Life after The Seven Two for Northampton Town
When you skim-read the results from each division on a Saturday evening, there are lots of 1-1s and 2-1s. There are a few goalless draws dotted around. The occasional 3-0 or 3-1. There aren’t many 7-2s. But then, not every team is Cobblers. Haydon Spenceley gets it all off his chest…
Northampton Town. Around a year ago, we were here together, and I threatened to divorce you, after you were thumped 4-1 by one of the worst sides I had ever seen (Barnet). At the time I ranted and raved, tossed and turned, debating how a team which had beaten Brighton, Reading and Liverpool that season in cup competitions, could perform so limply when three league points were on offer.
How could you fail to be gunning for promotion when you had outplayed three teams who ended up doing rather well in their respective leagues last season? I recall winding down the piece by saying that, regardless of how bad things had been in the league, I would be there, continuing to support, encourage and challenge, to try and enjoy football, for what it is, a blessed distraction from the mundane everyday humdrum of life.
At the same time, I secretly hoped for better, promotion in fact. Last season would have been nice, but after an unfortunate run of six draws and a defeat in seven games, Ian Sampson, a hero of mine, but seemingly lost as to how to maintain a winning approach as a manager due to inexperience, rather than any lack of skill or quality on his part, was replaced by Gary Johnson as manager.
It was time for Sammo to go, and Johnson was the highest profile, most respected realistic candidate available to replace him. In he came, with a fanfare of self-promotion and not a little small-man syndrome, as he castigated the quality and application of the squad, promising, basically, to decimate the squad and bring in his own men as quickly as possible. A veritable smorgasbord of increasingly inept and desperate loanees followed, and relegation was avoided in the penultimate game. Promotion was the aim at the start of the season. Relief the over-riding emotion at its end.
Fast-forward to the Saturday just gone, and, at Sixfields, Northampton, no longer managed by Johnson, but “coached” by his assistant David Lee, have just been dismantled 7-2 by Shrewsbury Town. It could and should have been more. Shrewsbury are a good, functional side, with a little sprinkling of talent and flair (Morgan and Wildig) combined with the solidity provided by the experience and wisdom of Ian Sharps at the back. However, they should never be 7-2 better than Northampton Town.
As Northampton find themselves three points above the dreaded League Two trapdoor, the question has to be asked, what has gone wrong? There is but one answer: Gary Johnson.
Much has been written and spoken about the downturn in Johnson’s career since the tail-end of his time at Bristol City, including his doomed sojourn as Peterborough United manager. A series of inept tactical and recruitment decisions nearly derailed Posh’s promotion push last season. This season, the promised promotion party at Northampton was never on the cards. Once the dust settled on our summer recruitment, we were left with a back four largely containing members of last season’s inept defence – with the addition of Kelvin Langmead and Ashley Westwood, two of the slowest centre-backs it is possible to find in the same team.
Further forward, the decision to partner Bayo Akinfenwa with, erm, nobody, backfired terribly, whilst a powderpuff midfield featuring three wingers, a central midfielder and a centre-half deemed incompetent by, you guessed it, Gary Johnson last season was never going to work. Despite a good start, including fine wins at Aldershot and Ipswich, in which the team looked compact and organised, the writing was always on the wall.
Constant changes to the team, especially in the troublesome left-back position, where players are lucky to last a half before being substituted, have destroyed continuity and morale. Incredibly bad PR from the management, including trying to bomb out several summer signings prior to January, criticisms of virtually every member of the squad in the press, and a constant deluge of false positivity and false hope led not only to a lowly league position, but also to a sense of first apathy, and later anger, at the way the club was heading.
So, then, finally, after a limp loss at Luton in the FA Cup, Johnson was gone. And then there was David Lee.
I cannot even begin to describe Saturday’s performance. Much less than even that, his interview with BBC Radio Northampton’s Geoff Doyle must go down as one of the rudest and most embarrassing public utterances by a “manager” of a league team in recent times. It’s worth a listen. At least it means Lee will not be let within half a mile of the job (it’s not actually his fault, it’s more what he was left with, but it’s not his time yet).
But who would want to come to a team on a seemingly endless downward spiral out of the Football League? I hope for Nicky Forster, Dover’s manager, or Aidy Boothroyd, but I have a feeling I may be disappointed…