Another giant leap – it’s EIGHT not out!

l2EIGHT points clear. EIGHT wins in a row.

I sit here tonight speechless once again. The Cobblers have just beaten Oxford United 1-0 in a season defining result that takes us to completely new heights. It’s now EIGHT wins in a row in League Two. It’s back to back wins against two genuine promotion rivals. It goes against everything that we know as Cobblers fans and I almost don’t know how to respond, such is the rarity of this form!

Just as we did on Saturday, we rode our luck on a few occasions but once Marc Richards smashed home the winner from the spot at the Kassam there was something to cling on to, another three points to protect and the prospect of extending a huge gap between ourselves and fourth spot hanging like the juiciest of carrots.

The strength shown in defending that lead was admirable but also, in part, standard and epitomised a Cobblers side that is as resolute as it is skilful and as tough as it is flashy. It’s stuff of champions, and even I have to admit it now – we can start dreaming of not only promotion but of lifting the League Two title in May. What an absolutely incredible season this is.

I keep saying that it has to end somewhere, that the run will surely come a cropper eventually but this formidable side just keeps defying all Cobblers logic to batter League Two into submission time and time again. What we’re witnessing is close to being a season that’s etched in history in the same bracket as 1986/87 and that 99 point classic campaign. It’s once in a generation stuff.

We’re now on the brink of a bit of history after equalling the club record of successive league wins. One more against Wycombe on Saturday and we’ll be over that line into the history books. Gareth Ainsworth and his side would relish being the ones to break the run but we really should fear no-one right now.

As we look towards the final third of the season, we have to take this all in and enjoy watching this group of players that dragged us out of desperation in November and have set the league alight ever since.

This is utter, utter madness but it’s there to be savoured. It’s another hugely proud night, another one to savour. A few more and League One will start to beckon.

Get the champagne on ice…

Down Town Abbey…

abbey-stadium-112

You know something’s about to happen when you see that the Cobblers have a strong record at a certain away ground we’re about to visit or are hosting a team who haven’t won at Sixfields in X amount of visits. I wish those statisticians would keep quiet because as soon as they rear their head Cobblers Law kicks in and we know that records are about to be broken.

So to the Abbey Stadium on Friday night – scenes of many good memories over the years: Jamie Forrester’s two wonder goals in a 2-1 win, coming from 3-1 down to nick a 3-3 draw, an entertaining FA Cup draw and a Chris Willmott 90th minute winner all spring to mind. I had no idea during all of those good times that a record was being built on quietly – one of years’ worth of visits without the Cobblers losing.

Once again, the curse kicked in on Friday as the U’s came from behind to beat a Town side who are now, despite the win over Wimbledon a couple of weeks ago, in steady decline.

It would, of course, be wrong to blame this on fate. There’s something about the side that just doesn’t feel right at the moment. Things aren’t clicking how they were in the early season, defending is at a standstill and those injuries just keep on coming. It’s a miracle these days if we get through a weekend without a new injury and Tom Newey was added to the roll call half an hour in. It’s shocking for continuity when the team is dropping like the proverbial fly and we’re unlikely to build up a bid for even a top half finish with the sort of problems we’re having on that front.

The Cobblers briefly threatened to win it thanks to Ivan Toney’s much needed goal just after half-time – the young lad is bound to blow hot and cold in his first full season but it would have been a huge confidence booster. Even more so had the team kept hold of the lead it gave them for more than a minute but Cambridge were straight up the other end to level before Ryan Bird won it far too easily and with too much predictability.

You can point at a goal mouth scramble and a goal line clearance as unlucky reasons to not at least get a point but the fact is we’re losing far too much and are headed straight back towards the direction Chris Wilder found us in just over a year ago. He has a big, big job on his hands now to make sure that all his, and the players’, hard work from January to May isn’t wasted.

We undoubtedly have a stronger side in place even with the injuries but there’s so much that needs be addressed. From comments coming out of the last couple of weeks a lot of supporters have felt drained. We’re in need of a great big shot in the arm but you just can’t seem to tell where on earth it’s going to come from.

As for Tuesday night’s cup replay, I think I was more confident of us beating Wolves away earlier in the season than I am that we’ll get through at Spotland –  with a lower league club than them awaiting in Round Two they’ll be well up for it and planning ahead. Next week’s home game with Stevenage becomes pivotal and will see us come under plenty of pressure.

Just don’t tell me about any records in the coming few days!

