Jefferson Lake’s Cobblers v Bradford view and player ratings: Town troubled on the road again

UNCERTAIN FUTURE - Cobblers striker Adebayo Akinfenwa (picture by Kelly Cooper)
UNCERTAIN FUTURE - Cobblers striker Adebayo Akinfenwa (picture by Kelly Cooper)
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The Cobblers’ inability to perform away from Sixfields returned to haunt them on Saturday, on the grandest stage and at the most costly time imaginable.

There have been many strands and storylines throughout the course of the past season for Northampton Town, a number of turning points and twists of fate that could have contributed to a different outcome as the dust settles on the 2012/13 campaign.

Alex Nicholls’ terrible injury was one, the head-turning transfer speculation over Adebayo Akinfenwa and Luke Guttridge’s exclusion from the first team for several games towards the end of the winter were others.

But the single most prominent and damaging constant was the away form, and it was the away form that got the better of this team when the chips were well and truly down in that high-stakes casino that is a Wembley play-off final.

No team won fewer games on their league two travels and only relegated Barnet picked up fewer points. Their home record was second only to Burton Albion and should have been enough to see the club promoted automatically but it was consistently undermined by what happened on the road.

Throughout the year there was a mental block when it came to away fixtures and that psychological deficiency was writ large across the national stadium on Saturday.

Bradford were good, very good, and fully deserved the victory that takes them into league one. For many of the travelling Northampton supporters, though, it was nothing they had not seen before at some point or another.

It was a collapse similar to the ones witnessed in 2013 at Rotherham, Exeter City and - especially - Chesterfield, where the home side scored three goals in a period of just seven minutes in which they sliced the Town defence open at will.

It was every bit as bad as the loss at Barnet, commonly regarded as the low water mark of the season but one that can now be replaced by the play-off final. Other than league points and pride, nothing was lost at Underhill. Against Bradford an entire 48-game campaign was buried under an avalanche of Bantam goals. All that work, preparation, blood, sweat and tears on the training ground and the field of play, gone in 15 minutes.

All of Bradford’s goals were frustratingly similar, a cross from one wing going to the other, then returned to the box and forced into the net. Lee Nicholls, in what will likely be his final Northampton outing, was denied both the glorious send-off he deserved and a chance to say farewell to the supporters who have grown to love him as one of their own.

Others, too, will now leave. The future does not look bright for Akinfenwa, who was tellingly left out of the starting side for its biggest game during his tenure at the club.

Aidy Boothroyd confirmed after the game that he will look to add ‘a couple’ of new players over the summer, while making decisions on new contract offers to the 12 whose deals expire in July.

The play-off final may or may not influence those decisions but one thing the manager has to bear in mind when making plans for next year is an urgent assessment of the team’s mental strength.

They don’t play hugely differently away from home in terms of tactics and, in the past month, appeared to have amended the deficiency with good draws at Port Vale and Wycombe and a 1-0 win under extreme pressure at Cheltenham.

But in the ultimate high-stakes game, they folded. And a season that could have been a glorious one ends up being a time which everyone - from Boothroyd to the supporters - will look back on and wonder what might have been.

How they rated...

LEE NICHOLLS

Powerless to prevent any of the goals and one of the very small contingent of players who can claim to have performed anywhere near his best ...6

BEN TOZER

Really had his hands full with Reid, who got the better of him for the first goal. Bradford dealt with his throw-ins with consummate ease ...5

CLARKE CARLISLE

An afternoon to forget for the skipper, who made some good blocks but lost concentration at vital times and was exposed for pace by Wells ...4

NATHAN CAMERON

After two excellent semi-final performances, Cameron was found wanting and the size of the occasion appeared to get to him ...4

LEE COLLINS

Badly exposed down his wing by the defensive indiscipline of Demontagnac, he was given his toughest time yet in a Northampton shirt ...4

CHRIS HACKETT

Was supplied with minimal possession but contributed very little to the game in an attacking sense when he did get into wide attacking areas ...4

BEN HARDING

Stuck to his task manfully after being bloodied early in the game but it was an uphill struggle against the dominant Jones ...5

LUKE GUTTRIDGE

One of the better outfield performers and tried to provide a midfield spark even when the game was well and truly lost ...5

ISHMEL DEMONTAGNAC

Offered little in the way of attack or defence and his surprise inclusion did nothing to upset the Bradford game plan ...4

ROY O’DONOVAN

Effort could not be faulted and his runs were often very unselfish but he was well marked by a Bradford defence who were fully on top ...5

CLIVE PLATT

A controversial selection up front and one that did not come off - looked tired after half an hour and the lack of training caught up with him ...4

Substitutes:

JOE WIDDOWSON (for Collins, 53mins)

Did little wrong in his time at left-back but the game was lost by the time of his introduction ...5

ADEBAYO AKINFENWA (for Platt, 55mins)

A fairly typical ‘away’ performance - was penalised for a foul every time he so much as looked at a defender ...5

LEWIS HORNBY (for Demontagnac, 70mins)

The occasion did not seem to faze him at all and he looked entirely comfortable during his 20-minute run-out ...5

Not used: Robinson, Snedker, Johnson, Langmead