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.

Blair nicks a point at Whaddon Road

matty blair

Blair…equaliser

Cheltenham Town 1-1 Northampton Town

League Two

Saturday, February 1st 2014

The Cobblers came home from Cheltenham on Saturday with renewed hope. A point is just a point but the manner in which Chris Wilder’s new side battled back from a goal behind in the opening few seconds to scrape a draw showed vigour that we’ve not seen this season and it gave the new manager something solid to build on ahead of a clear week to work with his new signings and those left behind by Aidy Boothroyd.

Wilder, before joining the Cobblers, was unbeaten in all league away games with previous club Oxford United and with our awful record on the road it was hoped that he could turn around our travel sickness. After just a minute of play in Wilder’s first game in charge though it seemed as though we were about to ruin his unblemished form – it would have been typical of the Cobblers to end such a run – as Matt Duke’s rush of blood to the head let in Jamie Cureton for his obligatory goal against us. It was a hopeful lob up field that saw Duke completely misjudge the wind and Cureton nipped in for one of the easiest goals of his career. The perfect start to Wilder’s reign it was not.

The only positive from that was that there were still eighty nine minutes to pull ourselves back into the game and with new signings Alan Connell and Ricky Ravenhill slotted into starting places and Emile Sinclair and Leon McSweeney on the bench there was a new freshness about our options. Ian Morris, recalled to the side by Wilder, smacked the inside of the post in our first real chance before Duke somewhat made amends for his earlier error by tipping a good Sam Deering effort wide of the post.

With conditions playing their part it was always going to be a scrap and the game seemed to turn on a double substitution by Wilder on the hour mark as Sinclair and McSweeney replaced Connell and Tozer. Sinclair was lively for a man who had only signed for the club late the previous evening and he set up a chance for Darren Carter before we eventually got the crucial equaliser. Morris swung the ball in the right and Matty Blair tucked it in at the near post for his first in Town colours. After missing a sitter a couple of weeks ago against York City it would have been that bit more satisfying.

The final fifteen minutes weren’t just about holding out for the point either as the Cobblers boldly started to go for the three points but clear chances were limited. The fact that we weren’t just satisfied with one point says a lot about Wilder’s success and where we’ve been going wrong so many times away from home this season when holding out for a draw and coming home with nothing thanks to endless late winners.

The draw leaves us with plenty to do still but the gap between ourselves and deteriorating Wycombe who now sit in 22nd place is still six points. Wilder has a week to prepare for his Sixfields bow and this is where he must start picking up points in threes. The most important thing right now is those six points and how quickly we can bridge the gap and get on a level with the others embroiled in the relegation scrap.

Games like this go a long way in restoring the confidence of everyone at the club and having come through a really tough afternoon we must now really go for the jugular back at home. Some big, big moments need to happen at Sixfields if we’re to be playing in League Two again next season. With renewed back up on the road maybe it’s not such a lost cause after all.

Cheltenham Town v Northampton Town: Match Preview

PENTAX ImageCheltenham Town v Northampton Town

League Two

Saturday, January 31st 2014

That’s it…the transfer window has shut and we can only rely on emergency loan deals from now until the end of the season. It’s been a hectic week at Sixfields with Paul Reid, Ishmel Demontagnac, Clive Platt and Hallam Hope all leaving in some form and the arrivals of Emile Sinclair, Alan Connell, Ricky Ravenhill and Leon McSweeney giving us a freshness and revitalisation that was desperately needed.

All four of the new signings will all be available for the trip to Whaddon Road and will add some much needed craft, grit and experience to the side.

The game is, of course, a repeat of the playoff semi-final second leg with Wilder’s first game in charge set to come on the same ground as Aidy Boothroyd’s last real moment of success. The Rubies have come a long way since our 1-1 draw at Sixfields earlier this season and have dragged themselves out of the relegation dog fight.

Mark Yates won the League Two Manager of the Month award for December after three wins out of five but they’ve not got going in 2014 yet having lost at Burton and at home to Accrington before last weekend’s draw at Plymouth. It leaves them in thirteenth place and facing an uphill battle if they’re to challenge for the top seven again. Coming in for them this week is Swansea City midfielder Lee Lucas, who spent time on loan with Burton Albion last season, on a one month loan deal and Mitch Brundle on loan from Bristol City.