The Town Are Staying Up!

pitchinvasionoxford

Northampton Town 3-1 Oxford United

League Two

Saturday, May 3rd 2014

Ten minutes have been played at Sixfields and my head’s already in my hands – all the pre-match nerves have turned into disbelief and terror. The Cobblers are a goal behind to Oxford United and Wycombe have taken the lead at Torquay. As it stands, Town are relegated and will be playing their trade in the Skrill Premier next season. What I feel is panic and helplessness. For the first time it actually feels real and like fate has played its final card.

Ivan Toney suddenly races through on goal and rounds visiting keeper Ryan Clarke. His shot rolls in slow motion towards goal but turns onto the post at the last second. Even this early in the most pivotal of afternoons since 1993 it’s looking like everything is conspiring against us. We’ve started nervously despite an earth moving atmosphere inside the ground that greeted the sides at 3pm. Oxford have seemingly come to haunt Chris Wilder and are looking more confident on the ball than us. I try comprehending what it all means when there’s a sudden incident that changes everything.

Ryan Williams, the U’s goal scorer, lashes out at Ricky Ravenhill off the ball and referee Mr Duncan produces one of the most well received red cards in the near twenty year history of Sixfields. A twist back in our favour but still plenty to be done.

The noise levels rose as we latched on to the hope that was dragging us to the point of believing once again and there was a glorious reward on the half hour mark when John Marquis found space and fired us level with a low shot into the corner of Clarke’s goal. Game on, season on, survival well and truly on!

It would only get better and better from there and as the U’s were still trying to adjust there was another moment for Toney to add to his collection when he rose to meet an excellent cross from Evan Horwood to head in his third goal in two games. Sixfields erupted and from then on the game and the tide of the relegation battle was only going one way.

Mathias Doumbe replaced Gregor Robertson at half-time as Wilder tweaked his formation and the increasingly popular defender who sealed the victory just a few minutes after the restart when he directed a header into the net from a Chris Hackett corner from the right hand side. Now it really was party time and the relief around three sides of the ground could probably be heard miles away.

Oxford had started mentally preparing themselves for their holidays and offered little going forwards which played right into our hands. We needed to do nothing more but could easily have added a fourth when a second substitute, Emile Sinclair, got on the end of a nice ball from Ian Morris but saw his shot cleared off the line at the death.

By this point Wycombe were 3-0 up and Bristol Rovers were the ones in trouble after falling behind at home to Mansfield. For Town it was all about seeing their own game out as they did last weekend at Dagenham. With every passing minute came a greater realisation that we’d done it – from seven points behind the pace at one point to survival on the final day it had been a hell of a journey.

Before the game I was a little critical of ‘celebrating’ the moment should we stay up but with the utter relief on the full time whistle it was hard to not get engrossed in the feeling that the Cobblers had pulled something major off from such a shocking position earlier in the season. It’s true that we were let down badly by some in the first half of the season but those who came in and those who improved deserved their moment to take in a job well done.

Finishing in 21st place is nothing to shout from the rooftops about but the sheer determination, passion and restored pride that’s come from the efforts of the last three months or so is something to be proud of. We’ve got our football club back and helped to save them at the death once more.

A lot of the players who finished this match may not be around come August but the ever outstanding Cobblers support will be. If ever the fans deserved to win the Player of the Year award then this was it – the turn outs on the road and the backing particularly over the last six games make you proud to be a Northampton Town fan. It’s not been an easy season and at times it’s seemed inevitable that we’d be playing non-league football in the 2014/15 campaign. But thank you to every single one of you who kept going and helped to rescue my football club.

That goes to Chris Wilder and his staff too – an unenviable job has been complete and now comes a summer which is likely to see huge changes around the club. Not only will Sixfields begin its reconstruction but there are plenty of players out of contract. Wilder will have an idea of who he wants to bring in to add to a core group that have served him well since February and the side that starts the first game of the season (IN LEAGUE TWO!!) will be a lot different to the one that finished this one.

The inquest can now begin and we need to reflect on which cracks from the end of the Boothroyd era were simply papered over and which were built on and vastly improved. With the likes of Lewis Hornby and Alex Nicholls hopefully coming through pre-season there’s a good core of a squad in place should we tie up the right contracts. Wilder’s form in the transfer window has proven trustworthy and I look forward to the rumour mill kicking off almost immediately.

For now, though, everyone breathe, smile, enjoy the summer and please, please no-one say the dreaded words…

“We’ll never be in this position again”

Northampton Town v Oxford United: Match Preview

sixfieldspanorama

Northampton Town v Oxford United

League Two

Saturday, May 3rd 2014

One game of football sits between the Cobblers and what looked like the most unlikely of survivals even as recently as three or four weeks ago. A startling 3-0 home defeat by Bury had left us in a perilous position three points from safety with just six games left to turn things around. Three wins from the following five games later, though, and we’re staring safety right in the face.

