Cobblers, it could be their nickname or it could describe the season they just endured. Relegation is a harsh mistress at the best of times, but Northampton came down with a whimper.
Unlike Oldham and MK Dons, Northampton are a side we’re more than familiar with, having crossed swords with them on numerous occasions. Whilst we’ve been out of the Football League, they’ve been experiencing some turbulent times.
Events on the field have been overshadowed by those off it, with their former Chairman currently going through the courts over the £10m loan that disappeared when it should have been used to build a new stand at Sixfields. The stand hasn’t been built. as we’ll get to see in just over two weeks time.
They’ll play host to our opening game of the season, but they’re a new faces in terms of who we played last season, bringing them into the Stacey West’s feature on new faces.
The last time we faced Northampton was in the relegation season of 2010/11. They had been a League Two team for just two seasons and predictably, they beat us twice. On November 10th 2010, Dean Beckwith and John Johnson scored the goals to win 2-0 at Sincil Bank, with heavyweight such as Gavin Hoyte and Drewe Broughton in the Imps line up.
Just after 2010 turned into 2011, they beat us again. We did score this time, Josh O’Keefe’s 75th minute goal cancelling out Billy McKay’s 64th minute opener. John Johnson got a winner in the 88th minute, sending a resurgent Imps home with no points. We were a far better side than two months previous, but were unable to secure the win.
One memorable Imps win came on November 6th, 2004 (main picture). It was our last victory against the Cobblers and an afternoon that thrilled and excited. They took a 2-0 lead, Eric Sabin and Scott McGleish sending us in two down at the break.
Gary Taylor-Fletcher came on at half time for Franny Green and City grabbed two back, both from the boot of Simon Yeo. With the game seemingly drifting towards a draw, Martin Carruthers was replaced by loanee Marcus Richardson. He pounced in the 90th minute to give us a 3-2 win.
We did beat them in the 1976 Championship winning season, despite them being our closest rivals. They finished on 68 points, six behind us, but a tally that would have seen them finish top in all but one of the previous 14 seasons.
They were one of just four teams to beat us that year, winning 1-0 at the County Ground, but Dick Kryzwicki, Peter Fleming and Dave Smith gave us a 3-1 win at the Bank in March 1976 in front of 13,880 fans.
In total we’ve won 13 of our matches against Northampton, lost 15 and drawn 24. Interestingly, we’ve never played them in cup competition.
It wasn’t a great season for the Cobblers, relegation is never an easy pill to swallow, but they got through three managers and lacked any continuity or cohesion throughout the campaign.
Justin Edinburgh started off as gaffer, he was sacked after five straight defeats, one in the EFL Cup against QPR and then against Shrewsbury (1-0), Fleetwood (1-0), Charlton (4-1) and Peterborough (4-1).
In came Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, but he could do little to stop the rot. In October they conceded five second half goals to lose 6-0 at home. we know from experience, when you start losing 6-0 at home there’s trouble on the horizon.
With one win in twelve, the Dutchman was relieved of his position and replaced by Dean Austin as caretaker. He had five games to save the Cobblers, but didn’t. He did produce two wins, 3-2 away at Bury and 2-0 at home against play-off chasing Plymouth, but defeat at Walsall and a last day draw with Oldham meant they’ll be enjoying a trip to Sincil Bank this season.
The problems were two-fold, they couldn’t score goals and they conceded too many. Fundamentally, those are two problems that combined, are always going to leave you struggling. Chris Long was their leading scorer in the league with nine, after that two players bagged six each. That’s never going to be enough.
They conceded 77 goals and had a goal difference of -34, 17 worse than fourth from bottom Oldham Athletic.
Dean Austin is still in charge, he had been assistant to Hasselbaink and took over once the former Chelsea man left the club. His business so far has been muted, Junior Morais perhaps the biggest arrival from Peterborough United.
Morais should be effective at this level, but he is one of just three players to join the club at this stage. Andy Williams has joined from Doncaster, he’s primarily a winger but also plays through the centre, and Hakeem Odofin signed a two-year deal after being released by Wolves U23s.
They haven’t moved as many players out as you might imagine either. Richard O’Donnell left for Bradford City, he was one of the few players to emerge with any credit despite being the keeper who conceded the most League One goals. Left back Joe Bunney also left, moving to Blackpool in League One.
Ins: Hakeem Odofin (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Andy Williams (Doncaster Rovers) and Junior Morias (Peterborough United).
Outs: Raheem Hanley, Brendan Moloney, Leon Lobjoit, Kevin Luckassen, Aaron Phillips (all released), Richard O’Donnell (Bradford City) and Joe Bunney (Blackpool on loan)
Austin favoured a 4-2-3-1 formation at the end of last season, much the same as we trialled for a period at the beginning of the season. Captain David Buchanan will likely partner Leon Barnett once more, which could concern Cobblers fans who saw them struggle last season.
Buchanan is 32-years old and played 36 times for Northampton, including the humiliating 6-0 defeat against Bristol Rovers.
One of last seasons shining lights was loanee Matt Grimes, but he’s returned to Swansea and at present, he hasn’t been replaced. Much will depend on who they’re able to bring in to replace him and a host of other players such as Alex Revell. he was sent off in the Bristol Rovers game, but would provide the perfect target man up top. Signing Junior Morais suggests there could be a change of formation, perhaps to a 4-4-2 which pairs 6ft 1in Kevin van Veen with the former Posh forward.
They do have Billy Waters too, a striker linked with City last season. He struggled failing to score at all for Northampton and finishing the season at Cambridge where he bagged twice. At just 23-years old he could come through this season, but he does have a lot to prove.
29-year old John-Joe O’Toole is likely to be a key player in the centre of the park, irrespective of what set up they use. he’s played 142 times in the league, including 31 matches last season. He partnered the former Accrington man Matt Crooks in the centre of the park, he’s a 6ft 4in presence that is hard to miss.
At the moment, it doesn’t look as though there’s enough happening at Sixfields to suggest a major improvement in their fortunes. Every season one of the sides that comes down, at last one, struggles. On the current evidence I fear that Northampton might be the side that finds League two much tougher than they imagine.