Chris Wilder will be well aware of what he needs to do and the bottom line is that we need points and need them fast. Let’s get going with this great escape!

Connell...in line for debut

Connell…in line for debut

Team News…

Cheltenham will have Lee Lucas available after joining from Swansea and also signed defender Mitch Brundle from Bristol City in time to feature. Michael Ihiekwe has extended his loan deal from Wolves until the end of the season and may make his home debut for the Rubies. The hosts will be without David Noble, though, as he is still out with a hamstring injury.

As mentioned, the Cobblers will have four new signings ready to go at Whaddon Road with Alan Connell, Emile Sinclair, Ricky Ravenhill and Leon McSweeney all hoping to make their Town debuts. Chris Hackett is still touch and go with Chris Wilder unlikely to risk him unless he’s 100% fit.

Previous Six Meetings…

26/10/13: Cobblers 1-1 Cheltenham (League Two)

Earlier this season the clubs played out a tight draw at Sixfields as Byron Harrison shot Cheltenham in front before Cobblers loanee Luke Norris levelled just before the break.

05/05/12: Cheltenham 0-1 Cobblers (League Two Playoff Semi-Final, Second Leg)

In a tense second leg of last season’s playoff semi-finals, Luke Guttridge scored with a stunning volley from a Bayo Akinfenwa knock down to seal a place at Wembley for the Cobblers. Earlier in the game Lee Nicholls had saved a penalty from Marlon Pack and he was one of the key reasons for the score remaining in our favour.

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

Roy O’ Donovan finished off a flowing move involving Bayo Akinfenwa and Chris Hackett to set up the second leg with Town a goal to the good. Akinfenwa could have added another in the second half but for a terrific save from Rubies keeper Scott Brown.

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

As the Cobblers sat three points ahead of Cheltenham at the start of April last season, 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.

The man in the middle…

The referee at Whaddon Road will be Paul Tierney who has shown 71 yellow cards and 9 reds so far this season and last took charge of the Cobblers in last season’s 3-1 home win over Wycombe Wanderers.

Prediction…

With so many new faces likely to make their debuts for both sides it’s hard to pick a winner for this one. Chris Wilder will be desperate to recreate the away for that took Oxford into the top seven before he left and fingers crossed for a good start to his reign. If the game goes ahead I can see us nicking a point. 1-1.

Weather Watch…

As of 8am, Cheltenham are saying that the pitch is looking OK and will keep monitoring the situation as the morning progresses. More rain is expected so it could be another game at risk from the weather.

Still no escape as Rubies frustrate

aidy boothroydNorthampton Town 1-1 Cheltenham Town

League Two

Saturday, October 26th 2013

The Cobblers continue to tread the line at the bottom of League Two with a home draw yesterday against an improving Cheltenham side providing another example of Aidy Boothroyd plugging gaps and scrapping out for points rather than showing any real intent of blowing teams away at what was, last season, a fortress. Of course, last season’s phenomenal run at Sixfields didn’t start until the end of December but at the moment it’s very difficult indeed to envision anything even close to that sort of form this time around.

Oddly, we’re only four points worse off than at this time last year (I envisioned it being more) but the general mood is not one that would suggest that supporters believe in the current crop of Town players to pull off a second successive run from nowhere to challenge at the right end of the table. What is apparent, though, is that Boothroyd and his men need to start delivering points in threes to get out of this mess. While we try to do that, we may not get the most sparkling performances but I get the feeling that anxiety is spreading from the stands to the players with shaky defending and miscued passes still in abundance.

The issues with scoring goals is still providing a lot of worry with Luke Norris the only one looking likely to be consistent in that department. Norris has scored three in three and the nature of his loan deal means that he’ll be reporting back to Brentford soon so we need to try and get him tied up for the season and give him some support up front. Roy O’Donovan is now out for a month whilst Clive Platt isn’t the answer so the promised new loan forwards could do with finalising their deals too. The very fact that we’re relying on these short term solutions could well link to supporter apathy. There’s clearly been some missed chances in the transfer window over the summer and we must learn lessons. As fans we need players who are going to come in and make the claret shirt their own…it’s great when you get a fantastic loanee but short term deals never capture our imagination as much as someone that we know will be playing solely for the Cobblers.

