Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Load of Cobblers in Free Transfer move!


In a free transfer that was finalised over the weekend, the A Load of Cobblers blog has moved to the following address, it's new home from now onwards:


For all new features including Player Profiles, NTFC History and Classic matches, head over now and update your bookmarks! We are very happy with our new home and hope you will be too.

See you over there!


Friday, May 27, 2011

League Two Playoff Final Preview

Torquay United v Stevenage

League Two Playoff Final
Saturday, 28th May 2011

It all comes down to one game. After forty eight gruelling matches, a roller coaster campaign and a twist around every corner, either Torquay United or Stevenage will join Chesterfield, Bury and Wycombe in League One.

It’s perhaps indicative that the gap between Conference and League Two is closing all the time as two sides that have both been promoted within the last two years – Torquay as Conference Playoff winners in 2009 and Stevenage as Champions in 2010 – prepare to meet for a place in the third tier of English football.

Torquay have been there and done it, appearing in the FA Trophy Final in 2008 before that Playoff final win a year later so big game nerves aren’t new to their fans. Stevenage are relatively new to the surroundings but have proved that they are a match for anyone this season by dumping Newcastle United out of the FA Cup.

It’s set to be a tight, nervy encounter if the end of the season is anything to go by and as Manchester United supporters head for London for a big final of their own, their stadium will become a Theatre of Dreams for two sides looking for that key to League One.


The two reached Old Trafford in similar style, both winning just once in their final six league games to scrape into the playoffs in the last two positions on a dramatic final day of the season. Both then proceeded to turn the form book on its head by winning the home legs of their semi-finals 2-0, Torquay against fancied Shrewsbury and Stevenage against Accrington Stanley.

The second legs provided neither side with any real panic. Travelling to two teams that were strong at home, it was certainly not all over as four would become two. But Accrington shot themselves in the foot with two red cards in the middle of the second half within seconds of each other. Joe Jacobson’s late challenge on Lawrie Wilson and Sean McConvlle’s raising of a hand in frustration made the task simpler for Graham Westley’s men and a calm finish from Chris Beardsley eased Stevenage through. At the New Meadow, Shrewsbury’s challenge fell flat and an organised but far from defensive performance from Torquay saw them hold out for a goalless draw to book their place at the Old Trafford.

Key Men

Stevenage have built their season on a rock solid defence that have conceded just forty five goals all season, the least in League Two.  Player of the Year Jon Ashton, who has been at the heart of that record, looks set to miss out through injury so there’s extra importance on Mark Roberts at the back and Chris Day between the sticks. At the other end of the pitch, Byron Harrison, signed from non-league Carshalton in January, could be a dark horse to steal the limelight. Harrison has struck eight times in twenty games for the Boro since his arrival and will be hoping for a fairy tale ending to a dramatic few months that’s seen him go from playing in the Isthmian League Premier to running out at Old Trafford.

Torquay will be reliant on their attacking style to come out on top and Chris Zebroski will be vital to their challenge. Zebroski has netted fifteen times this season and will always be a constant threat. Gavin Tomlin was the stand out player of the semi-final first leg at Plainmoor and his pace and trickery will give Stevenage a real headache. Jake Robinson, who helped the Gulls beat his parent club Shrewsbury in the semis will be another danger man as he looks to stake a claim for a permanent move to the Devon club.

Head to Head

Stevenage go into the final having never beaten Torquay in their six previous meetings. United did the double over them in 2007/08 before snatching four points from the meetings the following season. This time around, a goalless draw in September at Broadhall Way was followed by another Torquay victory in early March as goals from Danny Stevens and Jake Robinson earned a 2-0 win. That game also saw Boro defender Mark Roberts sent off for a professional foul so fair to say they owe their opponents one.

The fan’s views...

Torquay fan Ben Mayhew of the Greenwich Gull blog and Stevenage’s Matthew Kett from FCBoro give their views on the big day...

What would promotion mean to you?

MK: It would be great to get promoted again, but I'm not sure that promotion to League 1 would be that much of a positive step long term. In my opinion, I don't think we're ready for League 1 both on and off the pitch. I also don't think getting promoted to League 1 will mean as much as getting into the Football League after 16 years of trying.