We all know the permutations – Town need just one solitary point from the meeting with Chris Wilder’s old side Oxford United to guarantee League Two football again for another season. Wycombe Wanderers must beat relegated Torquay at Plainmoor to stand any chance of saving themselves and despite it all being in our hands it’s almost guaranteed that radios will be glued to ears and social media will be constantly being refreshed should Oxford silence a sold out Sixfields by taking a lead.

The last week has been spent picturing every scenario under the sun – an Ivan Toney thirty yarder in the last second to save the day, a 5-0 trouncing of Oxford to really go out in style, a gritty and heart churning draw…I’m sure you’ve all been having dreams and nightmares of similar outcomes.

The only thing that we can do is place our trust one more time in the eleven men charged with taking us over the line. We’ve got to the point now where if the worst does happen then it’ll be that bit harder to take but with momentum with us and spirit in the camp arguably the highest they’ve been since Wilder’s arrival there’s confidence in the air.

Wilder’s January jump to Sixfields was one of the big talking points of the League Two season and as soon as it was confirmed the Oxford support was talking all about the implications of this meeting on the final day of the season. The U’s, at that point, were sixth in the division and just four points from the top. They had a comfortable seven point gap between themselves and the sides outside the playoff places and chances were high that Wilder’s old side could not only relegate his new one but confirm a promotion or a playoff place at the same time.

Nineteen games later and fortunes for both sides have dramatically changed. The Cobblers, six points from safety and bottom of the table on Wilder’s appointment, are now within a point of guaranteeing league football again next season whilst Oxford have dropped to eighth and are seven points away from a playoff place that was completely lost after a 2-1 home defeat to Accrington Stanley last weekend.

That run of form for both sides doesn’t make the nerves any easier though … it’s difficult to comprehend that we’re down to one game to decide it all. After this one there are no more ifs, buts or maybes, no more fixtures to look at and plot a route out of trouble and no more chances to redeem a bad performance.

This is it…

Team News…

The Cobblers have no new injury worries ahead of the game with the only injuries being the long term casualties Lee Collins, Alex Nicholls and Lewis Hornby. Joe Widdowson’s ankle problem is also keeping him out once again but apart from that Town could line up in a similar way to how they did in last week’s win at Dagenham.

Oxford boss Gary Waddock may take the chance to blood a couple of the younger members of his squad with no chance of making the playoffs and a virtual guarantee that they will finish in eighth place.

Previous Six Meetings…

12/10/13: Oxford 2-0 Cobblers (League Two)

Oxford moved up to third in League Two with this victory against the Cobblers back in October. James Constable put the U’s in front just before half-time and the lead was doubled just a minute later when Constable was brought down in the area and Danny Rose converted the spot kick.

23/03/13: Cobblers 1-0 Oxford (League Two)

This was a crucial win for the Cobblers towards the end of last season as Ben Harding’s goal on the stroke of half-time kept up the tremendous run of form at Sixfields that was to be the main reason for reaching the playoffs.

24/11/12: Oxford 2-1 Cobblers (League Two)

James Constable put the U’s in front on fifteen minutes at the Kassam Stadium. Clive Platt looked to have earned a point for the Cobblers but Jon-Paul Pittman struck back again for the home side moments later with the crucial deciding goal. To compound our misery, Clarke Carlisle was sent off in the final minute of the game.

06/04/12: Cobbler s 2-1 Oxford (League Two)

A cracking Good Friday match under the Sixfields lights saw Luke Guttridge score inside the first minute to give the Cobblers the lead. Christian Montano equalised before Neal Kitson saved his second penalty in as many games to keep us in it. Right at the death, Brett Williams chased down what looked like a lost cause, cut inside and curled in one of the most important goals of the season to earn a simply massive three points on the way to Football League safety.

17/12/11: Oxford 2-0 Cobblers (League Two)

This was my wedding day so I barely knew we were playing this match until my best man reminded me with a sneaky score update during dinner. Those that were concentrating saw Town comfortably beaten thanks to goals from Tom Craddock and Deane Smalley.

22/01/11: Cobblers 2-1 Oxford (League Two)

Andy Holt gave the Cobblers the lead at Sixfields going into half-time but Tom Craddock pulled things level two minutes after the break. Leon McKenzie sealed a big win, though, by putting in the winner with a quarter of the game to go.

23/10/10: Oxford 3-1 Cobblers (League Two)

Alfie Potter scored early on in this one but Leon McKenzie equalised on fifteen minutes. Josh Payne would give the U’s the lead back right on the stroke of half-time and when John Johnson was sent off for a foul in the area on ninety minutes, Tom Craddock stepped up to seal the victory for the hosts.

