Cobblers clinging on despite defeat

Cheltenham Town 1-0 Northampton Town

League Two

Monday, April 1st 2013

The dream scenario that could have come from this first six pointer of the run-in was unfortunately a step too far on Monday afternoon as the Cobblers were beaten by the narrowest of margins. There was such a thin line between the standings as they are now and how they would have looked had Town nicked an equaliser but as it was we came home with nothing and are left trying to build ourselves back up for another difficult trip to Bradford on Saturday afternoon.

Incredibly we still ended the day in the top three thanks to a late, late goal from Accrington’s James Beattie that earned his side a draw against Burton Albion who were looking set to leap back into third place as their game entered stoppage time. But as the run in is narrowed to five games, the Cobblers desperately need to find form on the road ahead of some tricky trips if we are to be celebrating more than a playoff place in a few weeks’ time.

Fleetwood and Southend’s draw early in the day meant that we are looking ever more likely to finish at least in the top seven, something of an achievement in itself after the last couple of seasons battling the drop, but Cheltenham managed to ensure that they stayed on course for the bigger prize by dragging us to within a couple of goals’ difference.

The first half was innocuous enough right up until the last two minutes. The Cobblers were holding out well and were looking like heading into the break on level terms thanks to reducing the home side to long range efforts for the majority of the half. But Aidy Boothroyd’s team talk was changed when Steve Elliot followed up a parry from Lee Nicholls to slot the Rubies in front.

Goals around the rest of League Two were tipping the scales of the promotion race this way and that but whatever happened elsewhere it could have been a massive moment had we found the leveller after half-time. Town came out with more purpose and Bayo Akinfenwa headed over before Chris Hackett hit a rocket from range that the home keeper did well to tip away for a corner.

There was to be no late show this time from Boothroyd’s men though and it was then all about checking the other results. Burton were 3-2 up right up until the last seconds of injury time at Accrington but former England striker Beattie scrambled in what could be a game changing goal to mean that the Brewers dropped two points. The psychological effects of that could be lasting and they will need to find something extra when they visit Port Vale on Friday night.

By the time we go to Bradford we will know what at least two of our rivals have done but the main thing about Saturday is that we need three points away from home more than ever. If we can nick it at Valley Parade it would set up a home game against York City nicely and suddenly there could be a chance of not only confirming a playoff place but of making the automatic promotion dream a big possibility.

This one wasn’t the end of the world if we can dig deep and pull something out of the bag in Yorkshire in a few days’ time. The drama goes on…

Rubies turn it around as Sixfields is breached

Duffy...winner

Duffy…winner

Northampton Town 2-3 Cheltenham Town

League Two

Saturday, December 8th 2012

The Cobblers’ home form in recent weeks meant that a game against a genuine promotion challenger in Cheltenham Town wasn’t as daunting as it might have been a year ago. Exeter, Port Vale, Wycombe and Morecambe have all been swept aside with goals flowing and confidence growing with each Sixfields encounter. So when we took another two goal lead against the Rubies on Saturday afternoon it was easy to get back into the mind-set that this was to be another comfortable afternoon.

But unlike previous visitors, Cheltenham took their chances. Their organised and well drilled approach meant that they differentiated themselves from the rest of the pack and were able to fight back to record an impressive victory that stunned a Town side that were perhaps to expectant of the opposition to not have a response.

Bayo’s latest goal came just inside the second minute with a Billy Jones own goal (another one in the Cobblers’ tally to come from a Ben Tozer long throw) putting us into what has become a usual tone of a lead at home. The difference was that this time our visitors were made of sterner stuff and as soon as Darren Carter had found space to make it 2-1 it always looked like a game that could slip from our grasp.

Three minutes later and Chris Zebroski had headed in an equaliser and it was well and truly game on with Cheltenham turning the tide in their own favour as the half came to an end. The fact that they were taking their chances was enough to worry the home support and you got the feeling that the second half would be a difficult one.

And indeed it was. As the Cobblers fluffed chances, mainly through Akinfenwa who had earlier netted the latest in a long line of goals against Cheltenham and who hit the bar from close range, the Rubies were holding firm and waiting for the key break away. Substitute Darryl Duffy, a perennial annoyance of Town, broke clear with ten minutes to go and finished brilliantly to seal all three points with his fifth goal in three games against us. He had scored twice in each fixture last season and is looking like being their equivalent to Akinfenwa’s presence against them.