Anyway, that’s all to be sorted hopefully if the ever growing quotes of “the new striker will be here tomorrow” or “we’re very, very close to a deal” are to be believed.

Back to yesterday and Cheltenham were in no mood to feel sorry for our plight with their own plight to deal with. They started off where they’d left off against Morecambe on Tuesday night when Byron Harrison found far too much space in the area to rifle in the opening goal after just nine minutes. That was exactly what we didn’t need.

There seemed no real threat to that lead with Harrison coming close to doubling it in the best opening of the first half an hour but just before the break Town grabbed a life line, seemingly out of nowhere. Confusion in the Rubies’ area was capitalised on by Norris who took his chance to round the keeper and slot in to continue his terrific loan spell. 1-1 at the break and it would get no better for Boothroyd.

In fact, Matt Duke was the star man again which says a lot about how the second forty five minutes went. Sam Deering, creator of the first goal, raced through one on one but Duke did well to get down for the save before Harrison was also foiled by the Town stopper.

Ishmel Demontagnac came on and was, inevitably, involved in the final few minutes with a good run and shot as well as being fouled by Jason Taylor. Taylor was booked but knew exactly who he was dealing with and stood over Demontagnac, winding him up enough to draw a booking for the Cobblers player as well. The conundrum that is Demontagnac will puzzle us right up until he departs our shores but at the moment he’s a wild card that we arguably could make use of, particularly off the bench when there’s little time (supposedly) for him to get into trouble and tired defender to charge at.

So another home draw and still no progress up the table with Accrington’s win at Morecambe taking them to the same amount of points as us. Suddenly it’s all tightening up and we simply have to get out of this pack as soon as possible. Easier said than done!

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The FA Cup First Round draw takes place on Sunday afternoon

The FA Cup First Round draw takes place on Sunday afternoon

This afternoon sees the FA Cup First Round draw and I’ve heard a lot of people calling for a clash with the Posh in a local derby. Whilst that would give us something fun to look forwards to, do we really want to face a side that scores for fun, is well drilled and who will likely provide us with a derby day to forget and Boothroyd with yet more pressure?

No thanks, a fun non-league team at home would be my pick…I’ve always enjoyed learning more about ‘smaller teams’ down the footballing pyramid and mixing with fans you would never usually see so this afternoon I’m hoping for a tie with Biggleswade or Stourbridge rather than a potentially damaging derby. We’ll have Posh in Round Three when we’re back in mid-table and on an upward curve. The kiss of death…

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Northampton Town v Cheltenham Town: Match Preview

 

sixfieldsNorthampton Town v Cheltenham Town

League Two

Saturday, November 26th 2013

The Cobblers could do with getting ahead of the game and there’s a chance to do just that on Saturday when we kick off at 2pm against last season’s playoff semi-final opponents Cheltenham Town. Times have dramatically changed for both clubs since the Cobblers won 2-0 on aggregate back in May to clinch a place at Wembley with both of us suffering from hangovers that have kept us in the lower reaches of League Two.

The Rubies have started to improve as of late with a 2-1 win at Dagenham a couple of weeks ago and a 3-0 rout of Morecambe on Tuesday night sandwiching a late defeat at home to Rochdale. Mark Yates has urged fans to stay patient and loyal and his side appear to be making a move in the right direction.

The Cobblers have been through spells of anything and everything running against them with red cards, late goals, injuries and individuals’ lack of form and ultimately we are running out of excuses. After coming so close to three points at Rochdale on Tuesday night only to lose the game you start to wonder if confidence will be drained ahead of a tough home game.

We simply cannot keep coming away from games saying that this or that went against us, that a bad decision or moment of madness cost us – three points need to be delivered to match what has appeared to be decent enough performances in the last couple of weeks.

Don’t forget that early kick off –all fingers crossed for a morale boosting victory and, finally, an escape from the bottom two.

 

Team News…

Joe Widdowson returned for the Cobblers on Tuesday night and he will likely keep his place at left-back. Kevin Amankwaah suffered a pulled hamstring at Spotland and will be out for a couple of weeks so Lee Collins should deputise at right back. Clive Platt is still missing whilst Roy O’ Donovan is doubtful once again meaning that loanees Stuart Dallas and Luke Norris – both scorers on Tuesday night – should start.