The man in the middle…

The referee who will hopefully remain quiet and not become a figure of folklore is Scott Duncan who has shown four red cards in his last five games. Duncan last took charge of the Cobblers in a 2-0 home win over AFC Wimbledon in September 2012.

Prediction…

Do I dare predict how this is going? Go on then…I’ve been keeping faith for a long time and the ‘R’ word has never been something I’ve really accepted and I’m not changing now. It’s not likely to be a clear passage to safety but I think we’ll get what we need. 1-1.

#gavinitlarge

As mentioned yesterday there’s a group of Cobblers fans making the journey to Sixfields via a couple of pit stops in town…for all the details check out the chat I had with Jake Moore here or see his blog at http://northamptontownimproudtobe.blogspot.co.uk/

The man himself, Pat Gavin is going to be in attendance and presented to the Cobblers fans before the game!

Kassam blues again for Cobblers

kassam stadiumOxford United 2-0 Northampton Town

League Two

Saturday, October 12th 2013

Josh Low collects the ball inside the Oxford penalty area, brings it down and produces one of the calmest goals of the season over the flagging Billy Turley. Amidst a sea of claret and a noise not heard in an away end containing Cobblers fans for quite some time, the delicate finish seemed almost poetic. Low’s goal made it 3-0 on the day to a rampant and upward surging Town side who went on to clinch promotion to League One the following week. Thousands of Cobblers fans had made the journey to the Kassam Stadium and all went home delirious in the knowledge that we were a win away from promotion.

It’s becoming almost a tradition to lose at the Kassam Stadium since that glorious day in 2006 and since Oxford returned to the Football League. The memories of what was a pivotal day in our last promotion season are memories that will be with anyone who was there every time they enter the home of the U’s. But, now, the teams are at opposite ends of League Two and after Saturday’s reverse it’s now four defeats in a row to Oxford on their ground.

The U’s are, of course, big hitters in League Two this season and a loss at the Kassam will get lost in the shuffle if we can bookend it with a home win over Dagenham and Redbridge next weekend. The corner is not turned full yet despite the success at AFC Wimbledon and in terms of competing with the best that League Two has to offer we’re miles away.

The qualms about having a good enough squad together from the start of the season still wrangle with Cobblers fans and on this evidence there’s not a lot of argument against Aidy Boothroyd needing to dip into the loan or free transfer system to dig out a striker again. Roy O’Donovan does his utmost to dig it out for the team but unless he’s working off a big target man he won’t be effective.

Another early sign that this may not be our day was the replacement of injured left-back Joe Widdowson with not-a-left-back-on-any-day-of-the-week Ben Tozer. Against a different side he may have survived but to Oxford it would have been like a red rag to a bull. Chris Hackett being out injured didn’t help either and the Cobblers were in trouble before a ball was even kicked.

To the side’s credit, though, they did hold out well and looked dangerous intermittently with Darren Carter and Kevin Amankwaah going close. But a minute from the break it all started to go wrong and, as is usually the case in away defeats, it was two goals in quick succession that ended our hopes for the afternoon. First, James Constable got on the end of a flick on from big Dave Kitson and finished well to give his side the lead. If that wasn’t bad enough, almost straight from the kick off the home side were given a dubious penalty through Tozer’s trip to the goal scorer.

Danny Rose stepped up and converted for 2-0 and it was always going to be a long, long way back for a Cobblers side low on confidence when they go behind.

Ivan Toney boosted the forward line by replacing Lee Collins at half-time but his couple of efforts did little to come close to getting us back in the game. It was a case of the hosts knowing that they’d done enough and Town left with yet another Kassam Stadium defeat to add to a long line of them that’s starting to build up disturbingly.

It leaves us still stuck in the bottom two, though I feel a lot more confident of escape than I did a few weeks ago. We’ve had a disaster of a start but there is still plenty of time to turn things around even before Christmas and if we can find another ball retainer up front from the midst of football’s outcasts then there can be hope at least if nothing else.

Let’s just try and avoid Oxford away in the FA Cup shall we?

Oxford United v Northampton Town: Match Preview

kassam stadiumOxford United v Northampton Town

League Two

Saturday, October 10th 2013

We’ve had a good week to be buoyant over a rare away win last Saturday with the victory at AFC Wimbledon coming at just the right time. It gets no easier, though, as we prepare to make the trip to Oxford United on Saturday. The U’s have been one of the early pace setters in League Two, though that’s been mainly based on performances on the road with form at the Kassam Stadium holding them back slightly from the coat tails of the league leaders.

