As anyone who plays Football Manager will know, managing in the lower divisions in England (particularly in League 1 or 2) is a tough job. Managing your finances and keeping your eye out for the best free agents and loan signings available, add major changes at boardroom level, unfinished stadium development and the threat of a winding up order to all of that and you have the story of Northampton Town. Despite all of this, the Cobblers have kept themselves focused where it matters for the fans; on the pitch, and the club are just a win away from promotion to League 1 and a return to the third tier of English football in 7 years. The question is, what have been the key to Northampton’s success this season?
The threat upfront of Marc Richards has been key with 18 goals in all competitions, with 15 of those being in the league, along with goals from John-Joe O’Toole (11), Ricky Holmes (8), Sam Hoskins & James Collins (both on 7) show that the Cobblers are not shy in front of goal. Northampton have only failed to score in 3 league games this season. Unsurprisingly they have scored more goals than any other team in the league.
Their determination over 90 minutes has shown how confident the team has become, in the last 3 weeks alone, Northampton have twice come from 2 goals down to gain a result, winning 3-2 away at Stevenage and drawing 2-2 away at Mansfield Town.
These results have added to the confidence the team have had over the season as a whole. The Cobblers have lost only 5 league games all season and have gone undefeated in the league since Christmas. A full 18 league games unbeaten up to and including the 2-2 draw at home to Notts County on Saturday.
However, the exceptional attacking ability that Northampton have showed this season could be argued has masked some of their defensive issues. Despite 11 clean sheets all season, Northampton have conceded more goals this season than all of their rivals in League 2’s top 7. Something they shall need to iron out for a League 1 campaign next season.
Credit must however be given to Cobblers manager Chris Wilder, who has kept the team focused with matters on the pitch whilst Kelvin Thomas bought out David Cardoza’s controlling stake in the club after they suffered a winding up order back in October which threatened the existence of the club. Wilder’s management has clearly been one of the key factors to why Northampton are sitting top of League 2 on the verge of promotion in his second full season in charge.
Whilst new chairman Kelvin Thomas has urged fans in a recent interview to be patient for promotion and a possible league title, it is fair to say that Cobblers fans will be full of excitement as promotion from League 2 and a league title to go with it are within touching distance.
One thing is for sure. As with every year when a team gains promotion, expect a bit of a pitch invasion at the final whistle, seemingly the perfect way to end a season like this as a team in the Football League. But after all that Northampton have been put though this season, can you blame them?
It is simply a case of when not if Northampton secure promotion to Sky Bet League 1, could even be as soon as this weekend as they take on in-form Bristol Rovers at Sixfields on Saturday where a win would guarantee promotion, and should Oxford United fail to beat Crawley as well, the league title. Adding that first league title since the 1986-87 season would be the icing on the cake to what has been a stressful triumph for the Cobblers. A truly magical season despite all the off-field drama which has now been put to bed means Northampton can look up with full optimism with a trip to fierce rivals Peterborough United next season looking almost certain with the club also celebrating 120 years of existence. Promotion? A League title? It’s not a load of old cobblers anymore, it’s almost a reality.