referee list. Kettle took charge of Rotherham’s 2-1 defeat at Oxford in March and last oversaw a Cobblers game in a 1-0 defeat at Gillingham in January 2011.

Prediction…

This should be a tasty one with the ingredients of Evans, Boothroyd and Kettle in one stadium as well as it being the first home game of the season against title favourites. I’ll go for a hectic 3-3 draw! (Watch it be 0-0 now!)

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!