Cheltenham are without Craig Braham-Barrett with Matt Richards set to take his place at left-back. Ashley Vincent is unavailable due to a personal matter but Sam Deering, Terry Gornell and Dave Noble should all keep their places in the starting line-up.

 

Happier times...Guttridge seals Wembley place in May.

Happier times…Guttridge seals Wembley place in May.

Previous Six Meetings…

05/05/12: Cheltenham 0-1 Cobblers (League Two Playoff Semi-Final, Second Leg)

In a tense second leg of last season’s playoff semi-finals, Luke Guttridge scored with a stunning volley from a Bayo Akinfenwa knock down to seal a place at Wembley for the Cobblers. Earlier in the game Lee Nicholls had saved a penalty from Marlon Pack and he was one of the key reasons for the score remaining in our favour.

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

Roy O’ Donovan finished off a flowing move involving Bayo Akinfenwa and Chris Hackett to set up the second leg with Town a goal to the good. Akinfenwa could have added another in the second half but for a terrific save from Rubies keeper Scott Brown.

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

As the Cobblers sat three points ahead of Cheltenham at the start of April last season, 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 the 2011/12 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.

 

The man in the middle…

Taking charge of Saturday’s game is Martin Atkinson, a top flight official who has officiated games including Man United v Chelsea and Holland v Hungary in a World Cup qualifier last week. His last Cobblers game was way back in 2006 as Carlisle won 3-0 at Sixfields.

 

Prediction…

I don’t know what to expect from the Cobblers at the moment but it’s clear that we need a win by any means. Whether we can beat an improving Rubies side is another matter and I fear that we could be heading for a frustrating time. There’s usually plenty of goals in league games between the clubs at least and I’ll go for 2-2. 

 

From the opposition…

Rubies’ fan Matt gave his thoughts on his side’s season so far and more here.

Fan Feature: Cheltenham Town

Cheltenham-Town-FC-logo (1)Fan Feature: Cheltenham Town

As the Cobblers host Cheltenham Town in a repeat of last season’s Playoff Semi-Finals, Rubies fan Matt gives us his thoughts on what has been a stuttering start to the season  and whether Mark Yates can turn things around at Whaddon Road for another shot at promotion. You can follow Matt on Twitter at @ctfcMatt.

The Rubies have had a similarly poor start to their season as the Cobblers albeit with a couple of more victories and Matt says a lack of consistency has been the main issue.

“After a pretty promising summer, in which we bought in a few new players, (Terry Gornell, Jamie Cureton, Matt Richards) to name a few, the feeling around the camp is that we had experience, and these guys knew what it took to gain promotion,” he says,

“I think most Cheltenham supporters went in to the opening game of the season high on confidence but after losing a two goal lead, and star-man Jamie Cureton to a dislocated shoulder, an opening day draw at home to Burton Albion was not a bad result at all. Since then, with a fantastic trip to West Ham United in-between, we haven’t even come close to showing the kind of consistency which is needed to gain promotion, or even replicate last season and climb in to the play-offs.”

Before the 3-0 win over Morecambe last weekend, manager Mark Yates appeared to under some pressure and fans have been split over whether he should stay and have another go at promotion. Matt says:

“It’s a tough one. His strength, without a doubt, is finding himself a player. In his past few seasons here we’ve seen plenty of players come in who look like they could cope at a higher level (Marlon Pack, Luke Summerfield, Sido Jombati) to name a few. His weakness however, this being key, is his tactics. Since his arrival, we’ve never really had a solid foundation to build on. He doesn’t always know how he wants to set up his own team, and tends to favour certain players, despite their performances, higher in the pecking order than others, which at times is frustrating.”

Matt goes on to state that the Rubies’ defence is the key thing that his side needs to work on if they’re to start moving back towards the right end of the table. He says,

Having been hit with a few injuries early on, our problem, without doubt, has been in the defence. With the back four being different every week, we’ve shipped so many sloppy goals this season, I have started to lose count! Scoring goals definitely hasn’t been a problem this season, but like I say, conceding them has been!”

cureton2

Cureton…landmark goal

At the other end of the pitch, Jamie Cureton scored his 250th career goal a couple of weeks ago having joined the club from Exeter City in the summer but others seem to have upped their game to give Yates a welcome headache in the striker department.

