Top three has to be a realistic target for improving Cobblers

BACK AT SIXFIELDS - Clarke Carlisle
BACK AT SIXFIELDS - Clarke Carlisle

Something special seems to be happening at Sixfields... without gettting carried away, Aidy Boothroyd’s team seem to be nicely lining themselves for a serious push for promotion from npower League Two.

And it’s looking increasingly likely they might not even need the play-offs.

Tuesday’s win over Morecambe lifted Town to a modest looking ninth in the table, but the crucial column is of course the one that reads ‘points’, and Boothroyd’s in-form side are now just three of those behind Cheltenham Town in third place.

It has been a remarkable turnaround by Town since they suffered back-to-back defeats to Barnet and then Bradford City on October 19 and 23.

At that point, play-off hopes were written off, and supporters were beginning to look over their shoulders at the bottom two again.

But since the Sixfields loss to the Bantams - and it was a dismal performance - Town have collected 13 points out of a possible 15, scored 13 goals in the process, and all with several key players missing through injury, illness and suspension.

They have also overcome the setback of seeing the leading scorer at the time, Alex Nicholls, ruled out for the season with a broken leg, and it has been a mighty impressive few weeks.

It’s not been perfect by any means, too many goals have been conceded, but things have turned dramatically.

Belief and confidence are high, last season’s talisman Clarke Carlisle is back at the club, and automatic promotion is now very much in the sights.

A win tomorrow at Oxford should see Town into the top seven, and those automatic promotion places will definitely be on the radar.

As I say, it’s no time to get carried away, but perhaps it is time to set those expectations a little higher.


Staggering. That was my first reaction to Chelsea’s decision to sack Roberto Di Matteo, just six months after the Italian guided the west London club to an FA Cup success and the Champions League title for the first time.

Yes, results recently have been poor, but surely a manager deserves more time and respect when he has achieved something so momentous for a club as make them European champions?

Particularly as Di Matteo was also in the process of turning Chelsea into a team that was good to watch and played attractive, attacking and expansive football rather than the defensive, functional, solid and decidedly dull team they have been since the Jose Mourinho years.

But Chelsea is of course no ordinary club, indeed, it’s not really a club at all, it is just the plaything of its Russian owner Roman Abramovic.

And if Abramovic wakes one morning and decides he wants to change things at the top, that’s what he does - and Di Matteo is the latest to fall victim to his whims, joining a lengthy list that includes the likes of Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti.

Chelsea then, almost with indecent haste, then appointed the former Liverpool and Internazionale boss Rafael Benitez as their eighth manager in eight years, and all I can say is good luck to the Spaniard.

Because if what has happened in the past is anything to go by, Benitez is going to have to do something very, very special to stay in that job for any length of time.

And a final word on Abramovic?

He keeps sacking managers because they keep, in his eyes at least, failing to do their job properly.

Well, does this fella ever look in the mirror?

Because surely the man at Chelsea who has made more poor decisions over the past seven years is Abramovic himself...

He, after all, was the man who appointed Di Matteo in the first place just five months ago.

Perhaps he needs to give himself the bullet and let somebody who knows what they are doing appoint the club’s managers.


Are the wheels coming off at Northampton Saints? After four or five years of constant improvement under Jim Mallinder, it does seem as though the pressure is growing on the Franklin’s Gardens management team.

This week’s decision to effectively sack assistant coach Paul Grayson was, if not a surprise, at least a clear indication that all is not rosy behind the scenes in Jimmy’s End.

Rumours are rife among people much more in the know than me - see this week’s Jon Sleightholme column on this website - that key players are preparing to leave the club next summer, and there are the first signs that the upward curve the club has been on since Mallinder arrived is starting to dip in downward direction.

Judging by their reaction, some supporters clearly feel that Grayson, who is responsible for coaching the misfiring back division, has simply been made a fall guy for Saints’ poor run of form.

That Mallinder is saying ‘Grayson is the one to blame, not me’.

Now, I’m not sure that’s the case, and it must be remembered that Grayson is not a ‘Mallinder man’, he was already at the club and tied to a long contract when the director of rugby took over at the helm.

As the director of rugby and the man who ultimately takes responsibility for results, Mallinder is well within his rights to shake up his coaching team if and when he sees fit and if standards aren’t being met.

And as Grayson wasn’t his appointment in the first place, it is perhaps the obvious move that he has been the one asked to step aside.

The key thing now for Mallinder is getting the right coach in to replace a man that is a legendary figure to the club’s supporters following his 19 years service as player and coach.

If Mallinder gets that call right, and the performances of the Saints back division improves and the team starts to sparkle again, then all that has happened this week will be forgotten.

But if he gets that appointment wrong and Saints continue to struggle, there is a chance the decision to offload Grayson could come back to haunt him, and be another stick for the dissenting supporters among the Gardens ranks to beat him with in the future.

Let’s hope he gets it right.