Playoffs it is as Cobblers battle to draw

O' Donovan...Cobblers goal

O’ Donovan…Cobblers goal

Port Vale 2-2 Northampton Town

League Two

Saturday, April 20th 2013

And so it’s settled. After 45 games and with one remaining this season, the Cobblers will be entering the playoffs for the fifth time. It was settled by Exeter City losing at home to Cheltenham Town but at the same time, Town picked up a point and a performance to be proud of at a Port Vale side that ensured that, barring a ridiculous swing of goal difference next week, they will be in League One next season.

All talk of that division and the Cobblers was laughed off last weekend after defeat to York City at Sixfields but steady draws at both Wycombe and now Vale have put us back on a solid footing ahead of the final game of the season at home to Barnet in seven days’ time. We knew that it was a long shot to get third but what we needed was a performance to give us hope going into the playoffs and that’s what we got by all accounts at Vale Park.

Aidy Boothroyd made the bold move to bring in eighteen year old David Moyo to the starting line-up for his professional debut and dropped Bayo Akinfenwa to the bench. Kelvin Langmead was spotted warming up but he was there just to go through the motions. Clive Platt was missing but most likely being rested ahead of what already looked like a locked in playoff bid before today.

When Clarke Carlisle put the Cobblers in front I think all of us had a cheeky look at the table to see if there was any way at all that we could claw ourselves back into the running for third but it never looked likely even with the lead and the three points that it would have given us.

Vale were on the hunt for the win that would take them into League One and were level when former Cobblers loan man Liam Chilvers headed in from Tom Pope’s cross. It was then about getting to the break with no further damage, though Luke Guttridge had rattled the bar while his side were still in front.

Roy O’ Donovan, produced something from nothing to put Town back into the lead but five minutes from time came the moment that the home fans had been nervously awaiting when their former defender Lee Collins sliced the ball into his own net. Because of a vastly superior goal difference – the best in League Two in fact – than the chasing pack it was enough for the pitch invasion at the end as home fans celebrated a promotion that they’ve looked like achieving for many months. Congratulations to them on that.

For the Cobblers, Exeter’s defeat was enough to make sure of a playoff place but this point picked up and the way in which it was forged out will give us bags of hugely needed confidence ahead of the end of season lottery that will be coming up following the Barnet game. That game now has the importance of really building up momentum. The Bees picked up a late winner against Wycombe to move out of the bottom two but are just a point clear of danger going into their now traditional last game of the season drama.

I’m sure Boothroyd will want to rest some players next weekend but it makes more sense to me to make sure of a victory that would give us all a real lift and crucial momentum going into a semi-final, double legged affair for the first times since 2005. If we could win and Burton end up losing their last game at home to newly crowned champions Gillingham we will nick in to take fifth place and the important second leg would be at Sixfields.

Either way, we need to finish strong and make sure that everyone coming to the Barnet game and those listening at home are right behind this playoff campaign. There’s been a bit of negativity in the last few weeks but now we need to focus on what’s ahead and really go for it because the reality is that we are two games away from Wembley.

That sentence enough should be motivation enough. Bring it on!