League Two Form Guide
Question of the Week
How long before new manager arrives?
By: Ian Townsend
AS a football fan there are times when you have to wonder whether, regardless of what you do, outcomes are pre-ordained. As last season closed many wondered if it was merely lady luck who prevented the 2009/10 season from being our first in non-league football since the decade of World War One.
Perhaps, this time around, the fickle finger of fate has already pointed against us as some other unworthy side gets a reprieve. How else could mere mortals explain the bizarre chain of events before and during Town’s latest attempt to claw themselves away from the trapdoor?
The scene was set during the week when a training injury to Nick Colgan meant that Neil Woods again had to consider the loan system to provide his starting XI with Mark Oxley returning on a 7 day emergency loan.
However the manager was able to welcome back Ollie Lancashire from injury in a familiar looking back four of Bore, Lancashire, Atkinson and Widdowson.
In midfield Woods also welcomed back Jamie Devitt along side Coulson, Leary and Peter Sweeney with the task of leading the line falling to the inspirational Lee Peacock supported by Akpro.
On the bench were Stockdale, Hudson, Proudlock, Forbes, Stirling, Wood and Hegarty.
For their part Northampton came to Cleethorpes knowing that a win would greatly help their chances of a return to League One after only one season.
It seemed that the importance of the game wasn't lost on Town as they took the game to their opponents in the early stages. Akpro in particular, (in a theme that would run through the match) was "up" for it with a spate of corners being achieved due to the Cobblers defenders being unable to cope with his pace. The best early chance fell to the Ivorian but when provided with a neat through ball by Peacock, he was unable to find a telling effort on goal and Northampton breathed again.
Having weathered the early storm Northampton began to create chances themselves and Town were indebted to a fine clearance by Lancashire as the ball was delivered deep from their right.
Within a couple of minutes the Cobblers were in front. Bore had been dragged inside as the ball was played into Akinfenwe. The experienced forward saw Davis unmarked and it was a relatively easy task to place the ball across Oxley and into the net at the far post.
The goal unsettled Town as the old doubts resurfaced and a slice of luck a minute later prevented the Mariners going two down as a shot was curled in, but, with Oxley beaten it just missed the post and out for a goal kick.
Town tried to get themselves back in and a great cross field ball from Devitt found Bore in acres of space. He found Sweeney, but as so very often, his cross was too high for Akpro at the far post.
Town’s main problems were in the centre of midfield where neither Leary or Sweeney got to grips with the strong off ball running of their opponents. A strong run through the middle saw a Northampton player run unchallenged until he pulled his shot well wide to the relief of the Pontoon.
Coulson tried to get Town going and only a fairly cynical challenge resulting in a booking for Gilligan (son of the old Town player Jimmy Gilligan) stopped him. Predictably the free kick was dealt with easily.
As the half drew to a close Town stepped it up a gear and, on 43 minutes, slightly against the run of play scored a fine equaliser. A great run by Devitt down the left found Coulson in the box. He turned and fired a fine shot into the net to send the Bank Holiday crowd into raptures.
Now it was Northampton’s turn to be rocked and only a fine save prevented Akpro from sending the Mariners in at the break 2-1 up.
HALF TIME: Mariners 1 Northampton Town 1
As the second half began Town tried to continue as they'd left off. Peacock rose to send a header just off target as the home side tried to force the game. However it was very much "end to end" and Town had a massive let off as a powerful shot from the left rattled the far post before coming back into play with no attacker able to put the finishing touches.
Then, in the biggest talking point of the night, and one which could have very far reaching consequences for Town, the referee made his mark on the game. As the ball was played down Northampton’s right Lancashire challenged the runner. The referee, 20 yards away, brandished a straight red card signalling the use of the elbow. The linesman hadn't flagged despite only being five yards away and there was fury both on and off the pitch. Even the Northampton players were bemused and several Town players implored the referee to speak to the linesman. Mr Taylor however refused to do so and the decision stood.
Neil Woods was left with a difficult decision. Knowing a draw was of no real use, but also aware of the fact that Lancashire’s premature departure had left a huge whole in the centre of defence the manager sacrificed Devitt for Stirling.
The injustice had had the desired effect on Town and Town players and the Pontoon were screaming for a penalty as Akpro, (who the Cobblers defence were really struggling with) was manhandled in the box.
Town continued to press and Bore curled a shot just wide in their next sortie.
However the strain of playing ten v eleven began to show and Northampton took a lead which was ultimately to prove the winning goal. A deep cross evaded Stirling and Akinfenwe was left with a diving header back across the goal for 2-1.
Town pushed on, but in truth it was more in desperation than in ordered tactical play. A series of corners and long throws from Stirling were dealt with without much difficulty.
The substitution with 11 minutes to go of Coulson for Forbes caused some head scratching and in some cases angry frustration amongst the faithful. Their worst fears seemed to be confirmed when Forbes lashed a shot from the edge of the box high and wide.
The effort was most definitely there and urged on by the large holiday crowd Town fought to the end. There was just time for another display of inconsistency by the referee when Peter Bore was clearly clattered by a leading elbow with the resulting punishment being a yellow card. Sweeney’s effort from the resulting free kick hit the wall and ballooned into the air with Bore eventually heading wide.
So once again, Town were left to rue the intervention of the referee. In the interests of fairness though a win with 11 on the field was by no means guaranteed against opponents showing why they are the divisions form team.
The club now have a difficult decision to make. Should they appeal and lose Town will be without Lancashire for more games than the stipulated three match ban. However the sense of injustice makes you hope they do it. The omens are not good. Referees are accountable to no-one.
It ain’t over till it’s over but said obese soprano is clearing her throat. By 5 p.m. Saturday we could be joining in with the chorus…..
FINAL SCORE Mariners 1 Northampton Town 2.
Man of the Match: Only one real candidate. Jean Louis Akpa Akpro was a beacon of hope in an otherwise dull outlook. Northampton couldn't deal with him and it was only weak refereeing that prevented him having a much bigger impact on the game. If he can find the finish to use with his pace the future is brighter.
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