Despite the exciting and seemingly routine wins which kept Northampton Town in the Football League (3-0 against Dagenham and 3-1 against Oxford), the vast majority of last season was not easy nor enjoyable – in fact, my tenth year as a Cobbler was definitely the worst.
However, it was a season of two halves and the majority of the second half was very enjoyable, just as the majority of the first half was utterly abysmal (and difficult to reminisce about).
There was a sense of quiet optimism around Sixfields during pre-season and 700 Cobblers fans travelled to York on the opening day in high spirits. But if there was a game to sum up Aidy Boothroyd’s final, painful months in charge, it was this one. Our best player was our goalkeeper, the defence looked as though it was one mistake away from a meltdown, the midfield was, quite frankly, a disgrace and in terms of an attacking threat: there wasn’t one.
These hugely disappointing trends continued throughout the first two months of the campaign (a 3-1 win over Newport our only sense of elation) until we travelled to Wimbledon for the first game of October. One of the best performances on the season followed and we won 2-0. The emotion of the final away trip of this season, to Dagenham, will probably mean that game goes down as the most memorable of the season, but in terms of a team performance, Wimbledon away might have been the best of the Boothroyd era.
A late Luke Norris free-kick against Fleetwood in November aside, there was nothing else to get excited about in the Boothroyd reign and it all ended with a 4-1 defeat to Wycombe. Ironically, after a series of negative performances, it was the desire to attack in his final game which cost Boothroyd his job. Every striker under contract must have played a part in that game but to no avail and Aidy got the boot about 45 minutes after the game finished.
I think Aidy Boothroyd has received some unfair criticism concerning the 2012/2013 season since his sacking. In my opinion, that season we were a force in this league. Away from home we were poor and we seemed unable to consistently control matches, but with a squad that was ravaged with injuries throughout, Aidy did extremely well to take a team with very few players at the peak of their powers to Wembley. Ignoring the capitulation once we actually reached the home of football, it was a very successful season. The fact that some people have tried to discredit the achievements of that season, based on the shocking football we had to endure at the start of the one just gone, is unfair. Aidy deserved to get the sack but his track record in his first 18 months is, in the most part, admirable, particularly considering the circumstances.
With the season over it is very easy to say we are in safe hands with Chris Wilder and Alan Knill but in January, whilst there was plenty of happiness with the appointments, it looked an impossible task for anyone to keep the Cobblers up. Wilder made sensible additions to the squad – proven goalscorers in Alan Connell and Emile Sinclair were brought in, whilst Ricky Ravenhill came in to improve a very poor midfield – and we started with a good draw against Cheltenham before losing to Plymouth.
One of the big reasons that Northampton are still a Football League club is because of our ability to beat the teams who were in and around the relegation zone. We dispatched of Torquay, Exeter and Accrington before the end of the season whilst drawing with Wycombe, Morecambe and Bristol Rovers and this meant that we managed to claw back at the points deficit which was seven points at one stage. Throw in a few good wins against Burton, Southend and Hartlepool and these are what provided the difference. There were lows in amongst the highs – Wimbledon’s late goal in March to make it 2-2 was one of my lowest moments as a Cobblers fan and we lost heavily to Bury and Rochdale at home – but Wilder’s record since becoming the Northampton manager is more than respectable – in fact it’s brilliant.
Despite having a real chance of survival going into the last few games of the season, we were still in the bottom two with just two games left following a disappointing and entirely avoidable 1-0 defeat to Portsmouth. The club’s penultimate game of the season was away to Dagenham & Redbridge and, although there was an air of expectancy, which the 1,200 fans that travelled channelled into creating a wall of noise as the game began, no-one would have expected what would happen next. In just his second senior start, academy graduate Ivan Toney, burst onto the scene with a poacher’s goal inside ten minutes before netting an audacious overhead kick just before half-time. In between his two strikes Ian Morris netted a wonderful volley from well outside the area but the day belonged to Toney as the Cobblers edged out of the bottom two.
A 3-1 win over Oxford (assisted by a ridiculous Ryan Williams challenge which earned him an early bath) assured the Cobblers safety. The fact that nothing of interest happened throughout most of the second half made it seem as though it was almost an inevitable and that was the feeling for much of the week between the Dagenham game and the Oxford game. But four months ago (five months ago at the time of writing) the ‘great escape’ was very much off. Wilder has done absolute magic since he arrived at Sixfields and I can’t think of too many others who would have been as successful as he has been since arriving.
The Cobblers were dead and buried following a 3-1 home defeat to Chesterfield: the last game before Chris Wilder joined. But in the last four months he has provided supporters with some fantastic memories, ensured that they have a Football League club to support going forward and he has made a lot of people very excited about the future. We owe him a great deal.
Written by Liam Raggett, We Are Going Up’s Northampton Town blogger
Liam tweets at @LiamRaggett