This type of form has been exemplified in recent weeks with the U’s losing out by a single goal to fellow high flyers Chesterfield at the Kassam Stadium before hitting back with a 3-1 win away at Hartlepool and then stuttering again on their own turf by losing 2-0 to Southend United. Another home reverse, this time in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, on Tuesday night against Portsmouth means that they come into the game looking to give their own supporters something to shout about.

The Cobblers have shored up a shaky defence and are coming into the game off the back of two clean sheets in a row thanks to a new and developing partnership between Paul Reid and Mathias Doumbe. They should be back in place at the heart of the back line on Saturday but the problems for Town lie further up the pitch and particularly up front.

A game against a side struggling for form at home usually brings about a turn in fortunes for them when the Cobblers come to Town (see Bristol Rovers last season and many more before!) so fingers crossed for that pattern to stop and for us to pick something up from this one. Anything at all gained from what is one of the hardest games of the season so far would keep this momentum going.

 

Platt...still missing

Platt…still missing

Team News…

Oxford could be boosted by the return of captain Jake Wright who has been recovering from surgery on an abscess for the last four weeks. Michael Raynes has been deputising and recent performances could leave Chis Wilder with a welcome headache in terms of team selection for the visit of the Cobblers. Also returning to action is midfielder Andy Whing – he’s been suspended for the last three games following a sending off in the defeat to Chesterfield in September.

The Cobblers are still without Clive Platt whilst Jacob Blyth went back to Leicester last week. Roy O’Donovan has added to the striker crisis as he is only 50/50 for the game with an ankle injury. That’s also the case for former Oxford man Chris Hackett who is suffering with a groin injury and could miss out.

 

Previous Six Meetings…

23/03/13: Cobblers 1-0 Oxford (League Two)

This was a crucial win for the Cobblers towards the end of last season as Ben Harding’s goal on the stroke of half-time kept up the tremendous run of form at Sixfields that was to be the main reason for reaching the playoffs.

24/11/12: Oxford 2-1 Cobblers (League Two)

James Constable put the U’s in front on fifteen minutes in our last meeting at the Kassam Stadium. Clive Platt looked to have earned a point for the Cobblers but Jon-Paul Pittman struck back again for the home side moments later with the crucial deciding goal. To compound our misery, Clarke Carlisle was sent off in the final minute of the game.

06/04/12: Cobbler s 2-1 Oxford (League Two)

A cracking Good Friday match under the Sixfields lights saw Luke Guttridge score inside the first minute to give the Cobblers the lead. Christian Montano equalised before Neal Kitson saved his second penalty in as many games to keep us in it. Right at the death, Brett Williams chased down what looked like a lost cause, cut inside and curled in one of the most important goals of the season to earn a simply massive three points on the way to Football League safety.

17/12/11: Oxford 2-0 Cobblers (League Two)

This was my wedding day so I barely knew we were playing this match until my best man reminded me with a sneaky score update during dinner. Those that were concentrating saw Town comfortably beaten thanks to goals from Tom Craddock and Deane Smalley.

22/01/11: Cobblers 2-1 Oxford (League Two)

Andy Holt gave the Cobblers the lead at Sixfields going into half-time but Tom Craddock pulled things level two minutes after the break. Leon McKenzie sealed a big win, though, by putting in the winner with a quarter of the game to go.

23/10/10: Oxford 3-1 Cobblers (League Two)

Alfie Potter scored early on in this one but Leon McKenzie equalised on fifteen minutes. Josh Payne would give the U’s the lead back right on the stroke of half-time and when John Johnson was sent off for a foul in the area on ninety minutes, Tom Craddock stepped up to seal the victory for the hosts.

 

The man in the middle…

When you automatically shudder when you find out who the referee is you know you’re in trouble! This week, we reacquaint ourselves with Darren Deadman who takes charge at the Kassam Stadium. His last Cobblers game was the 2-1 win at Aldershot Town last season. More recently, he was the official for Oxford’s 1-0 win at Dagenham and Redbridge in April. He’s shown 28 yellow cards and one red so far this season.

 

Prediction…

The recent boost in form doesn’t do an awful lot for my ambitions for getting a result at Oxford…their poor form at home makes me think it’s going to turn for them against the one team you want to play when you’re on a bad run! I’ll have to go for an ambitious shut out draw. 0-0

 

From the Opposition…find out the thoughts of Oxford United blogger Scott Walkinshaw by following this link!

