Northampton Town's glorious, gigantic hangover
They only went and bloody did it. He doubted them, the scoundrel. And they only went and bloody won at Anfield. Haydon Spenceley wakes up and rubs his bleary eyes before putting fingers to keyboard about just how amazing last night was for him and thousands of other Northampton Town fans.
So it’s the afternoon after the (very late) night before. Having written on Tuesday about Northampton’s chances of success last night, and then seen, with increasing disbelief and joy, the events which unfolded, I really had to write an “after” piece, if for no other reason than to acknowledge just how gloriously, blissfully, fantastically wrong I was.
By now, you’ll know that we won. Just stop for a second. Northampton, 17th in League Two, with one league win to their credit so far this year, and with a talented squad, but one which was severely stretched by injuries to key performers last night, won away to Liverpool. They did. It actually happened.
Not only that, but, for long periods, we outplayed them. Liverpool had one shot on target in 90 minutes, and we had seven corners to their two in that period. At Anfield. It did happen.
Not only that, but after the pandemonium of celebrating two goals, and seeing the potential heartbreak of being pegged back late in extra time, the lads held their nerve to win the penalty shootout and send our 5,000 strong support (more than we get at home, incidentally) into total, justified, once in a lifetime, absolutely sopping wet but we don’t care, delirium.
A chasm in cost
This was an epic night, a probably never to be repeated experience. For large swathes of a 120-minute contest, Liverpool’s collection of fringe first team players and supposedly up and coming talent were outplayed, taught a footballing lesson even. Only when the lively Pacheco and Jovanovic sought to create on pacy breaks did they really threaten, and in only two periods, during the first quarter, and the last five minutes of extra time when victory was sniffed, did they appear likely to win.
Many high-profile journalists have written about Liverpool today, commenting on the demise of the club, the malaise surrounding it, the shocking legacy left by Rafa Benitez, and Roy Hodgson’s poor utilising of it, and questioning his team selection.
But the fact remains, the starting eleven fielded by the home side last night cost £31million, while Northampton’s consisted entirely of free transfers and loanees, included two products of the club’s youth team, and several who have tasted non-league football in the last five years.
Michael Jacobs, scorer of the second goal, at the Kop, at eighteen, spent time at Nuneaton last season, as did Kevin Thornton, whose probing and passing put the work of the “enigmatic” Lucas to shame.
Abdul Osman, scorer of that majestic winning penalty, which capped a career-defining night’s work in which he controlled the midfield, moving them forward as a unit and defending doggedly, was signed from Gretna, having been spotted playing for Maidenhead.
Best of all, Courtney Herbert, whose twists and turns embarrassed Mark Wilson even before he caused the chaos which induced the second goal, was signed last season from Long Buckby, of the United Counties League. How many of you knew there was a place called Long Buckby, let alone that it had a football team? Honestly? You couldn’t make it up.
It doesn’t matter how you dress this up, it shouldn’t have happened, but it did, and as much as Hodgson and his team of flops will be criticised for it, Ian Sampson, Malcolm Crosby and their coaching team deserve plenty of credit today.
Wins like this do indeed come around once in a lifetime, but this was no fluke. Tactically, the mobility of the five in midfield, their adaptability and workrate, was too much for Lucas and his partner Jay Spearing, who were pulled around the park on numerous occasions as they were outnumbered and outmanoeuvred.
The number of times Osman, and latterly substitute Nathaniel Wedderburn, found space in the middle of the park to pass the ball out wide to the wide quartet of John Johnson, Liam Davis, Paul Rodgers and Michael Jacobs, was indicative of Sampson and Crosby outthinking the stubborn but usually-astute Hodgson.
Kevin Thornton’s link-up with Billy Mckay, both of whom are not of great stature, seemed to befuddle Liverpool’s defensive axis of Daniel Agger and Sotirios Kyriakos. Watching the team grow in confidence as they stroked the ball around the lush Anfield turf, and their total commitment to the cause, typified by Andy Holt’s finest hour in a Cobblers shirt, and a splendid display from loan debutant Ben Tozer, I was proud to call this team my team.
Certainly I never thought a win was attainable, as you would see from my previous post, but here was a team united, working for one another, and with skill and creativity aplenty to go with it.
The game could have been won in 90 minutes, just as it could in extra time, and the courage shown by the quintet of penalty takers at the end was almost superhuman. The scenes of celebration between players, staff and supporters at the end almost brought a tear to the eye, a display of incredulous unity which will live long in the memory.
Just as this was a horrific night for Liverpool, and clearly showed why the depth is not there for that great club to challenge English football’s upper echelons over the next few years, so this was a historic night for Northampton Town. A night to say “I was there”. Even my dad danced about at the end. That never happens.
In the cold light of the glorious following day, some final points.
Firstly, League Two, while a very average league, contains a lot of quality. The reason players play at this level, often, is not through a lack of quality, but consistency. When things click into gear, even the most mighty of mighty (or previously most mighty of mighty) can be made to topple.
Secondly, there is nothing like watching your team, whatever level at which they play, win a game completely unexpectedly, and in such dramatic fashion. This is the beauty of lower league football, that the possibility of nights such as this even exists at all, and that it wonderfully, magisterially comes to pass once in a generation, or even in a lifetime. You can keep your Premier League.
Thirdly, it shouldn’t be underestimated what a fillip this might provide to our club, and even to the area. There’s already been much discussion of the financial ramifications of last night’s game, which appears to have enabled the club to break even this season, quite an achievement.
The road ahead
More than this, the press response to the game might induce a few more spectators to Sixfields, giving momentum to the team. On a wider point, people in the town centre were even smiling this morning. This is unusual!
And now what? Well, on Saturday comes the draw for round four. Another big draw would be lovely, but let’s not be greedy. Of course, there’s the small matter of Bradford at home, followed next Tuesday by the visit of Chesterfield to contend with now.
But whatever happens in the rest of this season, the events of September 22nd 2010 will forever be etched in the annals of Northampton Town.
An incredible story, an incredible night.