No room for blame in relegation battle…

Carter...at the double but Cobblers held late on

Carter…at the double but Cobblers held late on

Northampton Town 2-2 AFC Wimbledon

League Two

Tuesday, March 25th 2014

A lot of the time when I write these blogs after games I like to wait for at least a few hours or a day to share my thoughts with a bit of time to let the adrenaline die down creating more coherent thoughts than spouting a lot of rubbish would. Some might say I do that anyway of course but looking back on last night’s draw with Wimbledon is a prime example where emotions would have got the better of me had I began typing at 10pm last night.

That old friend of ours the ‘fine line’ came back into play again as the Dons struck in the sixth minute of injury time to nick a point and, more importantly, take two away from the Cobblers who were, up until that point, level with Portsmouth in 22nd. It was gut wrenching, heart breaking and just gave you that sinking feeling. We could have been celebrating a huge win that would have set up Saturday’s home game with Bury to be the one where even a point may have been enough to take us out of the bottom two but the visitors scored in the period of time mostly added on from their time wasting whilst the game was held at 1-1.

The game itself was bitty with Wimbledon taking a deserved lead after fifteen minutes- George Francomb punishing some hesitant defending to fire his side in front against a Cobblers side who again hadn’t got started. Leon McSweeney then rattled his own cross bar and we were on the ropes, in need of an intervention.

Fortunately we got just that with another double whammy of red card and penalty as Jack Midson was given his marching orders for a deliberate hand ball and the game was back in our hands with Darren Carter emphatically slamming the ball home from the spot. With an hour to play with ten men this was a massive chance.

Yet it took a triple change fifteen minutes into the second half to really get us going as Cristian Lopez, Ian Morris and new signing Evan Horwood replaced Alan Connell, Brennan Dickenson and Gregor Roberton. Emile Sinclair threatened with a header while at the other end Matt Duke kept out Michael Collins.

But Town were in front with twelve minutes to go with Carter continuing his renaissance with a long range effort that was deflected in – all of a sudden we were within a goal of getting out of the drop zone on the night with Portsmouth 3-0 down at Rochdale. Perhaps it was being greedy to ask for a third but anything but what actually happened would have been great in hindsight.

Wimbledon came forward and you could feel the nerves reverberating around not just Sixfields but every household and work place in the country with a Cobblers fan in it. It was almost inevitable…Sammy Moore put it in from close range deep, deep into time added on and two monumental points were taken away from us. There was time for even more drama with Sinclair hitting the post but the Dons goal came too late for any sustained reply from Town.

It’s these moments that quickly change many of our outlooks – suddenly from a mode of relief and celebration came outbursts on social media that it’s all over again. Most of all there was blame once again being thrown around – at Aidy Boothroyd, David Cardoza and even Chris Wilder. With seven games to play and with the gap cut to two points, this is not the answer.

I do get it – we, as supporters, have a right to say whatever we want and a freedom to give our own opinions (hence this blog and many other good ones) but constantly turning on Facebook and Twitter and seeing people so violently attacking our football club just doesn’t do it for me. It deeply worries me when I see so many against us in the build-up and aftermath of games – fair enough if we’re mid table and there’s holes to debate but we’re in a relegation battle and the reality is that unless we support the people running, managing and playing for our football club then we’ll be playing in the Skrill Premier next season.

I constantly go back to Shrewsbury away in 1993 as a point of reference in relegation fights and there are reasons for that. I wasn’t there but just watching the highlights shows the togetherness and unity between players and fans and whilst there were plenty of other factors that made that happen there’s no point in comparing the circumstances and saying that it can’t and won’t be recreated.

The big problem is that we’ve become attached to a sense that we shouldn’t be in this position because of the amount of money that’s going into the club – why shouldn’t we? It takes a hell of a lot more than splashing some cash to win promotion, especially from League Two. Look at Burnley, Leyton Orient, York City – all teams apparently ‘punching above their weight’ in their respective divisions. The wonderful thing about football is that money doesn’t win the day every time and as long and storied a history as we have it means nothing when you’re in the relegation zone or just outside in Pompey’s case.

Moaning and groaning about the situation isn’t going to help come August if we’re kicking off in non-league football. We want our players to do their bit and we pay our money to watch them try to do that but we, as supporters, need to get back to basics and get behind them. An online/pub negative atmosphere can very easily be transferred to the stands and we can be beaten as soon as we go a goal behind.