Fan Feature: Oxford United

oxfordThis weekend sees the Cobblers attempt to build on a morale boosting away win at AFC Wimbledon as we make the shortest trip of our season. The Kassam Stadium hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for Town over the last few years barring that fantastic day in 2006 when we took a giant leap towards promotion with a 3-1 win at the home of the U’s. The stadium hasn’t been kind to our hosts this season, though, with away form the backbone of their early success.

I’m joined for this week’s Fan Feature by Scott Walkinshaw from the excellent Oxford United blog Oxblogger and he gives his thoughts on the positive start to the season for his club and their early home struggles…

After missing out on the playoffs last season, Chris Wilder has rebuilt his Oxford side and has them already battling it out at the top end of League Two. A thumping 4-1 win at Portsmouth on the opening day sent a message to the rest of the division and set their own standards for what has been a positive opening. The U’s are unbeaten away from home but at the Kassam Stadium they haven’t won since overcoming Bury in their first home game of the season with two draws and two defeats since.

“In simple terms,” Scott says, “we’ve got a very low shots to goals ratio, we don’t miss many, but we don’t shoot much either. When we’re away from home teams tend to come at us and we have more space to attack on the break. At home teams sit back and we don’t seem to have the guile to break them down. We really need to make count the few chances we create and more often than not recently, we don’t.”

“On top of that is a growing psychological barrier; a fear that we simply can’t win at home. We’ve had bad runs before and you get to a point where you can’t imagine winning ever again. That seems to be with us at home at the moment. The Kassam Stadium is still not a comfortable home for us, there’s a sense that something about it is conspiring against us. People talk about teams upping their game at the Kassam. I don’t really buy that, but it must be an easy place to come and play. The pitch is great, the facilities are nice, and the open end of the stadium means the atmosphere can drain away so it’s not too intimidating.”

“The Firoz Kassam years were full of failure, perhaps playing in a stadium bearing his name, given the woeful legacy it carries, puts us on the back foot before we’ve stepped on the pitch. If you can knock our confidence, we can be pretty fragile. Away from home, we don’t seem to have these constraints.”

The good form has come from hard work in pre-season, according to our U’s expert, with a summer clear out followed by some tough work on the training ground. Scott says,

We had a big clear out in the summer which has made a big difference. Many of those let go, such as Michael Duberry and Peter Leven, had their moments, but they weren’t fit for much of last year. We got dragged down waiting for all these players to get fit and find form, it never really came. We didn’t put the same team out from one week to another.”

“This year we have a much more robust side and the close season focussed a lot on building fitness. That seems to be offering a bit more stability. We have a core squad of players capable of playing most of the season.”

“In addition, the club have made a commitment to developing young players. Although we haven’t seen many coming through to the first team, the long term view is welcomed by most. It feels like we’ve got a cause to get behind; a plan for the future, which has brought people back together after a fairly fractious season last year.”

wilderChris Wilder, who played one game on loan with the Cobblers in 1998 during his playing career, is now the third longest serving manager in England having joined Oxford in 2008. Whilst that says a lot about the quick fire nature of managerial jobs in the country at the moment it’s admirable that the club has stuck by the man who has led them back into the Football League. Scott says that taking the focus off the man in charge has been key:

It’s pretty ridiculous that he is the third longest serving manager given that he’s been with us for less than 5 years. Part of the key is that he brought us back to the Football League, which has bought him a lot of time with the fans. Also, our owner Ian Lenagan, I think, has been very astute in focussing on stable growth, of which keeping Chris Wilder is undoubtedly part. Lenagan’s also moved us away from the manager being the focus of all our success or failure, so if there’s a problem at the club, we don’t default to sacrificing the manager.”

“So, for example, when it came to light that we’d been signing players without putting them through medicals – meaning they’d look good on paper but they’d spend loads of time in the treatment room. The answer wasn’t fire the manager, it was to invest in a more robust sports science function.”

“That’s not to say Wilder’s untouchable. Many fans have doubts in his ability to take us further. It was a surprise when he was kept on at the end of the season, and it’s quite conceivable that failure to make the play-offs this year will see him moving on at the end of the year. Personally, I hope he does stay and succeed, I quite like the idea that our club has the maturity to retain the 3rd longest serving manager in the league.”

So what of the overall expectations for this season? After missing out on the playoffs by just four points last time out, going a few places better seems to be the general feeling. Scott explains,

“I think we’ll probably end up between 6th-8th. Chesterfield look favourites, despite their recent results. Exeter, Fleetwood and Scunthorpe all look capable of sustaining a challenge. You wouldn’t rule out Portsmouth and Southend despite slow starts. That said, Chesterfield and, at the other end, Accrington aside, pretty much everyone looks capable of going up or down. I can’t quite get to grips with where we’re at. It’s not exactly normal to win 72% of your points away from home.”

