View from the press box: The alternative Northampton Town awards for 2016-17
After travelling up and down the land to cover another Cobblers campaign full of highs and lows, it's time to dish out the following end-of-season awards...
Player of the season: The list of contenders for this season’s top honour is significantly shorter than the previous campaign but that should not mean Zander Diamond is any less of a worthy winner. In a season where his team struggled defensively, conceding 73 goals in all, Diamond was an often calming, consistent presence at centre-back, playing all but nine games. Steady, commanding and assured, the Scot’s performances will be sorely missed as he leaves for pastures new.
A deserved second in this category is midfield maestro John-Joe O’Toole, whose tally of 12 goals, including a vital seven in seven stretch during February and March, would surely have been greater but for a persistent groin injury towards the end of the campaign, while the ever-consistent David Buchanan takes third spot.
Young player of the season: He only played a handful of matches but such has been the dearth of young players on the books at Sixfields in recent times, Shaun McWilliams’ promising displays towards the back end of the campaign are enough to earn him this award. The 18-year-old caught the eye with his tenacious, combative style in central midfield and he is one to look out for next term.
Breakthrough act: Sam Hoskins. We saw glimpses of Hoskins’ raw talent in the previous year’s title-winning triumph but he really came into his own when playing in the free role under Rob Page, only for an unfortunate training ground injury to cut his season cruelly short. Lightening quick and still only 24, Hoskins’ return will be eagerly-awaited and a timely boost for a team whose distinct lack of pace in attacking areas has been well-documented.
Goal of the season: Several candidates for this but Marc Richards’ thunderbolt against Sheffield United just about edges out Gregg Wylde’s superb volley at MK Dons. The angle looked tight, and was getting tighter, but that didn’t stop Town’s skipper from smashing into the top corner, via post and bar, to shock Chris Wilder’s runaway league leaders during April’s meeting at Sixfields.
Favourite Matty Taylor free-kick of the season: With the wand that is Matty Taylor’s left foot in their ranks, there was a sense of excitement every time Northampton won a free-kick anywhere within shooting distance this season. Taylor scored four in total with his most exquisite effort coming at home to MK Dons. It was the perfect free-kick; lifted delicately over the wall and placed perfectly into the top corner from 20 yards, leaving Dons keeper David Martin rooted to the spot.
Best moment of the season: Marc Richards’ winner at Oxford. In a season of few highs, this was right up there. Any victory over Michael Appleton’s Oxford United feels good but one earned deep into injury-time, away from home and via a smart back-heeled finish tasted especially sweet.
Milestone of the season: No prizes for guessing this one. To play every game in a season is one thing but to start 106 in a row in all competitions requires a footballer who blends consistency, fitness and discipline. Step forward David Buchanan. His run unfortunately ended with a soft red card but that should take nothing away from a very special achievement, one unlikely to be matched for quite some time.
Quote of the season: “The pitch is a good one but it was a bit dry because of the wind and that made it difficult for us to pass the ball quickly,” guess who? Clue: was said after his side failed to score against Northampton for the fourth game running.
Save of the season: Adam Smith’s superb stop from Adam Le Fondre in Town’s 2-1 defeat at Bolton. Through one-on-one, for all the world it appeared Bolton’s clinical finisher would bring his side level but Smith raced off his line and reacted brilliantly to turn the shot around the post. It proved in vain as Wanderers came back to win but was nonetheless a fine example of Smith’s undoubted shot-stopping ability.
Scramble of the season: Swindon away (see 0.50 in the youtube video). Four times Swindon looked certain to score and four times they were thwarted. John Goddard, Conor Thomas, Jonathan Obika and Yaser Kasim were all denied within the space of six frantic seconds that somehow ended with the Northampton goal, and their slender 1-0 lead, still intact. Adam Smith pulled off a brilliant double save before Matty Taylor and then Zander Diamond miraculously smuggled the ball away from goal and behind for a corner in Town’s 3-1 victory at the County Ground.
Worst journey: It’s far from the longest journey and neither should it be particularly troublesome, but thanks to night closures on the M4, the trip back from Swindon’s County Ground on September 27 descended into a nightmare. A frantic struggle to find another route ensued, eventually returning home at 2am and almost two hours after the original ETA. Doesn’t compare to the previous year, though, when a two and a half hour journey back from Newport turned into seven, again thanks to the delightful M4.
Stat of the season: Forty-six games played this season but not once did the Cobblers recover from a losing position to win, despite falling behind in 24 different matches. They did come back to draw three – Scunthorpe, Southend and Rochdale – but lost the other 21, a damning statistic and something that must be rectified next season.
Miss of the season: Picking up this award is the England captain no less. Six yards out and with the goal at his mercy, Wayne Rooney proceeded to completely miss his kick during September’s EFL Cup clash at Sixfields. The offside flag was belatedly raised but only after Rooney fluffed his lines. A sign, perhaps, of things to come for the United skipper this term.
Nemesis of the season: Penalties. Of the eight they were awarded over the course of the season, only four were converted, with Matty Taylor and Marc Richards both guilty of missing from the spot on two separate occasions. Begs the question: who’ll be put on the spot next term?
Worst decision of the season: The hapless linesman who seemingly forgot to read the rulebook and flagged Alex Revell offside in the home game against Shrewsbury. He was indeed offside but, unfortunately for the official, it came from a goal-kick. Happens to the best of us.