When Dean Austin reflected on Northampton’s disappointing season after their relegation from League One had been confirmed courtesy of Saturday’s 2-2 home draw with Oldham athletic, his overriding emotions were frustration, regret and, above all, anger.
Having been at the club since early September when he became assistant manager and teamed up with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, who replaced the sacked Justin Edinburgh four defeats in, Austin should know as well as anyone how avoidable and how unnecessary Town’s return to League Two is.
Despite having its imperfections, the squad, for most of the season, was undoubtedly full of good players, most of whom arrived at Sixfields with impressive reputations, and yet right from the get-go the team stuttered and stumbled, repeatedly going on long winless runs as they struggled to score goals at one end while leaking them at the other.
Indeed, no side in the whole of League One conceded more times than Northampton (77) over the course of the past nine months and only one – bottom side Bury – managed to find the net less often (43). That combination is always like to be a fatal one, and so it proved when last week’s late defeat at Walsall essentially consigned them to League Two, something which was duly confirmed on Saturday.
“It was probably avoidable,” admitted Austin as he looked back on the season and his first taste of relegation in any capacity. “When I spoke to the chairman a couple of weeks ago and I was reflecting after the Bury game, he asked me how I felt and I said I was actually quite angry.
“He knows I’m never happy. I always want a bit more and I don’t just want a cream cake, I want jam on it and when I’ve got jam on it, I want a cherry on the top. I’m always striving for a bit more.
He (Kelvin Thomas) knows I’m never happy. I always want a bit more and I don’t just want a cream cake, I want jam on it and when I’ve got jam on it, I want a cherry on the top. I’m always striving for a bit more.
“My disappointment lies in the fact that, with the quality in the squad, we shouldn’t be in this position. Something, somewhere along the line has gone wrong and what we now have to do is reflect and look at what has gone wrong and why it’s gone wrong and make sure it doesn’t happen again from the club’s point of view.”
Now, the focus is on ensuring the Cobblers get themselves in the best possible position to mount a promotion challenge in League Two next season, and if they’re able to keep together the bulk of the current squad, Austin is confident they can do just that.
“Obviously you have to take away the loan players but if tomorrow was the start of the League Two season and I was going into it with that group of players, I’d be more than happy,” he said.
“You need 70 or 80 goals but we’ve also conceded over 70 so it’s not rocket sciences to look at it and see what’s gone wrong.
“I came in with five games left. A lot of players had played a lot of games and you’re in a situation where you’re limited with the amount of time you can spend on the training field to get the boys playing in the style in which I want them to play.
“They had lost a lot of confidence along the way because we hadn’t won in 10 games before I took over, so you’re trying to drip feed your ideas into the boys.
“They’re a great set of lads and they’ll come back stronger. They have to learn from this experience because a lot of the past week has been about trying to regain the momentum and we needed to start the healing process on Saturday.
“That momentum can then help take the club into the following season and I think we’ve done that.”