Christmas Bonus…

James CollinsSix points, a grip held on second place and a genuine powerhouse of a signing at League Two level – it’s not been a bad Christmas and New Year period for the Cobblers as the home defeat by Portsmouth that derailed the fine run of form was quickly forgotten about with two very different victories.

It’s a stark contrast to twelve months ago when Town headed into the 2015 on the back of five straight defeats. We were two points from the drop zone having collected just 24 points from 23 games. Fast forward twelve months and 2016 begins with us five points clear of fourth place with a game in hand and with more than double the amount of points on the board.

The victories that keep us in touch with leaders Plymouth Argyle and the chasing pack were a good indicator of where we’re at. Fellow promotion hopefuls Accrington were the better side at Sixfields a couple of days after Christmas but an out of sorts performance still ended with us nicking the win thanks to the reliability of the blossoming pairing of Ricky Holmes and Marc Richards, Rico heading in the only goal of a tight games.

Barnet were more straight forward opposition for once and when you brush past the Bees, a perennial bogey team of ours, you start getting the feeling that we’re going to be in with a huge chance of keeping up the pace with a group of sides that are showing no signs of blinking in this huge promotion race.

The fact that the ranks were boosted on Tuesday by a beast of a signing – Shrewsbury striker James Collins on loan until the end of the season – surely makes everyone else sit up and take notice. It’s s statement of intent that means that the attacking options are even more potent than ever. The exit of Dominic Calvert-Lewin would have been disappointing after the youngster made a good impression in his short time here but given that the focus is now on promotion the moves in and out make a lot of sense. Calvert-Lewin certainly has potential but it’s understandable that if someone like Collins becomes available you have to go for him.

Collins’ first involvement will be a top of the table clash at leaders Plymouth on Tuesday night but first comes a rare appearance in the FA Cup Third Round on Saturday. It’s been one of the most dramatic cup runs in recent times with the victory at Coventry drawing all the emotion possible from a travelling contingent that were genuinely believing that it could be the final ever away game for the club and then a remarkable turnaround against Northwich Victoria threw us into the hat.

It’s not the glamour tie it could have been at this stage but the appetite and desire of a squad chomping at every bit of opportunity that comes their way means that there’s a big opportunity for an upset and progression to a stage not reached since 2004.

It’s still ‘pinch me’ territory from where we were before that game at Coventry and whatever happens on Saturday and then on Tuesday, you have to be thankful for this completely opposite style of ‘worry’ we’re facing in the next few days.

As we settle in for this double header, let’s first check out the latest man to tie his flag to the mast of the good ship Cobbler…

McSweeney makes it three in a day…

mcsweeney

McSweeney…latest Cobblers signing

Well, they keep on coming! It’s not even deadline day and there’s now been three confirmed signings with all of them bringing in players until at least the end of the season. Following Alan Connell and Ricky Ravenhill through the door is experienced defender Leon McSweeney, a defender who has represented plenty of Football League and Conference sides during his career.

Most recently McSweeney was with Leyton Orient, where he had been for two years up until the end of last season. Before that he had time at Leicester City, Scarborough, Hucknall Town, Hednesford Town, Ilkeston Town, Cork City, Stockport County and Hartlepool United.

It means that we’ve confirmed signings of a defender, midfielder and striker today and if we can get anything close to similar in terms of numbers and quality tomorrow on deadline day then we’ll be in a much more positive position going into this last, crucial period of the season.

Meanwhile, Antonio German has extended his loan by a further month while Hallam Hope has returned to Everton. Tim Flowers, the Cobblers goalkeeping coach, has left Sixfields meaning that the entire bench will look a lot different from now on with Andy King’s departure earlier this week.

It’s set to be a big deadline day at Sixfields tomorrow…I’ll keep up with updates as much as I can!

First one through the door!

Connell...Wilder's first signing

Connell…Wilder’s first signing

We’re up and running transfer wise as the Cobblers have confirmed the signing of striker Alan Connell from Bradford City on deal that sees us pick up his Bantams contract until the end of the season.