“After getting hit with an injury on the opening day of the season,” Mark says, “he (Cureton) certainly has hit back with some vital goals. Terry Gornell and Byron Harrison didn’t struggle during his absence, and in my opinion, those two should be the two that start, but it’s always a luxury to have well-travelled player like Jamie at the club.”

As always, we end with our guests’ score prediction with Matt going for a narrow win for his side:

“Cobblers 1 – 2 Rubies/Robins…Harrison and Matt Richards with our two goals.”

Cheltenham Town Links:

Official Site: http://www.ctfc.com

Blogs: http://cheltenhamtownchatter.blogspot.co.uk/

http://www.wearegoingup.co.uk/category/cheltenham-town/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ctfcofficial

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CTFCofficial

Forum: http://www.robinsnestforum.co.uk/

BBC Site: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/teams/cheltenham-town

Local News: http://www.thisisgloucestershire.co.uk/cheltenhamtown#axzz2ifiujpvQ

Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheltenham_Town_F.C.

Stadium Guide: http://www.footballgroundguide.com/cheltenham_town/

Que Sera Sera!

WembleyCheltenham Town 0-1 Northampton Town

League Two Playoff Semi-Final, Second Leg

Sunday, 5th May 2013

It was tense, it was heart stopping and it was dramatic. It was everything we expected but the most important, and incredible, thing that comes from the Cobblers’ win at Cheltenham (yes, an AWAY WIN) is that it means we will be playing at Wembley Stadium for the first time since 1998. The pain of Mansfield and the desperation of Southend were both playing on my mind this evening as I sat down to watch what I knew would be one of the most frightening ninety minutes of my life.

But the Cobblers rose to the occasion and did a thoroughly professional job to not only hold out with a one goal lead on aggregate but to add to it and defend like warriors to make sure that we spent Sunday evening plotting our routes to Wembley.

It’s an extraordinary turnaround from Aidy Boothroyd who, on taking the job eighteen months ago, stated that things would get worse before they got better. That, they most certainly did. I wrote a blog here at the end of January 2012 where I submitted to relegation and accepted what I thought was inevitable despite small improvements from Boothroyd. To be dancing around my house just over a year later having seen a group of players give their all and fight to the death to cling onto it all for us is remarkable.

Tonight was a story of two key moments but many, many heroes. Lee Nicholls’ save from Marlon Pack’s penalty early on was out of the top drawer and his many, many saves during the night kept us in it, earning him the rightful man of the match award. In front of him, Nathan Cameron put in another behemoth of a performance and alongside Clarke Carlisle will even be making Kelvin Langmead worry about his place in the Wembley eleven. Ben Tozer and Lee Collins put in their own solid shifts whilst the midfield five was a masterstroke from Boothroyd with not one of those in there stepping out of line.

Bayo led the line to perfection and did all that he could do being a lone striker. Over these two legs he’s been back to his very best and anyone who thought he had lost his way can now breath easily again. Beast Mode has been switched back on at just the right time.

And then there was the goal. What a belter and one that fit the occasion. Luke Guttridge, the man who has pulled us through this final furlong of the season, just smashed the ball into the roof of the net to stun Whaddon Road and to give us even more than the hope we came with.

From then on we knew we would be clock watching. And boy, were we clock watching. It’s incredible how time stands still in these situations. Ten minutes felt like an hour, every cross into our box felt like it was going to end up in the net. I even panicked when my wife dropped a glass of water on the floor, thinking it was an omen for what was to come!

But the goal never came and Cheltenham were running out of time. They smashed the bar late on and suddenly you felt it was our night. As the clock reached 90 minutes and the ball was booted towards the fantastic Cobblers support we could start to celebrate. The final whistle will have seen man, woman and child up and down the country and around the world with a Cobblers persuasion jumping for joy, embracing strangers and screaming in big letters on social media. Moments like this should be treasured and there’s only one way that we can top it…by winning the final.

That brings us to what I could only call ‘the W word’ before Sunday evening. Wembley Stadium and the League Two Playoff Final against Bradford City. We’ve got plenty of time to worry about Bradford and the challenges that they will bring so for now let’s pinch ourselves once more, go to sleep and wake up in the middle of the night to make absolutely sure that we’re not dreaming this all up.

Northampton Town are going back to Wembley. I’ll see you there!

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!!