League Division Three – Northampton Town 1 Swansea City 2 – Saturday 8th February, 1997.
Match Report By Richard Major.
Northampton have a nice enough ground, but sadly its stuck in the middle of nowhere which means that you just HAVE to go to the pub if you turn up early as there’s nothing else to do. One pub had a sign declaring “Home Fans Only” but the other was welcoming enough and served a cracking combination of top beer and top food. To those of you who went on saturday but didn’t go to the Sixfields Tavern – you missed out…
The away end at Sixfields (not counting the spillover area down the side) holds 944 people according to my “Football Grounds” book which means we must have taken at least 800 on saturday. There was plenty of singing before and during the game, and this spurred the team on when it looked at times as if the game was slipping away from us.
Roger didn’t really have to make a save in the first half – he certainly never had to dive for anything. It was a great example of intelligent goalkeeping and his positioning was inch perfect whenever crosses came in. However, the highlight was during a goalkick, when he responded to a chant of “…if you all hate Neville Southall clap your hands” with a little clap behind his back! I can see the headlines now…
Mind you, Roger’s inactivity in goal is not to say that Northampton didn’t look dangerous. Their approach play was superb at times, especially when Matt Rush (yes, THAT Matt Rush) was on the ball. It was always their final ball which let them down just as it seemed likely they would score. It was therefore somewhat surprising when Brayson opened the scoring on 23 minutes. Sadly it was up the other end of the pitch and I was watching some copper activity outside the ground when it went in, but by all accounts he turned quite well before knocking it home.
It was straight after Brayson scored that Molby came off to be replaced by Chapple. Molby had been playing quite well up to that point, customarily spraying the ball around all four corners of the pitch. Sadly, Chapple doesn’t have the same vision – I lost count of the times he picked up the ball facing the opposition goal then turning and playing the ball backwards. The team lost its shape and it looked possible that Northampton would sneak back into it but most of the time the defence held firm.
As the clock ticked on to half time, Swansea started pushing up again and we had two long range efforts just skim over the cross-bar – a shot from Steve Jones the closer of the two. Half time came at exactly 3.45 and it was time for a well-earned coffee to ease the hoarse voice.
It soon became clear the content of Ian Atkins half-time chat with his players as we kicked off for part two. Up until then, Swansea had tried to play some attractive football to which Northampton had responded with much of the same. It seemed, though, that the second 45 minutes was going to be a lot more physical. There were lots of niggly tackles straight from the restart and there were a number of off-the-ball incidents – many of them involving Linton Brown – but it was soon clear that our youngsters would not be able to compete if it came down to brute force. Northampton were soon on top and, with the crowd suddenly right behind them, it was a question of when, not if, they’d score. They came close a couple of times before their number 2 broke free, and send a good diagonal pass across the box for the substitute Lee to knock in after a bit of a scramble.
Lee was injured whilst scoring and there was a good five minutes before we could kick off again. I think this actually worked in our favour because it gave us a chance to calm down and not panic too much about the goal. After the game resumed there were another couple of off-ball incidents but the odd yellow card soon sorted that out and the game was back to the style of the first half. At around the 70 minute mark Linton Brown really came into his own and had probably his best spell since he joined the club. It was certainly the best performance I’ve seen from him as he seemed to be at the centre of every attacking move.
Brown made a number of forays both down the middle and down the left wing and it seemed his pace was unsettling the Northampton back line. The best move came at about 80 minutes when Mills charged down the wing, cut inside, passed to Brown who took the ball to the goal line before cutting it back to Brayson near to the penalty spot. Brayson did well to get his foot around the ball but he looked as shocked as the army behind the goal when it hit the post, rebounded back into play and then frantically cleared.
This really raised the voices of all the travelling fans and we got right behind the team. We only had to wait five minutes before our prayers were answered. A long high pass from midfield was played into the box which Brown picked up on the run. He was flanked on each side by tall Northampton defenders who took him out completely – It had to be a penalty and the ref took no time in pointing to the spot. Even the Northampton players were half-hearted in their complaints.
Penney came forward to take the penalty. He took his time in setting the ball up and then walked slowly out of the box, calmly pausing to pull his socks up. He then turned and drove the ball to the ‘keepers right. The keeper guessed the right direction to dive but Penney had placed it perfectly out of his reach. For the sake of my health he could have hit it harder as their keeper was only millimetres short of getting his fingers to it but who cares as long as it goes in??!!
One would think that scoring the penalty on 85 minutes means we only had to hold out for 5 minutes to ensure the 3 points were ours. Erm…No. There was still about 15mins left to go according to the refs watch and the defence had to work hard to hold onto the lead. Freestone was often in the right place at the right time to scoop up the crosses before they posed any real danger but there were a few hairy moments. At one point, Lee let loose a rocket shot from outside the box which was heading straight for the top left hand corner but it swerved away at the last moment into the crowd. Northampton were getting more and more harried and in a little off-ball incident Brown appeared to shove away a Town player for which he received his second yellow card. I’m sure he’ll be upset with that ‘cos it spoiled an otherwise great game for him. He still gets my man of the match award though.
Just before the end Northampton countered a Swansea attack with a long clearance. Even from where we were behind the goal he looked off-side, and the linesman even raised his flag, but the ref waved play on and things looked dicey for a moment. However, Roger did well to save and he then ensured justice was done by plucking the resultant corner kick out of mid-air.
5 to 5 and the ref finally realises his watch had stopped ages ago and that he really ought to blow the whistle. Swansea were the better team and, in my heavily biased opinion, fully deserved three points. The Northampton fans were not convinced and there was some trouble after the game. There was a line of them along the top of a grassy bank waiting for the away fans but separated by a line of police who had seemed pretty aware of what was going on all day. Apparently some half-bricks were thrown by Swans fans but I didn’t see any of that so I couldn’t comment. It did look like it was going to kick off in a big way at one point but then the crowds broke up. It may well have all gone off away from the ground but after the intial stand-off it was pretty quiet around Sixfields.
So, we’ve got 3 of the four points Molby wanted from this and the Fulham game. I thought if we were going to get 3 points off anyone it would be Fulham and the draw would come at Northampton so we’ve got a real chance of getting the full six points now. Fulham are now the team to chase for the final automatic promotion spot and if we win on tuesday we’ll be only two points behind with only the one extra game played. Fulham have lost something like their last five games so lets hope they don’t bounce back against us.
This game is the big one so lets hope we get a good turn out. I’ve got two exams on the Wednesday but I wouldn’t miss this game for the world….