We could have been long gone by now and have actually closed the gap well in recent weeks…it’s not been anywhere near as quick as we’d hoped but to be within two points of safety is not exactly a nightmare scenario. Just ask Torquay United if they would like a swap right now.

What I’m trying to promote, in a very roundabout way, is that nothing comes for free in football – if we give as much support as we can then we can say we’ve done our bit. If we carry on looking for scapegoats to direct anger at then we’ll distract ourselves from the real issue that Northampton Town’s future is on the line right now.

We’re not beaten yet – keep fighting for your club.

It’s no Dallas dream as Cobblers WIN AWAY!

Dallas...dream start!

Dallas…dream start!

AFC Wimbledon 0-2 Northampton Town

League Two

Saturday, October 5th 2013

To those not aware of that crazy ol’ American soap opera ‘Dallas’, the ninth season ends with a sequence that reveals the ‘dead’ Bobby Ewing in a shower and with the realisation that the entire season was a dream. As Saturday afternoon unfolded I sat worried that another Dallas adventure was actually a figment of my imagination. You could forgive any Cobblers fan who may have felt the same as Town recorded that most rare of feats – an away win.

The obvious and tenuous Dallas link I’m (finally) getting to is that of the second Cobblers goal scorer on Saturday afternoon. I only learned of the loan signing of Stuart Dallas from Brentford a few minutes before kick-off so the fact that he came off the bench to seal the game would have had a lot of those not paying attention blink twice.

None of it is – as far as I know – a dream though and although we still sit in the bottom two it’s a massive boost to record a first away win of the season and to score two goals whilst keeping a second successive clean sheet. All in all it’s the type of Saturday that we’ve been longing for and it’s something to really build on this week. I’m actually glad there’s no Tuesday night game this week so that this can be enjoyed for as long as possible!

Dallas began on the bench after being thrust straight into the Town squad with Roy O’Donovan leading the line on his own and an extra defender slotted in to sure things up. The new look line-up started well and got their reward when a Darren Carter free-kick was well finished off by Lee Collins. It was his first goal for the club if you don’t count that dramatic own goal at Port Vale last season.

The Cobblers were having the better of things (it’s amazing what can happen with eleven men on the pitch!) and Ian Morris nearly added a second before we had one ruled out for offside. The home threat was minimal but there can’t have been a single Cobblers fan who was sitting or standing too comfortably given the shocking nature of our travelling form in 2013.

Coupled with that, the Wombles had won four out of four at home so far this season so obviously had something in their locker that wasn’t working. Bringing on former Cobblers left winger/left back Chris Arthur didn’t have me too worried, though the other side of my head said “he’s clearly going to tear us apart now.”

Town started as they had finished in the second half with Carter firing wide but were set back when Chris Hackett was taken off injured, replaced by the eventual hero Dallas.

The home side suddenly came more and more into it and could well have been level had it been for the right finishing touch at the end of promising moves. It was crucial for the Cobblers rear guard to hold firm – if Wimbledon were to score it may well have been backs to the walls.

Dallas would steal the spotlight, though, with around fifteen minutes to play as he was put in by O’Donovan and placed a shot beyond Ross Worner for 2-0. This away win was becoming more of a reality!

A couple of late flurries later including a good stop from Matt Duke from a dangerous free kick and we were over the line – a first away win of the season, a clean sheet and three precious points. Aidy Boothroyd joins us in a huge relieving breath.

There’s still plenty to do of course but if we are to get out of the mire at the foot of the table then this is exactly the type of performance that we need week in, week out. Oxford away up next is obviously hugely difficult but they’ve been beaten at the Kassam today so with new impetus and defensive resolution we are looking in better shape than a couple of weeks ago.

Enjoy this week and try not to wake up with too much of a start tomorrow morning thinking that it’s all just been a dream…

Away Days: AFC Wimbledon

AFC Wimbledon 017Away Days: AFC Wimbledon

In the second of the series looking in more depth at away trips made this season and on-going into the future, I review Tuesday night’s trip to AFC Wimbledon. As with the look at Bristol Rovers earlier in the season, I’ll be making each item out of five and giving an overall experience rating at the end. Hope you enjoy!

