With his team heading to League Two barring a final day miracle, Dean Austin has called on the Cobblers to ‘reflect and regroup’ to ensure the club doesn’t find itself in the same situation when they return to the third tier in the future.
Northampton’s caretaker boss oversaw his side suffer a last-gasp, heartbreaking 1-0 defeat to Walsall at the Bescot Stadium on Saturday when George Dobson’s stoppage-time winner all-but condemned them to relegation.
Town can still mathematically survive but it would take a nine-goal victory over Oldham Athletic on the final day plus defeat for Rochdale at home to Charlton Athletic for them to stay up, a near-impossible scenario.
Realistically, the Cobblers are set to return to the division which they won with such ease only 24 months ago when Chris Wilder’s formidable team swept away all before them en route to 99 points, 13 more than any other team.
Four managers later and Town are about to undo all of Wilder’s good work, with Austin the man to pick up the pieces following the failings of Rob Page, Justin Edinburgh and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.
“This has happened to this club before and now it’s happened again,” said the former Watford assistant manager following Saturday’s loss. “What the club has got to do is regroup and come again.
“When they come back in this league, they’ve got to make sure it does’t happen again because the club has got to grow and it’s bigger than any individual.
“Now is the time to take some time out for reflection. The biggest thing for me is just to say sorry to the fans because they’ve come on Saturday and I’m absolutely gutted for them.
“I’m really, really gutted. I’m gutted for the boys because they’ve given me absolutely everything and then some, and I’m gutted for the supporters because they don’t deserve this.”
Austin tried everything to find the winning goal in the final 15 minutes of Saturday’s game, introducing on strikers Chris Long and Kevin van Veen for two midfielders before throwing centre-back Ash Taylor up front.
I don’t have any regrets at all. I’m proud of my boys and I’m proud of the club and everyone associated with it.
“I think tiredness came into it and I changed our tactics a little bit,” he explained. “I asked Kevin to try and play between their defensive line and midfield.
“I wanted to try and get him on the ball because he does have the quality to find a pass, but we didn’t really connect well enough with our passes in that area.
“Longy’s got raw pace and I just felt that, if we could gamble a bit and get the ball to him out wide, he would cause problems for the full-back but unfortunately you have to have the ball to do that.”
Austin also stuck by his decision to push Taylor into an attacking role despite it backfiring with Walsall and Dobson taking advantage of the extra space to score the winning goal.
“The thing was, they were only playing with one striker so I thought that, with only three minutes from the end, it was worth trying to see if we could get the ball forward and land on something in the last 25 metres of the pitch,” he added.
“To be fair, we had Shay (Facey), (Leon) Barnett and (David) Buchs against their one striker so it was just trying to do something different, see if we can get the ball forward a bit quicker because at that time we were really chasing it and we were really struggling. We had to win the game
“I don’t have any regrets at all. I’m proud of my boys and I’m proud of the club and everyone associated with it.”