In terms of the Cobblers, it appears that Oxford fans have a bit of time for us with some shared links and history. Scott looks back on some famous players who have donned both Oxford and Cobblers shirts over the years whilst celebrating one of our more recently departed heroes.

“I think there’s quite a lot of affection for Northampton,” he says, “We have quite a lot of shared history – Martin Aldridge, Ian Atkins, Andy Woodman – so that helps. You’re near enough to make the away game a good one, far enough away to make sure the rivalry doesn’t get too bitter. I think everyone enjoyed the snow and the orange ball from last season’s game at Sixfields and you’d have to be dead not to have enjoyed the phenomena that is Ade Akinfenwa. Plus, I think you have a really nice kit.”

Finally, a prediction for Saturday’s game?

“If you get an early goal, the doubts may consume us. But, we’re not a bad team at all and it’s hard to believe that we’ll lose a 4th home game on the trot. You don’t seem to have had a great start, so I’m thinking that we’re looking at an extremely uncomfortable (for us) narrow home win.”

Oxford United Links…

Official website: http://www.oufc.co.uk/

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

Blog: http://oxblogger.blogspot.co.uk/

Forum: http://yellowsforum.proboards.com/

BBC Website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/teams/oxford-united

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

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/OUFClive

Local News site: http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/sport/

Winning run over as Oxford nick it

Pitman…match winner

Oxford United 2-1 Northampton Town

League Two

Saturday, November 24th 2012

It had to end somewhere and unfortunately for the Cobblers, for this little spell anyway, the glory of a winning run came to an end at the Kassam Stadium, Oxford. The three sided arena was the setting for one of our most glorious triumphs in recent years back in the 2006 promotion run-in but as we began to hurtle towards an extraordinary leap to similar dreams we were cut off by a dodgy refereeing decision and a failure to hold on to a point.

Town thought they had earned what would have been a good draw late on when Clive Platt headed in a cross from former Oxford trainee Chris Hackett. That came at the end of a good spell of pressure from the Cobblers and you would forgive us for thinking that we could turn one point into three but it just wasn’t to be and we were caught out pretty much straight from the kick off.

The day just seemed destined to be Oxford’s. A terrible call in the opening fifteen minutes saw James Constable slot in the opener despite looking a long, long way offside and that set the tone. Platt’s equaliser came after some hard graft but just as quickly as we had got back into the game we were behind once more.

A long, high ball over the top was brought down by John-Paul Pittman who finished well and sealed a vital three points for his side. To make things worse, Clarke Carlisle was sent off for his second booking of the game in the final minute. Some news stories had it down as foul and abusive language, leading many to mock the chairman of the PFA before they knew anything about the simple facts of two bad challenges.  Carlisle will now be out of the team again just as quickly as he returned to it.

The defeat didn’t feel like a disaster afterwards. Going into a break thanks to our lack of FA Cup action next weekend, there’s time to regroup and having won the previous three matches we are in a rare position of taking a defeat on the chin and being able to move on pretty quickly as December arrives with plenty of challenges, none less than the JPT Area Quarter Final at home to Leyton Orient in just over a week’s time and the following home league game against Cheltenham Town.

The league table still has us in good shape with some decent results happening in terms of our positioning so the Cobblers are still hanging on in there ahead of a busy Christmas period. We go into it with high hopes of catching those occupying the top seven and with relief that there’s sufficient points in the bag that, barring a complete disaster, would see us enjoying a comfortable Christmas of league table watching.

This was a bad one to lose the run on but when you’re on a run like we’d been on it’s more about how you recover than when you fall…

Oxford United v Northampton Town: Match Preview

Oxford United v Northampton Town

League Two

Saturday, November 24th 2012

With such a growing momentum and on the back of three straight wins in League Two as well as a free scoring style coming to the fore, it’s a perfect time for local derby with a big turnout expected for our closest League Two rival geographically this season. The Cobblers sit just a point outside the playoff positions and three points from the top three so there’s a massive incentive for a group of players who are improving as a cohesive unit by the week.

Oxford, though, possess the thing that all Cobblers fans fear in a winless run. Already this season we’ve seen Bristol Rovers and Barnet end such runs against us and although we are in a much stronger position than before either of those fixtures it still means that there’s a cautious confidence about the weekend. It should be a cracker of an atmosphere with both sides needing the win for different reasons.

U’s on the hunt for return to form…

Since defeating Wycombe and Barnet in the league and cup respectively, Oxford have been on a run of four games without a win. Defeat at home to Dagenham and Redbridge was followed by a goalless draw with Torquay and a 2-1 loss at Chesterfield. Last weekend saw them come from behind to lead at Barnet – a quick repeat of the cup outing – until Jake Hyde scored his second of the game for the Bees to earn his side a point.

