Richards ready to savour every moment as he gets second crack at Manchester United
'I definitely think back to that moment when I hit the bar, and wonder how things might have been different for me if it had gone in.'
The words of current Cobblers skipper Marc Richards, reflecting on one of the key moments in the game the last time the Manchester United juggernaut stopped off in Northampton.
It was an FA Cup tie in January, 2004, and the Cobblers were trailing 2-0 when Richards, a second-half substitute, unleashed a ferocious volley from the edge of the penalty area.
The shot was too good for United goalkeeper Roy Carroll, but unfortunately for the Cobblers, and Richards, the ball thudded into the crossbar and bounced out.
So instead of it being 2-1 and the Cobblers back in the game, it stayed 2-0, and just minutes later Diego Forlan scored to make it 3-0 and end the game as a contest.
Richards’ shot was a sliding doors moment that not only could have changed the game, but also the path of the then 22-year-old player’s career.
“I remember coming on at half-time and being really nervous,” recalls Richards, the sole survivor among the current Cobblers squad from the clash 12 years ago.
“I wanted to get into the game and I thought I did quite well, getting hold of the ball, getting in behind and then obviously I hit the bar.
“And I definitely think back to that moment when I hit the bar, and wonder how things might have been different for me if it had gone in.
“But that is part and parcel of football, I have had plenty of opportunities to progress my career since then, and that was just a moment.”
Richards impressed after his half-time introduction in 2004, and the 34-year-old knows any input he is to have into the EFL Cup match at Sixfields on September 21 is again likely to have to come as a substitute.
Competition for places at Sixfields is fierce this season, and with Alex Revell currently the main man in attack, Richards is set to again have to make do with a place on the bench as United come to town.
But he is happy to do that, and will again aim to have the maximum impact if required.
“The last time I was disappointed that I wasn’t starting, because everybody involved wanted to play in that game,” said Richards, who had signed for the club from Blackburn Rovers the previous summer.
“It was televised, it was against Manchester United, there were some massive names coming to play at Northampton.
“Obviously I was disappointed not to start, but I used that disappointment and tried to channel it in the right way.
“I told myself that if I was going to get on then I would channel the negative of not playing into a positive, and I thought I did that.
“It is just one of those things, and there are going to be some disappointed lads in the dressing room come kick-off time this time around, but it is how you then channel that disappointment.”
For any footballer, matches don’t come much bigger than a clash with Manchester United, and Richards is already excited at the prospect of Jose Mourinho and co rocking up at Sixfields.
“Just to even talk about it makes you excited to be a part of it, and to be involved,” he said.
“Manchester United are coming to Northampton again, and for it to happen twice, and twice to myself, is great.
“The first time was a special occasion, but maybe I was just a little bit young to really appreciate what was going on.
“This time around I will be taking a lot more in.”
So how can the Cobblers produce what would be one of the great cup upsets?
“Staying in the game is paramount,” said Richards
“If you look back to last season, we went to Newcastle and were 2-0 down within five or 10 minutes, and it was backs to the wall and damage limitation time.
“Luckily we did claw one back before we ended up losing 4-1.
“The manager will know how to approach the game like Colin Calderwood did in 2004, and I thought we stayed in that game for long periods.
“I thought we played quite well, and I have watched the game quite recently on YouTube - my son keeps showing me the moment when my shot hit the bar, not that I need to many reminders!
“But I think we played quite well, and as long as we stay in the game against Manchester United this time there is always a chance.
“It is pointless going gung-ho and leaving ourselves exposed at the back, and the longer the game goes on and stays a tight game, the more nervous they will become.
“That will play more into our hands, because ultimately we have nothing to lose. This is our cup final.”
The Cobblers can take confidence from the fact they have already knocked out a Premier League team this season in West Bromwich Albion, seeing them off on penalties, and Richards would love to produce a repeat of that performance.
“West Brom brought some big names, they brought some good players, and we more than held our own and took them to penalties,” he said.
“That is something we need to consider.
“We didn’t beat West Brom, but we did beat them on penalties, and if we can do something similar against Manchester United and it puts us in the next round, then we will take that!”
One thing Richards probably won’t take from the United game though is a souvenir from the big night.
Plenty of players take the chance to swap shirts when they are up against big names, but Richards is not on of them.
“Every time we play against a big team, I never think to get a shirt,” he said.
“I did the same last season at Newcastle. I came away from the game thinking ‘I didn’t get a shirt’, and it was the same when we played Manchester United the last time, and on other occasions as well.
“Because of all the hype of the game, it is just something I never really think about.
“I have a job at the end of the day, and that job is to play football and to try and win the game, not get a shirt.”