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Jefferson Lake’s Northampton Town v Oxford United preview

CRUCIAL WIN - the victory at Dagenham last week means the Cobblers' survival fate is in their own hands (Picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

CRUCIAL WIN - the victory at Dagenham last week means the Cobblers' survival fate is in their own hands (Picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

 

Chris Wilder is probably right when he says the Cobblers have achieved absolutely nothing yet.

But they’ve met the first half of their target, which was to give themselves a chance of staying up on the final day and for their fate to be entirely in their own hands.

When the side drew at Scunthorpe on March 8, they were six points adrift of safety; they were playing well and getting results and still they stayed below the dreaded dotted line.

It was a worrying time for Wilder. He had been given the license (and the chequebook) to sign almost an entirely new team in his first week in charge, signing eight players and paying up the contracts of a few others.

The dice had been rolled and still the Cobblers were out of luck.

When they did pick up a good win, so did all the other teams around them; and similarly when they lost, so did all of the others.

The status quo was preserved on a weekly basis.

But they have been consistent in the past couple of months and it is that quality that has put them in their current position, where just a point will suffice to ensure League football at Sixfields for next season.

Only three of their past 15 games have been losses and only two of them have been concerning ones (to Rochdale and Bury); yes, six ended as draws and that was a concern for a while but the gradual eking out of points brought survival closer.

It has been slow progress but the team’s destiny is now firmly in their own hands, and that is a position that was (and is) the best that could have been hoped for.

It’s interesting that during those draws, the line regularly trotted out was that ‘draws are no good to the team’ and yet it is that drip-drip-drip of points that has led to the current situation, where - yes, you guessed it - a draw will do the business.

It should be made clear, however, that there should be no cause for celebration if the season ends on a positive note.

The root-and-branch assessment of exactly where it has gone wrong can wait until next week, but this has been an abomination of a campaign with very little to warm the hearts of the long-suffering supporters.

In fact, there are probably only two positives from the past 10 months - the ability shown by Wilder himself to recruit well and impact on the team’s results and the emergence of a potential star in Ivan Toney.

It would be hugely unlikely that Toney will be dropped for the game against Oxford and so he will have a chance to finish on a real high in front of the hometown fans who have proclaimed him an instant hero for his goals at Dagenham.

That win provides the template for this Saturday.

A fast start, against a side with nothing to play for once again, will be vital.

Something is very wrong in the state of Oxford at the moment and their manager Gary Waddock spoke about there being a ‘losing culture’ at the club, but players will want to achieve on a personal level, whether that be a clean sheet for a defender or a goal for a striker (and it is worrying that James Constable is within one strike of becoming the Us’ leading scorer of all time).

The impression is that the players are not happy under the new manager and that many of them will not be offered new deals in the summer.

It is far from being a happy camp.

Added to the mix is the fact that Wycombe travel to Torquay, a side managed by former Cobblers favourite Chris Hargreaves and who are desperate to avoid finishing bottom of the entire Football League.

Wycombe themselves have only scored twice in open play away from home in three months and haven’t scored in their past four games.

It is, in so many ways, a perfect scenario for the Cobblers.

But they have achieved absolutely nothing yet and even if they do stay up, the main feeling will not be celebration but pure and simple relief.

 

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