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When Saturday Comes #26
Written by wessex_exile on Sunday, 20th Feb 2022 13:57

[i]When Saturday Comes[/i] the country finds itself mopping after, in rapid succession Storm Dudley (can anyone say that without using a Brummie accent?) and particularly Storm Eunice battered the UK. Yesterday was certainly an entertaining day for yours truly, most of which was spent trying to prevent decrepit fence panels being turned into frisbees. I more or less succeeded, but not with a fence that will stand much longer (or indeed not at all if it wasn’t lashed to the garden table). Still, it’ an ill wind for fencing contractors, including the one I have arriving next week to put a new one up.

Today’s blog will also have to be mercifully brief I’m afraid. Not only is there the early kick-off to contend with, but I’m also dog-sitting this loveable pooch for the weekend, and anyone who knows Collies know they don’t do well without constant stimulation and attention.

I wish it would, but the Ukraine crisis just doesn’t seem to be going away. On one side, based on intelligence reports Joe Biden is convinced that Russia intends to invade. On the other side, Putin is adamant they do not plan to – but would he go this far and then back down? Sadly, I don’t think it’s in his DNA to do so.

Now that Covid-19 is falteringly stumbling towards some sort of conclusion, the forgotten victim of the pandemic, holy communion, looks set to approaching normality, with the reintroduction of communion wine. Sales have recovered to 50% of pre-covid rates, but with tradition dictating that the priest finishes what’s left in the chalice after everyone else has had a sip, some more elderly members of the clergy are a little jumpy to say the least.

[b]U’s World[/b]
All in all, quite a quiet week for the U’s really. Great to see young midfielder Ryan Lowe, captain of our successful U18 side, sign his first professional contract with Colchester United. Clearly a talent for the future, and despite being only 18, Ryan has already turned out for the U23s, and made the bench for the first team on a couple of occasions, including at Orient.

[b]Congratulations Ryan![/b]

[b]Stat attack[/b]
Being relatively local, Northampton feature often as opponents of the U’s, and I have already featured a couple of visits to Sixfields in previous blogs. They were only our 11th league opponent when we first visited the old County Ground on 30th September 1950, a game the Cobblers won 2-1. Over the years we’ve played 78 times in all competitions, the U’s winning 30, Northampton 34 and 14 games drawn.

Up until 1994 the Cobblers played at the County Cricket Ground, with stands on only three sides due to the size of the cricket pitch they occupied, and a ground I never got round to visiting following the U’s. Never really a suitable venue for football, and with Sixfields three-quarters built in 1994, Northampton finished bottom of the football league. They should have been relegated, but ironically Kidderminster Harriers’ ground was deemed ‘unfit’ for the Football League, sparing Northampton the ignominy of relegation. Sixfields wasn’t ready for the start of the following season, so the County Ground remained in use through until October – their last game there a 1-0 defeat to Mansfield.

[b]Match of the Day
[i]Northampton Town v Colchester United
2nd February 2019
Sky Bet Football League Two (Tier 4)
Attendance 4,796[/i][/b]

I don’t have a programme for this match, nor even a ticket stub, just an abiding memory of an excellent day out. So, please enjoy what t’internet assures me was the programme cover for one of our very first matches against the Cobblers, back when the opponents weren’t usually identified on the front cover of programmes.

[i]Match of the Day[/i] for WSC26 is a special and having featured two of my visits to Sixfields already, including that memorable super-Scotty LDV Trophy area semi-final, I figured why not come right up to date with our most recent visit. Yes, that was way back in 2019, as the following season away at Northampton Town was one of those matches lost when the season was Covid-curtailed.

It’s a relatively straightforward trip from Wiltshire, albeit there was snow on the ground that day and more forecast, and quite a local one too for my mate Jon, so we resolved to meet at the Euston Tap beforehand for a few beers. For anyone who hasn’t been there, the Euston Tap is one of the two quirky ‘gatehouses’ that flank the entrance to Euston train station. It may be small, but it’s also a cracking pub with some excellent ales. Suitably refreshed, including a few on the train over to Northampton, we taxied from the station just in time to take our place among over 400 of the faithful ready for kick-off.

That season, under John McGreal, the U’s had been in the hunt for promotion pretty much right from the off, but back-to-back defeats in our previous two (home to Mansfield and away at Crewe) had seen the U’s slip just outside the play-off zone. All the more reason why we needed something at Sixfields to get things back on track, particularly against a Northampton side who looked destined to play out the season in mid-table obscurity.

McGreal’s U’s lined up:

25..Rene Gilmartin
2….Ryan Jackson
22..Kane Vincent-Young
6….Frankie Kent
5….Luke Prosser (captain)
17..Ben Stevenson
8….Harry Pell
10..Sammie Szmodics (15 Callum Roberts 81’)
7….Courtney Senior (11 Brennan Dickenson 66’)
45..Frank Nouble
19..Mikael Mandron (39 Abobaker Eisa 46’)

Apart from manager Keith Curle, who needs no introduction, the two names of note in the Northampton Town line-up that day were John-Joe O’Toole in midfield, and marvellous Martin Sordell up front. Well, I say marvellous, but in truth his time at the U’s a few seasons earlier had been a bit of a disappointment – certainly as far as goals for a player who earned his wages scoring them was concerned. For the U’s, Ben Stevenson made a very welcome return after his successful loan spell, signing a 2 and a half year contract in the week leading up to this match, to make his second debut for the club at Sixfields.