 

AFC Wimbledon (Red Cherry Records Stadium)

Result: AFC Wimbledon 1-1 Northampton Town

Attendance:

I visited this ground a few years ago when Wimbledon were plying their trade in the Conference South. It was interesting to take a look back at that review (which you can see here) to see not only how the club were already on an upwards curve back then but also how far they’ve come in a short amount of time.

Here’s my thoughts on my second visit, this time in the away end as the Cobblers made only their second trip to the ground at which Wimbledon call home at this time.

 

Location: It was a pretty easy place to find in the end…as below, we used Norbiton station and walked the short and simple route to the stadium from there. The train took us around half an hour from Waterloo station so it was a pretty quick jaunt from there. I hear from drivers that it was OK to get to by car as well. 3/5

Parking/Trains: The ground is pretty well situated about a 15 minute walk from Norbiton station, the route we took in from central London. Once you get onto the main high street there’s easy access down to the ground past a few take aways and local shops. I knew two people who drove to the ground, one parked easily enough in the side streets near the main road and one that used the club car park. The club’s car park appeared quite cramped and tough to escape from but cars were moving at a good pace when we passed it on the way out. 3/5

Pre match drinks: There were a few Cobblers fans milling about in the supporter’s bar where we went for a quick pre match beverage. Home fans were welcoming and there was always the sense that we could mingle together with no fear of any trouble at all. The supporter’s bar housed a big screen and plenty of room. 4/5

Away end: We were allocated the terrace to the side of the pitch and when the singing was at full go there was a good atmosphere thanks to its enclosed nature. I always prefer to stand at away games so that gives it more marks just for being available! There was one gripe about not being able to see some of the action in the corner down from where we were standing but we would have moved if it was that much of a fuss. 4/5

Food: We sampled a burger from outside at the burger van and chips inside whilst waiting for the lights to come back on. The burger was run of the mill chip van material but I can’t say that I enjoyed the chips inside the ground. 2/5

Atmosphere: The home fans were pretty loud when they wanted to be but it perhaps lacks the intimidating atmosphere where teams could fear coming to. It’s a credit to their supporters that this is the case, though, and before, during and after the match there was a friendly atmosphere amongst supporters. 4/5

                                                                                                                                      

Overall value for money: Tickets were £15 for adults and £9 concessions which must be one of the cheapest away tickets in the division at this point in time. That makes value for money go up straight away with the only knock on it being the view from the away end when the ball was in the corner down by the home fans on our side of the pitch. That didn’t bother me enough to bring the experience down though so good marks for this too. 4/5

 

Final thoughts

I really liked it…you can tell that you’re playing in League Two but that’s the joy of smaller grounds like this. There’s no pretence about it and the atmosphere was pretty good, especially during the spicier moments of the game! I hope that AFC Wimbledon do find their own home eventually but for the time being this option is perfect for them and should provide a decent day or evening out for most visiting fans.

Bayo penalty nicks a draw

Bayo - earns a point for Cobblers

Bayo – earns a point for Cobblers

AFC Wimbledon 1-1 Northampton Town

League Two

Tuesday, February 19th 2012

A point gained or two dropped? That seems to be the debate raging after last night’s draw with AFC Wimbledon at Kingsmeadow (Or the Red Cherry Records Stadium to give it its full title).The Cobblers scrapped it out in an ill-tempered encounter that saw both sets of fans slamming the simply appalling performance of referee Mr Graham.

It was my first visit back to the dual home of the Wombles and Kingstonian since standing in the home end on a Bank Holiday Monday a few years back when Wimbledon were in the Conference South. Things have changed since then and the club built from nothing are now competing in the Football League but are having to fight for their lives to stay in it after falling to the bottom of the table in recent weeks.

A friendly drink in the welcoming supporters’ bar was just being finished off when suddenly the lights went out all around us. Moving outside we realised that the power cut wasn’t just limited to the bar and we would be facing a 20 minute kick off delay because the floodlights had also gone. A healthy away crowd had gathered already and more filtered in as the lights slowly made their way back on to the ironic background music of “I’ve got the power” from the tannoy!

