Northampton Town's big night out
To Liverpool supporters, even the most respectful, this week’s encounter with Northampton Town is perhaps just a fairly uninspiring home cup tie with lower-league fodder. To Cobblers fans, it is a rare luxurious break from the monotonous grind of League Two. Haydon Spenceley gives an insight into the mood among the Northampton support ahead of their most high-profile match for years.
So, tomorrow night (or, more than likely by the time you read this tonight, yesterday, the day before yesterday or one day last week) my team, Northampton Town, will find themselves stepping out on to the turf of Anfield to face Liverpool in a Carling Cup Third Round tie.
Unquestionably a plum tie, probably among the most interesting of the round, and inexplicably overlooked for TV coverage (we could have done with the money, just like every other team below 8th in the Premier League) the game is an all-too-rare opportunity for I, and circa 5,000 other Cobblers fans, to see our boys pit their wits against one of English football’s greats.
Liverpool will, I state with almost complete certainty, win, and win handsomely. Northampton Town and their fans, both ardent and fair-weather, may well return to the Midlands with their tails between their legs on the back of a severe hiding.
Even so, I should be excited, no? Or at least more excited than I feel on the eve of the big event.
You see, Town have done exceptionally to reach round three, having already dispatched Brighton at home (I shall enjoy the memory of a perplexed Gus Poyet watching his team as they were cut to shreds by our bunch of mediocre misfits for a long time) and away to Championship Reading, in both games playing our best football of the season.
As such, the players and staff, as well as their bank manager, richly deserve the opportunity afforded to them by tomorrow’s game. The trouble is, in virtually every other game this season, the heights reached in the league cup have seemed but a distant mirage.
One league win, against a very poor Southend side, several uninspiring, backs-to-the-wall draws, and a couple of chagrin-inducing defeats away to Torquay and Shrewsbury, as well as a senseless drubbing at Hartlepool, in the laughably-regional JPT, have been our lot so far.
In those games, regular watchers have been able to pick out the following tidbits of information about our merry band of blokes (call it a scouting report):
- We actually aren’t all that good
- We have so few defenders that, at Shrewsbury, a converted left winger, and a converted centre forward started together at centre half. The latter, Seb Harris, on debut, was substituted before half time. This was shoddy man management, but a decent football decision. It precipitated today’s signing of Ben Tozer from Newcastle. But will he stop Torres/Kuyt/N’Gog/Pacheco or whoever else is played up front tomorrow?Well, okay, probably Fernando is the only one who we should be truly worried about, but the lack of defensive, well, quality, is somewhat worrying, and will be our undoing over the course of the league season. Liam Davis’ recent conversion to left back has been a success story, and his runs from deep might pose some problems, if only he could do something at the end of them.
- In midfield, we are over-stocked with strong, hard-working players, except they don’t work hard. Isn’t hard-working just a shorthand version of average? Thought so. Anyway, despite all the evidence pointing to our best bet being to play three in the centre, this only happens every so often.Shockingly, we often play better in this formation. More shockingly still, there is no guarantee that this will mean that the tactic will be employed the following week. As with much of League Two, the need for the ability to pass appears to have been overlooked by those scouting our players, apart from Kevin Thornton, who passes beautifully, as well as creating set-pieces, and enjoying games where he does not have to tackle or be tackled. On that basis, I have high hopes for him to outplay Gerrard tomorrow.
- With Michael Jacobs looking alternately like Pele and a rabbit in headlights in his first-full season, but showing the potential which will see him in the Championship at least before too long, and Billy McKay on the wings, and the recently signed Leon Mckenzie up top, we have decent options (or at least better than they were a couple of weeks ago). In the unlikely event of us actually getting the ball, there is enough creativity and firepower there to spring a surprise.
If I sound defeatist, even disparaging, it is because that’s how the start to the season has made me feel. Northampton are a team on a budget, for whom a tie such as Liverpool away may well, as Ian Sampson, our novice manager has stated recently, be a once in a lifetime experience.
For this reason I will go gladly and proudly up north. However, after a strong period during the middle of the last decade, a combination of short-sightedness on the part of the local government to deny progress to redevelopment, a couple of poor managerial appointments (including, possibly, the current one) and a spot of necessary financial belt-tightening has seen us drop from a very decent League One side 3 years ago, featuring several players now plying their trade in Leagues above ours, to being a very average League Two side, in a very average League Two.
Whatever the result tomorrow, as I arrive at Anfield, I will savour the moment and try and take in every last drop of it. It may very well be a long time before my team is there again.