Very much as a sign of things to come, and roared on by a vociferous support, the U’s took the game to Northampton right from the start. Winning a free-kick wide on right after Mandron was fouled, Ben Stevenson showed his class whipping in a beauty of a free-kick, which Northampton struggled to deal with. JJ was clearly ‘up’ for another match against his former club, and didn’t take long to crunch into Harry Pell to let him know he was there.

Ten minutes in, and Northampton were starting to get to grips with the U’s pace and energy and carve out a few half-chances of their own. Charlie Goode had a chance, but snatched at it and lifted it well over Gilmartin’s bar. Junior Morias was causing problems down the left, and slipping in a low cross Sordell managed to slice it wide – much to the amusement of the U’s faithful on the terrace. Still though Northampton pressed, and barely a minute later a free-kick was headed down into the path of Goode, who could only toe-poke a weak effort straight into the grateful arms of Gilmartin.

The U’s were losing the battle in midfield, getting impatient when they had the ball, and generally letting silly sloppy mistakes creep into their game. Northampton, on the other hand, had weather our early pressure and were now causing the U’s no end of problems. Imagine than our surprise when somewhat against the run of play the U’s took the lead. Jackson had broken out of midfield and won the U’s a corner, which was lofted by Stevenson onto the head of Mandron. Mandron headed it down and there at close range was big Frank to hook home.

Against the run of play, most definitely, but that didn’t stop the away end celebrating. The goal game the U’s confidence to reassert their authority on the match, and a few minutes later Pell blasted a belter goalward. It would have been in the back of the net too, but for a last-minute block by one of the Cobbler defenders. Wave after wave of U’s attacks continued, including a half-cross half-shot from Frankie Kent that ended up on the roof of the net.

Although there were one or two scares right at the end, we went in at half-time 1-0 up and the away end celebrating. Temperatures were plummeting too, so it was good we had reason to jump around a bit, though more snow also looked possible. As the teams ran out, we realised that Mandron had been subbed for Eisa, which I assumed at the time must have been tactical, as Mandron didn’t look injured in any way.

If we needed a wake-up call about the dangers of trying to hold on to a 1-0 lead, Goode gave us one just 20 seconds after kick-off, lifting a pass over our back line for Sordell to race on to. Gilmartin though stayed big and pulled off a fantastic one-on-one save to deny the former U’s man. However, don’t know why we were even worrying, as five minutes later it was 2-0 to the U’s, and this time right in front of us. Sammie twisted and turned his way along the edge of the box, and just when he’d earned the right to have a go himself, laid it off perfectly for sub Eisa to hook it into the back of the net – and we were going ballistic.

Northampton did their best to respond, but Gilmartin and a determined backline clearly had other ideas, and a few moments later it was 3-0 and we were in heaven. The ball was worked across midfield to Kane Vincent-Young, who still had a lot to do – but a fantastic first touch gave him vital extra yard and he almost passed his shot beyond Cobblers ‘keeper David Cornell and into the net. Shortly after, for all his feistiness, JJ was subbed, followed just 5 minutes later by Sordell as well.

Still, despite the changes, Northampton could not find a way to get back into a game they surely looked destined to lose, and with just over 20 minutes to go the U’s made certain of it. Nouble passed out wide to Brennan Dickenson (brought on to replace Courtney Senior just a minute earlier), who drilled a low cross perfectly into the path of the onrushing Szmodics. Sammie didn’t need a second invitation and buried a thunderbolt in the back of the net, before virtually burying himself amongst the celebrating faithful.

From then to the end it was just sublime to watch, as the U’s confidently passed the ball around stifling any of the half-hearted attempts of Northampton top at least get even a consolation from the game. In fact, if anything it was the U’s who looked like the only side who would get another, and they really should have. Callum Roberts was unceremoniously hacked down for one of the clearest penalties I’ve seen, and up stepped Harry Pell for a deserved goal. Unfortunately, even if the rest of his team mates hadn’t exactly covered themselves in glory during the second half, ‘keeper decided he at least would show some pride and pulled off a good save.

Still, although that was a minor disappointment, it didn’t change our euphoria as the U’s ran out comfortable 4-0 victors that afternoon, and our promotion challenge well and truly back on track.

[b]Northampton Town 0 Colchester United 4 (Frank Nouble 25’; Abobaker Eisa 50’; Kane Vincent-Young 53’; Sammie Szmodics 67’)[/b]

Despite a strong finish to the season, including a stunning 3-0 last-day victory at champions Lincoln City, the U’s would fall agonisingly fall one point and one place short of the play-offs.

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