The Cobblers were in their lime green away kits and could probably have kicked off while the lights were off and we would still have been able to see them. Wimbledon were clearly fired up and went straight for the throats of Town from the off as they looked to gain the upper hand. If there was any doubt before the game that the home side would be up for the battle then they were all blown away within the opening five minutes and the Cobblers, playing again in a 3-5-2 formation, were struggling to get a foothold in the game.

The midfield had been rotated to include Ishmel Demontagnac, Lewis Hornby and Ben Tozer with the likes of Luke Guttridge and Chris Hackett on the bench. It was understandable given the run of games we’re in the middle of but I couldn’t help but feel that this one was made for Guttridge’s graft rather than Demontagnac’s flair and inconsistent nature.

The midfield was getting badly overrun in the first half with the lively Toby Ajala causing no end of problems down the right hand side. Lee Collins dealt better with the winger as the half wore on but the hosts were always looking the more likely side to score. They did just that when Alan Bennett headed in from a corner…the Cobblers players were adamant that the ball didn’t cross the line with Joe Widdowson appearing to block it just in time as well as Lee Nicholls claiming a foul. Neither appeal was accepted and the Wombles were in front.

At the other end there were limited chances to get back into it but at least towards the end of the half the Cobblers had begun to look more dangerous, particularly from set pieces.

The second half started with us on the front foot as straight away Bayo Akinfenwa worked his way into the area and shot just over the angle of home keeper Neil Sullivan’s cross bar. That was encouraging for the band of Cobblers away fans but for the period of time that followed there came frustration as passes were over hit, long balls were turned to without anyone gambling on second balls and the clock ticked towards a Wimbledon victory.

It would have been just that had Lee Nicholls not pulled off a fantastic save mid-way through the half from Ajala who raced onto a pass and looked certain to score.

Substitutions from the Cobblers saw Lee Collins brought off for Chris Hackett while Clive Platt replaced the ineffective Demontagnac. Platt would be the catalyst for the turning of fortunes as his presence caused problems for the Wombles defence even before he placed a deft touch over the top for Roy O’ Donovan to chase. The Irishman beat Sullivan to the ball and was clattered by the veteran inside the area for a penalty.

Sullivan was booked and, though many thought he should have been shown a red there looked to be covering defenders and I think it would have been harsh on him to further the punishment with a sending off. Up stepped Bayo to coolly place home the spot kick and give us parity.

We sensed that we might still be able to nick it and with a more fluent, counter attacking style now in place it could well have gone either way in the final few minutes.

Wimbledon brought on Kevin Saint-Luce for the final knockings and he seemed the perfect man to ignite their attacks against tired legs. The Cobblers were, however, set to have the final clear chance. Chris Hackett was suddenly sent through on goal and time seemed to stand still as he powered on to a one on one with Sullivan. The keeper stood tall and made a save to match Nicholls’ earlier in the half and when Clive Platt followed up a covering defender was able to clear to safety.

That would have been the ultimate smash and grab effort from the Cobblers, who went away with a point after a couple of dangerous corners late on for Wimbledon were dealt with. I get the feeling that both sets of fans went home reasonably happy with the point with both making it four points from two games this week.

Wimbledon, if they play and fight like this every week, will not stay in relegation trouble for much longer. This will be a tough place for anyone to come over the next few weeks and I sense a feeling of upwards momentum with them as I did with our own survival run at this time last season.

The Cobblers will be happy with four points from two away games and it’s hard to argue with that. It wasn’t the greatest performance but we’ve come away with points from away games in which we’ve not been the better side which is fine by me. I grew up watching a similar brand of football in the late nineties under Ian Atkins and those were some fantastic years. Whilst we have a way to go to emulate that, the point is that not many people look back now and focus on how we got each result but instead reminisce about the moments that got us to Wembley and promotion in 1997 and 1998.

It’s all about getting the points at the moment to keep us in the top seven, something that this result ensured, and when we write the end of season reports we’ll hopefully be able to say that we achieved something through the commitment and hard graft that Aidy Boothroyd has instilled in this set of players.

I have to admit to ‘doing a Wenger’ and not seeing what sounds like a bad challenge by Joe Widdowson in the first half that set up a melee involving both sets of players so the only thing I can say is that I hope it wasn’t as bad as some reports from home fans are suggesting.

In the heat of this battle, competed without control from a shocker of an official, we can thank our stars that the Cobblers escaped with another valuable point on the road. How and where that road from here on in is anyone’s guess!