1. After a lovely lunch time stop in Daventry, courtesy of the wonderful Moose Tours we arrived at the PTS Academy Stadium formerly known as Sixfields where we received a very warm welcome from one of their very friendly staff at the ground, and then mingled with the friendly locals, several of whom even said that they hoped we could sneak a win in the fight to preserve our precious English Football League (EFL) status. As always, it was a a pleasure to meet up with the wonderful Gail Butcher (mother of our legendary number 21 Richard Butcher) and her lovely family, and we even managed a chat with Ben Stephens sister who spoke of how Ben is loving his time with the Silkmen, and also stated that a number of family and friends were joining us from Leicester to get behind the Silkmen cause.
2. I have to admit that whilst pleased with the restoration of the legendary Danny Whitaker to the starting line-up for Michael Rose who mysteriously wasn’t even on the bench; I was completely gobsmacked (alongside a few of my compatriots) at the news that Brice Ntwambe was starting the game in place of Reece Cole, who was most definitely one of our better players at Forest Green last week. Brice has hardly featured for a number of weeks and he hasn’t exactly pulled up trees when he has put on the Silkmen shirt. PBJ & I then cried out in exasperation when we saw us enter the field of play in that accursed black shirt, and also noted that James Pearson was sadly absent once again. I sincerely hope and pray that James is fit for Monday’s titanic battle.
3. Anyway to the game, and they must be commended for playing with passion, commitment and pride in their shirts, and for 90 minutes instead of 45. Sadly this team were NORTHAMPTON TOWN who had absolutely nothing to play for but mid table mediocrity in this game. Sol Campbell has frequently spoke in his interviews about how every game we have to play to the end of the season was a cup final. Well Sol, I am afraid that the rhetoric is very far away from the reality based on the last couple of performances; and Friday’s performance was arguably one hundred times worse than last week! The 283 travelling supporters in a decent crowd of just shy of 5,000 people on a beautiful Bank Holiday afternoon gave unwavering and passionate support to their team which appeared to have fallen on deaf ears when considering the utterly abject display on the pitch (particularly in the second half) which really was mind boggling when considering our precarious position!!
4. To be fair, the Silkmen started off the game with several half chances from Ntwambe and young Ben Stephens, but then the first of a series of dreadful defensive errors gifted the Cobblers of Northampton a goal in the 25th minute. A cross from the left wing allowed the Cobblers number 15 Bowditch with what appeared to be the freedom of Northampton, Oxford & Milton Keynes combined, and he neatly steered the ball past the helpless Kieran O’Hara with a nice volleyed finish. On 29 minutes the Silkmen looked to have restored parity with a glancing header from Harry Smith after a delicious looking cross from Elliott Durrell. The cheers of the Silkmen faithful then turned to jeers of derision from the Cobblers most vociferous supporters to our left as the goal was flagged offside. However Harry (my Man of the Match with Kieran O’Hara a close second) was to have the last laugh when on 38 minutes he collected an exquisite ball from young Ben Stephens before expertly lobbing the Cobblers’ keeper Cornell which gave parity to the scoreline which was about right based on the first 45 minutes of action.
5. As many of us chattered away in the queue as we waited patiently for our hot and cold beverages; we sincerely and collectively hoped that the half-time team talk from Sol would prove to be the inspiration for a victory that would leave us in a fabulous position and on the road to avoiding the drop back into non-league obscurity. As the second half progressed, you could see that it was clearly Keith Curle who had proven to be the most effective motivational speaker to his troops during the half-time cuppa. The Cobblers came at us from the get-go at the start of the second period, as firstly some excellent defending from Nathan Cameron and a reflex save from Kieran O’Hara with an outstretched leg to deny Cobblers number 12 George Cox managed to keep us on a par with our hosts.
6. The goal that the Cobblers fully deserved for their early second half dominance came on 55 minutes when the normally excellent Nathan Cameron somehow contrived to head the ball towards his own goal and onto a proverbial plate for the Cobblers number 10 Daniel Powell who duly completed the simplest of finishes with poor Kieran O’Hara left completely stranded. Although the Silkmen had several albeit fleeting glimpses of a comeback with a comfortable save from Silkmen substitute Reece Cole; a decent free kick from Elliott Durrell (that produced a decent save from Cobblers’ keeper Cornell) that was then adjudged to be a goal kick and a decent shout for what appeared to be foul on Nathan Cameron waved away by the hugely home team biased referee Kevin Johnson to the utter disdain of the Silkmen faithful behind the goal; it really did prove nowhere near enough on the day.
7. It was then the Cobblers who effectively finished the game as a contest in stoppage time, and the last of the hat-trick of defensive bloopers that eventually killed us off came in the surprising shape of Elliott Durrell who was astoundingly in the right back position (yes right back position!) when he received a ball rolled out to him by Kieran O’Hara. Elliott, who sadly didn’t have one of his better games for the Silkmen today was then easily dispossessed by Powell who then gave the simplest of opportunities to Cobblers number 14 Morias who finished with aplomb.
8. What was incredible was that there was not one boo from the Silkmen faithful after this truly dire performance, and some people even clapped! The only blessing from a thoroughly depressing no-show was that defeats for Notts County and Yeovil Town meant that incredibly; we still have a two point advantage with three games to go. As we trudged away from the ground to the coach, a number of us expressed absolute incredulity as to why we appeared so awful in defence when we had five defenders and a defensive midfielder in our ranks (and still concede truly awful goals) and a manager who was effectively a central defender with a 20 year career in the Premier League and 11 year career in the England national team currently appears to struggle to facilitate an effective defensive framework that minimises the goals scored against us to affect a positive result in our favour!
9. I openly admit that I do not have anywhere near the experience or knowledge of the beautiful game that Sol Campbell clearly possesses, but there were a few things that don’t / didn’t make any sense to me whatsoever. I could not understand why Brice Ntwambe who hasn’t even been on the sub’s bench in recent weeks (and has looked way off match fitness when he has played) got the nod over Reece Cole / Callum Evans when both could do a far better job in midfield. I also cannot understand why Elliott Durrell who is a winger (and a darned good one at that) keeps getting played through the middle, and why we don’t try Harry Smith and Scotty Wilson up front together and perhaps see what Liandro Martis can do from the start, and from a left wing berth! My final conundrum is wtf does Sol say to players in the half-time team talk? At 1-1 at the half-time interval we were in the game and then meh; a total pile of crud where it appears like the players have never even met each other never mind played as team mates only fifteen minutes earlier. Please believe me this is happened on quite a few occasions this season, so answers on a postcard pretty please!!
10. Easter Monday is now effectively a must win game against the Exiles of Newport County who are currently top of the form table in League Two. The Exiles are honing in on a play-off place at an impressive rate after having achieved an impressive 14 points from the last 6 games, and I have no doubts that they will view this game as a real chance of moving forward in their quest for a play-off place. It is now a year to the day that Silkmen fans everywhere were taken into dreamland as our 2-0 victory at Eastleigh secured our return to the English Football League. So many of the players from that historic day are sadly currently on the sidelines, and I have to be honest, I would love to see the likes of Jared Hodgkiss, Tyrone Marsh, Scott Wilson & Ryan Lloyd putting their hearts on their sleeves as they did last season, and ultimately helping us to a victory that could all but seal our safety. Having said that, whoever in the squad takes to the field of play from 15.00 hours on Monday 22nd April 2019, please be assured that yours truly will be giving them 100% backing in pursuit of that priceless three points that we so desperately need from the first whistle to the last. I am Silkmen till I die!