So a disappointing day but a message to ourselves that there’s still work to be done if we’re to reach the level set by teams like Cheltenham. Aidy Boothroyd rightly said that the game would be a yardstick for his side’s progress and it proved to be just that. It’s not a bad thing, though, and this group will learn a lot from it in terms of making sure chances go in and ensuring that defensively we’re right on the ball, especially when we lead a game by a couple of goals.

There’s another week’s break now before we visit Torquay next weekend, another tester as Christmas gets ever closer. If we can take some of the lessons from the last couple of weeks then the defeats won’t be in vain.

Northampton Town v Cheltenham Town: Match Preview

sixfieldsNorthampton Town v Cheltenham Town

League Two

Saturday, December 8th 2012

After a week of cup distraction it’s back to the good old ‘bread and butter’ of league action with high flying Cheltenham Town in town for a big game at Sixfields. The Cobblers were on a fine run of form until Oxford ruined things two weeks ago by inflicting a 2-1 defeat on us before Leyton Orient dumped us out of the JPT on Wednesday night.

The visitors come to town looking to keep hold of, and build on, a top three place as they attempt to go one better than last season’s foray into the playoffs.

Rubies gunning for glory once more…

Cheltenham were beaten semi-finalists in the playoffs last season but began this campaign steadily with new signing and ex-Cobbler Shaun Harrad making his mark in front of goal. Harrad has hit six goals so far and made his mark in Monday’s FA Cup Second Round game with Hereford by pouncing to open the scoring before the Bulls hit back. The away form is a slight cause for concern for them, though with just one point collected in the last four league trips albeit at leaders Gillingham. If they can get back into the groove at Sixfields, the Gills will be well in their sights, though with just six points separating the teams going into this weekend.

Bayo ready to feed again?

Bayo Akinfenwa should be raring to go again following his cameo from the bench on Tuesday and Cheltenham are one of his favourite opposition. The big man has scored eight times against the Rubies in as many games for the Cobblers and Gillingham over the last four seasons and has entered double figures for this season already.

 

Club Links…

Cheltenham top scorer Shaun Harrad was a key figure in keeping the Cobblers in the Football League in 2011 before he was sold to Bury by Gary Johnson. Harrad went on to join Rotherham on loan last season before signing for the season at Whaddon Road in the summer.

Rubies goalkeeping coach Steve Book is the son of former Cobblers keeper Kim Book, the man who was hit for six by George Best in 1970.

 

Team News…

Cobblers defender Clarke Carlisle is still waiting on clarification as to whether he has served his one match ban through the JPT tie. If he has he should go straight back into the squad for this one. David Artell and Luke Guttridge are still out with long term injuries and Alex Nicholls will be missing for the rest of the season. Bayo Akinfenwa and Chris Hackett should return after being rested from the start on Wednesday night

Cheltenham’s Sido Jombati and Lawson D’ath both returned to action for the reserves in midweek and could stake a claim for a first team place tomorrow. Chris Zebroski was ill earlier this week but is looking likely to recover in time for the trip to Sixfields.

 

Previous Six Meetings…

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.

27/02/10: Cobblers 2-1 Cheltenham (League Two)

After a goalless first half, things came to life in the second. Bayo Akinfenwa put us in front and Marley Watkins looked like he’d earned a draw for the visitors. But Seb Harris scored his only goal for the club with five minutes to go to settle it.

05/12/09: Cheltenham 2-2 Cobblers (League Two)

In a see-saw battle, Barry Hayles opened the scoring before Bayo levelled just a minute later. Hayles was again on target on the half hour mark but Akinfenwa matched him, sealing a point just after the break.

 

The man in the middle…

Andy Davies is the referee at Sixfields on Saturday. Davies has already taken charge of a Cobblers game this season in the 3-2 defeat at Plymouth with this season his first in the Football League. So far he’s shown thirty three yellow cards and one red in eleven matches during the campaign.

