Saturday 3rd May 2014 ko 15.00
NORTHAMPTON TOWN 3 (Marquis 29 Toney 33 Kouo-Doumbe 50)
OXFORD UNITED 1 (Williams 6) Williams sent off 19 (violent conduct)
Att 7,529 (1,358 away)
I’ve watched my team lose their league status, and its a perfectly horrible experience, and one I wouldn’t wish on any fan (well perhaps Swindon, but that’s tribal!). The Conference may well be a quasi-League 3 but the process of falling into it still hurts a lot. 6 months ago, Northampton were racing favourites to take that drop, sacked manager Aidy Boothroyd, recruited Oxford United’s Chris Wilder more here, and went into this game out of the relegation zone for the first time this year, needing a point to guarantee League football.
In contrast Oxford had been in the play-off positions virtually all season, but since Wilder’s departure form had slumped with the club destined to finish 8th whatever the result. They had nothing but pride to play for, but the Cobblers’ conundrum was as follows. If they lost and either Wycombe or Bristol Rovers won, they were down, so how the club decided to stage the game surprised me.
I’m well used to the rather sanitised atmosphere at Football League games, and I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand my elderly father and my sister can travel away and feel safe. That is to be applauded, but I found much of Northampton Town’s staging to be banal. Did they really need to badge a game this important as “Claret Day,” and have the stadium announcer bellow out encouragement before the game? Quite frankly if you were one of the sell-out crowd and didn’t know how much was riding on it for the Cobblers, why on earth were you there?
There was also the full-page advert from the local Police in the programme telling the patron in close to patronising terms, about the pyro-amnesty bins being trialled at the game. I quote, “…you have made the stupid decision to buy pyro…”
Now I’m not suggesting that pyro should be allowed, or that the kind of scenes I witnessed at the Belgrade Derby, click here would be desirable, but I would question the wisdom of putting an advert in a programme that the majority will start to read inside the ground, well after the bins would have been passed at the turnstiles. It smacked of a police force finding a raison d’etre at game that despite being between two local sides was only a derby in the minds of the ignorant. Surely a lower-key intelligence-based approach would have been more cost-effective than the bombastic approach used. As it was, I wondered when the Oxford fan who brought in the inflatable penis was going to be arrested for outraging public decency.
The game unquestionably turned on the dismissal of Oxford’s loanee winger Ryan Williams. He had given the visitors the lead, when he reacted to a Danny Rose corner when the Cobblers’ defence was static, a habit they’ve no doubt learned from Wilder. However he reacted violently to a heavy challenge from Ricky Ravenhill, was correctly sent off and has now returned with a 3 game ban to relegated Fulham, with potentially another stint out on loan in the offing. Oxford didn’t get in another shot on goal, and with Wycombe winning at already relegated Torquay, the hosts were in the relegation zone, but with only ten men to beat. Nervy if you were a Cobblers fan, but no one sat by me could see anything other than a home win.
And so if came to pass, United huffed and puffed, and Northampton rattled in three goals to guarantee League safety at Bristol Rovers’ expense, and at the end of it all the pitch invasion was punctuated with, yes a smoke bomb, as Oxford United fans returned to their cars to listen to Dave Kitson’s barely disguised pitch for the assistant manager’s job live on Radio Oxford. Meanwhile their former-manager’s stock has never been higher, and I’d have love to have been a fly on the wall in the boardroom bar when visiting chairman Ian Lenagan no doubt met former manager. I wonder who bought who a drink?