BM: Given that we're one of the smallest clubs in the division and only finished 17th last season it's the stuff of dreams: this season was ostensibly one of gradual progress and nobody could realistically have been anticipating anything better than mid-table. While unexpected, the team are in this position on merit after an outstanding season and an unwavering commitment to positive, attractive football. Promotion would also go a long way towards banishing the memories of our disastrous and embarrassing relegation from the Football League 4 years ago. Irrespective of the emotional significance, it could well mean the difference between keeping our manager and facing a season of rebuilding. Reading between the clumsily unsubtle lines of Paul Buckle's response to being made bookies' favourite for the Bristol Rovers job, he's likely to become League 2's version of Owen Coyle if we don't go up: tempted by the larger budget on offer at our (relatively) local rivals.

Describe the emotions of the semi-finals...

MK: There is a bit of bad blood between the two clubs so it was very satisfying to beat Accrington over two legs and progress into the playoff final. John Coleman did his best to try and play mind games and get his players motivated, but it worked against him and Boro came away with 2 very well earned victories.

BM: There were lots of nerves beforehand as we limped rather than strode into the playoffs after ending the regular season poorly, albeit after a tough run-in. Few teams are as susceptible to momentum as us, so there were fears that our young side wouldn't be able to pick themselves up. However, the assured performance over the two legs meant that the fans weren't forced to endure the emotional rollercoaster witnessed in some of the other playoff matches. Although our 2-0 lead from the first leg was hardly insurmountable, we could have had a few more and never looked like slipping up in the return fixture. I like Shrewsbury as they also try to play good football, but nobody can dispute that our progression was deserved.

How do you view your opponents?

MK: Torquay are a very good side. They are solid and strong at the back and have a potent attack that can hurt any defence in League 2. I've always rated Paul Buckle and think he has done a very good job at Plainmoor on a limited budget. I would say that they are favourites to win the game and go on to League 1.

BM: They're probably the least popular side in the division, although that mantle will no doubt be passed swiftly to Crawley next season. Stevenage's training regime is as mysterious as it is intense: the result is a super-fit, well-drilled, physically imposing side reliant on constant pressing and set pieces, with the occasional dose of (alleged) gamesmanship thrown in for good measure. While it's not my cup of tea I've got nothing against that approach, apart from the last part obviously, and I don't remember them getting up to anything too immoral when they visited Plainmoor this season. While it'd be easy to dismiss them as an anti-football side, they have to be respected for their achievements this season: they're on the verge of a second successive promotion and registered a deserved FA Cup victory over Newcastle along the way. Fans of other League 2 sides have been less than complimentary however, and after witnessing their dire semi-finals against Accrington my worry is that they'll throttle the tie to death before bundling in an 89th-minute winner.

Who are your key players for the game?

MK: It's expected that Jon Ashton will miss out through injury, so our key players for the game have to be both Michael Bostwick and Mark Roberts. If they are on top of their game, then we will at least be competitive. Torquay will be the more attacking side of the two, so we'll have to defend well and counter attack to good effect to stand any chance of winning the game.

BM: Given Stevenage's likely game plan of harassing us relentlessly throughout, smart use of the ball will be critical. We're very much a passing side and Eunan O'Kane's creative distribution from midfield could well be our most potent weapon, allowing our attackers to stretch their defence. However, if the match degenerates into a scrappy affair, our left back Kevin Nicholson's excellent repertoire from set pieces will serve us well even against such an organised side. We've got several big lads of our own who should be leading by example in standing up to our opponents' physical style, particularly at the back where I have to single out our imperious Player of the Year, Guy Branston. His utter fearlessness (and fearsomeness for that matter) will rally the side in the inevitable few sticky moments on Saturday, and if Nicholson can whip in that killer ball you can bet he'll be rising to meet it with one of his formidable headers.

If promoted, how will you fare in League One?

MK: Defensively, we are sound. The best defence in League 2 this season says a lot, but there's much improvement needed going forward regardless of what division we are in next season. We don't have enough of a goal threat. Craig Reid has been a disappointment and hasn't been able to get the goals he got at Newport. The other strikers we have are not out and out goal scorers. That is the area we most need to strengthen.