Connell had been linked to a return to Grimsby Town where he scored 25 goals in the 2010/11 season but has instead chosen Sixfields as his destination. It’s a very good start to Chris Wilder’s recruitment with an experienced goal scorer top of most fans’ must have lists coming into the final days of the transfer window.

The thirty year old started his career in the youth set up at Tottenham before moving to Ipswich Town where he never played a game. His first league appearances came with Bournemouth as Connell hit 7 goals in 14 games before a cruciate ligament injury kept him out for the rest of his debut season with the Cherries. He struggled to break back into the side in the following two campaigns and was sold to Torquay United in 2005 for £5,000.

After 7 goals in 22 games for the Devon club in a struggle of a season that saw the Gulls narrowly avoid relegation from the Football League Connell signed for Hereford United, scoring 10 goals in his only season with the Bulls. He then moved again, this time to Brentford, in 2007 and was a popular figure with Bees fans as he scored 12 times in his only full season. His next stop was a return to Bournemouth where he helped the Cherries back from a ten point deduction in his first season and to promotion (including the decisive goal to send them up) in his second.

In 2010 he signed for Grimsby and had that huge impact before joining Swindon a year later, scoring 11 times in 32 games for the Robins. He’s been with Bradford since signing from Swindon in 2012 and has hit 8 goals in 43 games in total as well as coming off the bench for the final five minutes of the playoff final against the Cobblers last May.

I’m pretty happy with this one…experienced and knows how to score a goal which is more than can be said of plenty who have tried so far this season. Crucially, he’s also here for long than a month! Connell seems to move around a fair bit but the favourable mentions from his other clubs point to a potential crowd favourite as well. It was the unfortunate (for him) form of Nahki Wells and James Hanson that kept him out of the Bradford side so that’s not exactly something to be ashamed of.

So there’s your first signing…keep ‘em coming boys!

A window of hope

The January transfer window is usually one where football fans worry about who is coming in to save their season, who will fill a gaping hole in a midfield decimated by injury or who will be the one signing that will potentially give them the final step towards promotion. But for the Cobblers yesterday the main event centred around Bayo Akinfenwa and his immediate future, just as it did back in August when the first transfer window shut.

With the big man starting the last two games, including a 2-0 defeat to one of his suitors Gillingham on Tuesday night, on the bench the speculation mounted. It was, in my eyes, useful for Aidy Boothroyd to work out ways to play without Akinfenwa should the worst happen and if it were true that Gillingham were indeed trying to lure him back to the Priestfield then it perhaps wouldn’t have been too wise to send him out from the start.

But all the talk, speculation and fears were over with a couple of hours left of the window. Boothroyd had already completed a deal for striker Roy O’ Donovan, a man he brought to Coventry City from Sunderland during his time there, but this was not to be a replacement. As the evening started moving towards the final couple of hours of the window, Bayo sent out this tweet:

BMO

 

 

 

Cobblers fans rejoiced and turned their attention to O’Donovan, some ridiculously slating his goal scoring record already! Energies might have been better spent acknowledging that not only have we signed another cog to the forward line but also that other prize assets such as Chris Hackett are still in place. Hackett in particular is one that I would have been almost as worried about leaving thanks to his outstanding and consistent contribution since signing in the summer.

O’Donovan, to me, is a very good signing for League Two and should fit the Cobblers well. He can play out wide or as an out and out striker, meaning that there’s still potential for the rejuvenated Jake Robinson to do the same. It’s another big option for the Cobblers boss with O’Donovan relatively experienced for a 27 year old.

I still sense that the mood around the club is a good one despite Tuesday’s defeat and the double good news coming out of the transfer window means that we can go to Rotherham on Saturday to face the team led by that oh so eloquent of English football managers Steve Evans on a bit of a high. After Evans’ assertion at the start of the season, following the Cobblers’ 2-1 win over his side at Sixfields, that Rotherham will definitely finish about us there should be no need for extra motivational talks for players and fans alike.

Those Town fans have their talisman to cheer again and now that the focus is off Bayo’s future he can hopefully get back his focus to help us to solidify that place in the top seven. As January turns into February, there’s room for optimism at Planet Sixfields.