Double striker blow….

Chris Wilder was dealt a major blow last week when he lost both Deane Smalley and Tom Craddock to month long injuries. Craddock is missing with a cracked rib while Smalley has had an operation on an abductor muscle, meaning that both will miss this game and the next two or three following it. Craddock is the club’s top scorer this season with ten, including four in the 5-0 win over Accrington Stanley a month ago.

 

Davis…ex Cobbler

Club Links…

Oxford manager Chris Wilder was with the Cobblers as a player but only played once during a short spell on loan from Sheffield United in 1998.

Liam Davis had a longer stint with Town, playing over seventy games for the club over a three year period between 2008 and 2011 and scoring eight times.

Oxford-born Cobblers winger Chris Hackett began his career with the U’s and played over a hundred games for the club before heading north for Hearts in 2006.

 

Team News…

Oxford will be without the aforementioned striking duo of Smalley and Craddock while Liam Davis will face a late fitness test. Michael Duberry and Damien Batt are getting closer to a return but neither are expected back for this one. Meanwhile, defender Johnny Mullins has been recalled by Rotherham United from his loan spell at the Kassam Stadium.

The Cobblers added right back Chris Smith to the squad ahead of the weekend as he joins from Swindon Town. Smith won a 2011 ‘Win a Pro Contract’ competition to earn his place at Swindon but has found it tough to break into their first team this season. He goes straight into the squad for the Oxford game. Elsewhere, Clarke Carlisle should start again after helping the side to a clean sheet against Morecambe on Tuesday night but Joe Widdowson picked up his fifth booking of the season during that game so misses out on this one with a one match ban. There’s no new injury concerns for Aidy Boothroyd with David Artell, John Johnson and Luke Guttridge out until January.

 

Previous Six Meetings…

06/04/12: Cobbler s 2-1 Oxford (League Two)

A cracking Good Friday match under the Sixfields lights saw Luke Guttridge score inside the first minute to give the Cobblers the lead. Christian Montano equalised before Neal Kitson saved his second penalty in as many games to keep us in it. Right at the death, Brett Williams chased down what looked like a lost cause, cut inside and curled in one of the most important goals of the season to earn a simply massive three points on the way to Football League safety.

17/12/11: Oxford 2-0 Cobblers (League Two)

This was my wedding day so I barely knew we were playing this match until my best man reminded me with a sneaky score update during dinner. Those that were concentrating saw Town comfortably beaten thanks to goals from Tom Craddock and Deane Smalley.

22/01/11: Cobblers 2-1 Oxford (League Two)

Andy Holt gave the Cobblers the lead at Sixfields going into half-time but Tom Craddock pulled things level two minutes after the break. Leon McKenzie sealed a big win, though, by putting in the winner with a quarter of the game to go.

23/10/10: Oxford 3-1 Cobblers (League Two)

Alfie Potter scored early on in this one but Leon McKenzie equalised on fifteen minutes. Josh Payne would give the U’s the lead back right on the stroke of half-time and when John Johnson was sent off for a foul in the area on ninety minutes, Tom Craddock stepped up to seal the victory for the hosts.

22/04/06: Oxford 1-3 Cobblers (League Two)

One of the best away days in recent memory. The Cobblers were looking for three points to continue a surge towards automatic promotion while Oxford were clinging on for dear life at the wrong end of the table. It made for a red hot atmosphere at the Kassam but one in which Town flourished. Chris Doig finished well from a corner to slam Town in front before a quick fire double from Martin Smith and Josh Low in the second half sent a 4,000+ army of travelling fans wild. Chris Willmott got one back for United but the Cobblers held out for a memorable win. A couple of weeks later, the clubs were leaving League Two in opposite directions.

14/10/05: Cobblers 1-0 Oxford (League Two)

A close contest was won by the Cobblers as Ian Taylor scored his 100th career goal at Sixfields to cap only a second home win of the season for the club. Scott McGleish flicked on a long throw from David Hunt into the path of Taylor who nodded in what turned out to be the winning goal.

 

The man in the middle…

Taking charge of the clash at the Kassam is Scott Mathieson. Mathieson has shown 41 yellow cards and 4 reds in 16 games so far this season and last refereed a the Cobblers back in 2009 when we came away from Morecambe with a 4-2 victory.

 

Prediction…

I really don’t want this joyous feeling of wins to stop so I’m not going to jinx it with a bold prediction of a big win. So I’ll keep quiet and predict a safe draw that I would happily take after the recent good results. 2-2