BM: League One is as high as we've ever been and both our spells there during my lifetime have only lasted a single season, so the prognosis isn't too encouraging. The main problem is that our average attendance barely budges when we're promoted, making it difficult to increase the wage budget and attract players of the quality required to establish ourselves. However, given the League One scalps we took in the cups this season I'd back us to stay up even without many personnel changes. While we'd be unlikely to persist with our policy of starting with 4 strikers, if we stuck to our attacking principles and Buckle continued his astute use of transfer market then there's every chance it could be different this time.

Finally, a score prediction please!

MK: It will be a low scoring game. I'm going to go for a 1-0 defeat.

BM: We beat them 2-0 at home (with help from 1 of the 9 red cards they racked up in the league this season) and drew 0-0 with them away, so lazy maths suggests a result of 1-0 at a neutral venue. In all seriousness it's likely to be a tight game settled by a narrow margin: they've got the division's best defensive record and I can see it being an edgy affair with not much to offer the neutral. I know we'll set ourselves up positively and even though they won't give us as much time on the ball as Shrewsbury did, I genuinely believe we'll come out on top.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

He’s baaaaaack...Bayo returns to Cobblers!

It started with a sighting of the former Player of the Year in the club shop on Tuesday afternoon, it continued with various excited Tweets and Facebook messages but today it’s reality. Adebayo Akinfenwa is a Cobblers once again after a dramatic swoop by Gary Johnson. The big man rejected a new deal at Gillingham and signed on the dotted line back at Sixfields to give us an early summer present.

No-one wanted Akinfenwa to leave this time last year but life at the Priestfield doesn’t appear to have grabbed him despite eleven goals this season for the Gills. Fitness levels haven’t been as much of a problem either with forty four appearances under his belt. Questions about those levels will be shot down by what is looking like an intense pre-season under Johnson.

They say never go back but there’s surely not many Town fans out there against this move. There are, of course, some worries about the aforementioned fitness and whether he could reproduce the form once again that got us close to a playoff place in 2010. But what the signing does give us is a player to hold the ball up and a player back that we never truly replaced in terms of style.

Combined with that is the anticipation of a Bayo-Harrad link up in attack in what could well become one of the most feared front lines in the division. I’ve got my hopes up way too high before and know that one signing does not a summer make and all that but you can’t help but look forward to seeing that combination. That’s without even mentioning Billy McKay and Tadhg Purcell, two excellent forwards at this level who will want to push them all the way.

Bayo holds all of the day’s headlines though and we welcome him back with open arms. He signs on a two year deal!

Monday, May 23, 2011

NTFC Season In Review 2010/2011...August...

The new season kicked off with high hopes for the Cobblers with Ian Sampson leading a charge towards the playoffs in the second half of the previous campaign leading to real anticipation ahead of the 2010/11 season.

New faces included Oscar Jansson (loan) in goal and Marcus Hall at the back as we made the long trip to Torquay for the first game of the new season. Fellow new signings Tadhg Purcell and Nathanial Wedderburn were on the bench for the trip to Plainmoor with John Johnson given a second debut following his permanent move from Middlesbrough.

The hopes and expectations would soon be blown away though as the hosts blew us away, scoring the opening goal just before half time through Kevin Nicholson. Chris Zebroski doubled the lead just after half time and within five minutes of the restart it was 3-0 and game over when Elliot Benyon made it three.

A huge regroup needed then for the Tuesday night curtain raiser at Sixfields as the first home game of the season brought Brighton and Hove Albion to town in the first round of the Carling Cup. Michael Jacobs, one of the young stars of pre-season, would begin a memorable season for him personally by scoring his first goal in professional football on thirteen minutes. Billy McKay headed home a few minutes later and so began a cup run that would take us eventually to an extraordinary night in September.

Back to the league and a tame 0-0 draw with Accrington Stanley at home was followed by an excellent point at Gigg Lane as David Worrall equalised a Steve Guinan penalty to earn Bury a draw against an improving Town side.

The Second Round of the Carling Cup took the Cobblers to Reading and an incredible game ended 2-2 at the end of ninety minutes. Matt Mills had put the Championship side in front but Andy Holt levelled things. Hal Robson-Kanu had the Royals in front again but Kevin Thornton equalised once more for Sammo’s men. Into extra time and Reading led for a third time as Mills struck again but deep, deep into added time, Alex Konstantinou bundled the ball home with the aid of a couple of deflections to take it to penalties. Simon Church had his kick saved, giving us a huge advantage and after successful conversions from Guinan, Thornton and Jacobs, Jake Taylor also missed. Abdul Osman stepped up for the crucial fourth spot kick and kept his nerve to send the small travelling contingent wild and put yet another brick in the road en route to our greatest night a month later.

