We begin our countdown to the Cobblers’ big EFL Cup clash against Manchester United on Wednesday night with a look back to when the Old Trafford giants last graced the Sixfields turf, in an FA Cup fourth round tie in 2004...
The last time Manchester United came to Northampton, the occasion proved to be, if truth be told, something of a damp squib. A bit of an anti-climax.
Colin Calderwood’s Cobblers team huffed and puffed in the FA Cup fourth round encounter, but seemed overawed by the occasion, and were very much second best to what was a second string United team.
Sir Alex Ferguson did wheel out a few big guns in the shape of Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, Darren Fletcher and a teenage Cristiano Ronaldo, but main man Roy Keane spent the afternoon glowering on the bench, while others, such as Ruud van Nistelrooy, didn’t even have to travel.
It was a team that surely could have been got at and rattled if Cobblers were positive and had a real go - but that didn’t happen.
Calderwood went on the defensive from the off, effectively playing without a centre forward.
Derek Asamoah was in the team, but deployed in the right channel, with target man Marc Richards left on the bench, while Martin Reeves - who had been out injured for the previous six weeks - started in a midfield.
It was very much a ‘stay in the game’ strategy, but strategies such as that are only effective if the team doesn’t gift the opposition soft goals - and Town did just that.
If United had sliced the Cobblers open with some dream team football then it would have been easier to take, but that wasn’t the case, with the total yardage of all three goals probably being 15 yards!
Scrambled efforts from Mikael Silvestre and Diego Forlan and an unfortinate and comical own goal from Chris Hargreaves proved to be the Cobblers’ undoing - with Lee Harper also saving a fourth-minute penalty from Forlan after Chris Carruthers had pushed Ronaldo in the box.
Indeed, that spot-kick save proved to be pretty much the high point of the afternoon for Cobblers fans.
Richards was belatedly introduced into the fray at the start of the second half to pep up the attack, and he gave glimpses of what might have been had the Cobblers been more positive as a superb volley from 18 yards rattled the crossbar with the score at 2-0,
Martin Smith also later hit the woodwork as Town at last showed some attacking ambition, but it was all too late as United were already 3-0 up and coasted into the fifth round.
After the game chatting to the Town players, there was a real feeling of anti-climax, of what might have been if they had just been a bit more adventurous.
Hopefully that won’t be the case for Rob Page’s team when they face United in the EFL Cup on Wednesday night.
This is a great chance for the Cobblers players to test themselves against the biggest club in world football, the chance to go head to head with some of the best players in Europe.
They, and manager Page, have to grab it with both hands, and I’m sure they will, just as they did in the second round clash with another Premier League side in West Bromwich Albion.
The Cobblers were a match for the Baggies on that occasion, and took their more illustrious opponents to extra-time and penalties, memorably winning that shootout.
So I’m hoping Town can get on the front foot and try to get at United, try to make things uncomfortable for Jose Mourinho’s side who come to Northampton reeling from three straight defeats in seven days.
If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but at least if the Cobblers show ambition and give it a go, they will have gone out trying to create a bit of a bang.
Something that didn’t happen back in 2004.
Northampton: Harper, Reid, Sampson, Lyttle, Willmott, Carruthers (51m, Chambers), Hargreaves, Reeves (46m, Richards), Lincoln (72m, Harsley),
Asamoah, Smith. Not used: Thompson, Vieira
Manchester United: Carroll, O’Shea, Silvestre (72m, Bardsley), Brown, Scholes (72m, Richardson), Fletcher, Fortune (89m, Pugh), Butt, Bellion, Ronaldo, Forlan. Not used: Howard, Keane
Goals: 34mins: Mikael Silvestre 0-1; 47 mins: Chris Hargreaves OG 0-2; 68 mins: Diego Forlan 0-3