Aidy Boothroyd’s planning for the play-offs has been more or less perfect but the Cobblers boss is still expecting the unexpected.
Meticulous preparation has been undertaken at Sixfields. Kelvin Langmead, Chris Hackett and Clive Platt didn’t play at all in the final game of the regular season.
Adebayo Akinfenwa, whose record against Cheltenham is excellent but who has been struggling with a back injury, was given a little more than half an hour in the Barnet match.
All four, plus the mercurial Ishmel Demontagnac, trained with the first team this week and all four are in the selection frame.
Langmead and Hackett should certainly come into the starting 11; the debate is open on the role of the others.
But while Boothroyd will know what names he will be writing on the teamsheet on Thursday evening, he concedes that the unpredictable nature of the play-offs, in which a league promotion is at stake in what are essentially cup ties, mean anything could happen.
“When you’ve got four teams in it and the prize is so big, and it is very big, we’ve been fighting for it here for the best part of 18 months, all kinds of different things can happen,” said Boothroyd, who has doubts over first-choice left-back Joe Widdowson for the first leg.
“It could come down to a refereeing error or a change of weather. Anything could happen.
“We sat down as a staff to talk about who we might play a little while ago but we ended up agreeing that whatever will be, will be.
“What we had to do was make sure we got players match practice in our last game and went into the play-offs with a nice bit of momentum.
“We have done very well at home this season and we need to make sure we maintain that. I’ve been pleased with the improvements we’ve made away from home recently as well.
“Hopefully we can put all that together and come good at the right time.”
Securing a play-off place for the first time in eight years certainly has captured the imagination of the supporters.
Some hardy souls were at Sixfields at 5.30am on Sunday to ensure they secured tickets for the games, and the excitement has been gradually building up to Thursday’s first leg.
But for Boothroyd, normality has reigned supreme. The manager has been careful to insulate his players from the hype and maintain standard practice on the Sixfields training ground.
“It’s been the same as every week,” he said.
“We’ve tried to keep it as normal as possible. That can be difficult but if you get involved in all the furore that goes along with these games it becomes more of a hindrance than a help.
“It’s very important that we prepare properly and that we don’t get involved in all of the hype.
“If you know your opposition and make plans and preparations then it is possible to put a lid on things like that.”
The season, regardless of what happens in the play-offs, has been a good one, with the club making huge strides from their two successive and successful battles against relegation to form part of the pack chasing promotion.
More recently the team has undertaken a style change. The majority of the campaign has seen the team play in a rugged, direct way but just lately they’ve started using their extra man in midfield to pick their way through sides.
A couple of months ago it would have been unheard of for the team to field a forward three with the subtle qualities of Jake Robinson, David Moyo and Roy O’Donovan, as they did in the win over Barnet.
Platt and Akinfenwa are fit now, a signal of the team’s ability to play either way, the silk or the steel.
“Outside of the dressing room you need a bit of luck, and anyone at any level will tell you that,” said Boothroyd.
“We’ve got a good bunch of people here. We’ve got some strong characters, some winners and it’s a group of people that work hard for each other.
“That’s important and on top of that we’ve got a nice balance.
“We’ve got some good footballers, we’ve got some strong players and we’ve got players that are athletic and quick.
“We’ve got a good mixture and if we perform, and that’s the key, we’ve got a very good chance of doing it.”