A home draw with Wycombe back in League Two was another to feature a late equaliser for the Cobblers with Kevin Thornton’s penalty giving us a third straight league draw.

The Johnstone’s Paint Trophy would round off the month but there would be no upset this time as League One Hartlepool United eased to a 4-0 win on a dismal Tuesday night at Victoria Park. Evan Horwood, Anthony Sweeney, Andy Monkhouse and Dennis Behan netted for the Monkey Hangers with all four goals coming within nine minutes of each other!

So a strange old start to the season once again with no league wins but two cup victories over teams in higher divisions. Then came the news that September would feature a Carling Cup trip to Anfield and we could never even imagine in our wildest dreams what was to come...

First three friendlies confirmed

The start of next season is already being plotted with the first three pre-season fixtures released in the last few days. With Gary Johnson looking for different types of test in the build up to the season, there’s sure to be the usual mix of local non league opposition mixed with home games against higher opposition.

That’s the case so far with a Sixfields encounter with Wycombe Wanderers set for Saturday, July 30th which falls just one week away from the start of the league season. Before that, we make the trip to Brackley for the traditional Maunsell Cup Final and to Oxford City a few days later.

Cobblers pre-season schedule so far:

Saturday, July 16th: Brackley Town (a) Maunsell Cup Final
Tuesday, July 19th: Oxford City (a)
Saturday, July 30th: Wycombe Wanderers (H)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Dunn offered new contract

Chris Dunn has now been offered a new deal to stay with the Cobblers after a lot of umming and arring this week with the keeper attracting interest from teams in higher divisions. My guess is that Dunn has come back to the club with the offers dealt to him by those club(s) and we're now in a position to have a look at what we can offer.

It's been an odd one, with Dunn taking his time but surely Gary Johnson has to stick to his guns in terms of if a player wants to stay then he should know it straight away. Dunn has had a couple of weeks now to sort things out and it seems like he's going backwards and forwards looking to pitch teams against each other in the battle for his signature.

The official word is that he has until June 21st to answer the offer and that's a hell of a long way off for such an important position to be filled. We have to hope that he doesn't drag the negotiations out until then and then jump ship anyway, leaving Johnson with a gaping hole to fill and with a month less in which to scout around.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Webster signing begins the rebuilding

The start of the rebuilding job by Gary Johnson has begun and Byron Webster has become the first to join the new look Cobblers squad. The defender played eight times for the club towards the end of last season and by all accounts was the strongest of Johnson’s loan signings as he reshaped the side.

Webster joins on a two year deal after his release from Doncaster, making his way straight to Sixfields following his departure from the Keapmoat. It seems a sensible signing from the Town boss and a decent start to his recruitment with more likely to follow in the coming weeks with Johnson’s desire to put his squad in place before pre-season gets underway.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Contract update

Apologies for no weekend updates, the blogger service was having a nap! But here's a brief catch up on events from the last few days...

Liam Davis - Released

Following Dean Beckwith’s departure last week, Liam Davis has followed and has been released. After 91 appearances for the club, it’s a bit of a surprise to see but the decision has been made and there’s even more space for new blood as Gary Johnson looks into strengthening the squad.

Guillem Bauza - Joins Exeter City

Bauza has made up his mind and decided to leave Sixfields to sign for League One Exeter City. The Gercians had a superb season and just missed out on the playoffs and will be boosted by a striker who scored four times for a struggling Cobblers side. Sad to see the Spaniard go but yet more room in the squad.

Chris Dunn - Still undecided

Dunny is apparently considering offers from teams higher up the Football League and he could also be on his way. Still no official word but there could yet be an opening for a new first choice keeper.


We're continuing to be linked to the likes of John Akinde and Dele Adebola as the rumour mill spins into full effect this week. Johnson hopes to name at least one new face this week and it looks likely that with Bauza gone it could be an attacking one. Watch this space...