 

Prediction…

Hopefully all Cheltenham eyes will be on Tuesday night’s cup replay with Hereford with the knowledge that the winner sets up a home game with Everton. That’s one way we could pick up a big win but a lot could rest on how the visitors keep hold of Bayo Akinfenwa and stop his obligatory goal against them. I’m thinking it’ll be a close one with a score draw one that both might well be happy with. 1-1.

League Two Playoff Special: Cheltenham Town

Playoff History: League Two final winners 2002, 2006

In the next part of this playoff special we take a look at the prospects of one of, if not the surprise package of League Two this season, Cheltenham Town. Mark Yates has transformed the Rubies from relegation candidates last season, a campaign in which they finished just five points above the drop zone, to promotion contenders for the majority of this season.

2011/12 has already seen plenty to shout about for Yates’ men as they recovered from a disappointing first couple of games to discover form and defeat both Swindon and Crawley at Whaddon Road. A mixed September meant that not even the most hardened Town supporter could envisage what would come in October as their club won five out of six games in the league as well as seeing off League One Wycombe in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Yates was perhaps cruelly beaten by Crawley’s Steve Evans to the Manager of the Month award that month but a foundation had been built and Cheltenham were on their way.

Winning all three league games in November, the Rubies also progressed through the First Round of the FA Cup, beating another League One club away as Darryl Duffy’s penalty saw them through at Tranmere. Yates finally got his recognition with the Manager of the Month for November and not only did his side continue their fine run by going through December unbeaten but they also set up a Third Round FA Cup tie with Tottenham Hotspur by winning 4-2 at Luton Town.

A 3-0 defeat at White Hart Lane was no disgrace and the fact that it was sandwiched between back to back league wins made it that bit more bearable as Town rode on towards the summit of League Two. A slight February wobble was hammered away by a 5-0 victory at Dagenham and it all looked set for an almighty finish to the season.

Rubies boss Mark Yates

The club were hanging around the top three until mid-March when four successive defeats pulled them back from the automatic promotion shake up into the playoff race and it’s perhaps a testament to the work of Yates and his squad that they were still in a strong enough position to keep hold of a place in the running for the top seven.

That place was confirmed thanks to three straight home victories in April and many people’s underdogs will now take their rightful place in the end of season lottery in a two legged-affair with Torquay United.

Max Hobbs (@maxihobbs), our resident Cheltenham fanatic and creator of this Rubies’ blog, gives his thoughts below on what could be a stunning end to a surprising season…

Did you expect to be in a playoff position when you started this season?

Not at all and I think the same could be said for Torquay in reality too. A look at Coral on the day before the season began put us 11/4 favourites to go down, in that sense alone our season has been remarkable especially considering we topped the League as late as February. Sadly March killed off our automatic hopes but I prefer the thrill of the play offs anyway!!

What have been the key moments in achieving a playoff spot?

Our start to the season, as usual, was fantastic and we were right in the mix after some great performances mainly on the road. People expected us to fade which ultimately we did but I think we’ve shown great character to now finish 7 points into the play offs. Between September and December was where teams really stepped up and took notice of us.

Who have been the key men?

It’s a cliché but the whole squad have been imperative in our rise this season. We have a small squad so they’ve all played their parts but inevitably you have stand out players and it’s hard to look past the quality of Marlon Pack, the sheer determination of Russ Penn and Sido Jombati at the back has been a revelation. I could name plenty more including the 2 CB’s, Luke Summerfield and Kaid Mohamed – as a unit we’ve been fantastic and the togetherness of the squads of 02 and 06 which saw us win the playoffs is there.

Which team would you want to avoid in the final should you make it?

Without being disrespectful I’m happy to have drawn Torquay and I think they’d probably believe likewise. Crewe’s unbeaten run is becoming longer by the week and we recently came off the back of a 4-0 hammering at Southend so I didn’t fancy either of those and whoever we get in the final will be very difficult. Crewe have already done the double over us and have forgotten what it’s like to lose and with the quality of Nick Powell and Luke Murphy I’d probably rather take on Southend, just!

Finally, will you be promoted?!

Our playoff record is as good as it gets and we always seem to pull something out the bag for occasions like this but I’m not so sure. I think whoever goes up will be deserving of their spot and I also feel all 4 teams could hold their own in League 1. There’s no reason why we can’t but I’ve got a feeling for Crewe.