Jefferson Lake’s Cheltenham v Cobblers view and player ratings: Wembley progress a triumph for Boothroyd

TOP TRIO - Lee Nicholls, Clarke Carlisle and Nathan Cameron were outstanding in the play-off wins over Cheltenham (Picture: Sharon Lucey)
TOP TRIO - Lee Nicholls, Clarke Carlisle and Nathan Cameron were outstanding in the play-off wins over Cheltenham (Picture: Sharon Lucey)
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The win that takes the Cobblers to Wembley was one built on Aidy Boothroyd’s wholly perfect trinity of player acquisition, tactical nous and on-field execution.

The manager will be having his praises sung from the Northampton rooftops over the next 13 days for taking the club from the brink of non-League football to the doorstep of npower League One in 18 months.

In March of 2012 they were bottom of the Football League and in less than a fortnight they will be playing at Wembley, but while the progress has been revolutionary the process to achieve it has been more gradual, more of an evolution.

That has specifically been the case in terms of the most recent three signings, all of whom played key roles in the play-off games and one of whom - Nathan Cameron - was exceptional.

In all cases, the timing was out of Boothroyd’s hands. Port Vale’s inexplicable decision not to sign Lee Collins and Coventry’s disposal of Roy O’Donovan and Cameron were all perfectly timed for the Cobblers boss and the club.

O’Donovan scored the vital goal in the first leg, had a big hand in Luke Guttridge’s fine match-winner in the second and worked tirelessly throughout both. Collins was quieter but similarly effective, contributing to back-to-back clean sheets in his typical, silent assassin style.

And then there’s Cameron.

More than a few eyebrows were raised when his name was on the team sheet for the final game of the regular season against Barnet but the side has not conceded a goal since then and in the second leg at Cheltenham it is hard to remember anything he did wrong at all.

It was a far cry from his calamitous debut at Bradford, where he was substituted off at half-time after an error that gifted the home side the victory.

His comeback shows that timing is often everything, especially for central defenders, who need to be playing regularly to get a rhythm to their game and sharpen up their reflexes.

Cameron’s former Coventry team-mate O’Donovan can also be hugely pleased with his contribution to the team’s play-off campaign.

By scoring, he and Guttridge are immediately embroidered in the club’s history but O’Donovan’s goal had much more tangible consequences than simply generating dewy-eyed memories for supporters.

It allowed the team to play a 4-5-1 formation at Whaddon Road, outnumbering Cheltenham in the key midfield battleground.

The Robins had to start with two strikers because they had to score at least once. Five against four made it an uphill struggle for the hosts in the middle of the park.

Several Robins players commented after the first game that they felt more comfortable in the five-man midfield system they have used for the majority of the season but O’Donovan’s goal gave Northampton the advantage that precluded them from playing in their preferred way.

Transfers and tactics, though, will only get you so far. Even with the right players signed on and the formation in place, tight and tense games like play-off semi-finals still require moments of magic.

Guttridge provided it at one end. At the other, it was down to Lee Nicholls, who made the kind of save that suggested a positive outcome for Northampton was written in the stars.

Having superbly repelled Marlon Pack’s penalty, Nicholls went from strength to strength.

Cheltenham put ball after ball into the box and every time, it was plucked from the air by Nicholls’ gloves.

When they got into scoring positions, he blocked the shot. It was as good a clean sheet as he will ever keep and certainly one of his most important ones.

Nicholls, Guttridge, Cameron and O’Donovan can all count themselves heroes.

As can the rest of the team. Everyone has played their part this season and every member of the team contributed positively to the results that take the club to Wembley.

But while it is often said that players win games and managers lose them, there can be no doubt that Boothroyd has been the team’s key performer this season.

They still have one substantial task ahead of them left to achieve this season but Boothroyd, from his player recruitment, to his tactics, to inspiring those around him, has already done so much for Northampton Town.

Jefferson’s ratings


Did his homework for the penalty and pulled off the save expertly. Went from strength to strength after that and played like a 600-game veteran ...9


A classic no-frills approach in which the emphasis was placed firmly on defending. Made his tackles when he needed to ...7


Was the tower of strength he has been throughout the majority of the campaign and can feel enormously proud of his contribution ...8


It is difficult to remember anything he did wrong, and he had to face a barrage of balls into the box at times. Strong when he needed to be, and fast when he had to be, this was an outstanding display ...9


Had his hands full with McGlashan but managed to keep the winger quiet through a combination of various methods ...7


The tactical arrangement meant he stayed more as a wide midfielder than a winger but while he didn’t have an attacking license he still played a key part ...7


Stuck to the basics and enjoyed some bright moments in the centre of the midfield maelstrom, the game’s tactical battleground ...7


Was devastated to concede the penalty, especially as the foul was outside the box, but recovered from it well and slotted in at centre-back towards the end ...7


Another strong and pugnacious performance full of silk and steel and capped with a truly outstanding goal ...8


Had to sacrifice any kind of personal glory for the good of the team but that selflessness was key to the victory. The header he won in the build-up to the goal was vital too ...7


Occupied the defence well and showed a good understanding with his midfield, especially Guttridge, to whom his chested pass was perfect ...7


KELVIN LANGMEAD (for Akinfenwa, 71mins)

A 20-minute run-out as a centre-forward for the club captain who seemed to enjoy a brief return to his days as a striker ...7

LEWIS HORNBY (for Guttridge, 75mins)

Came on to avoid any further disciplinary issues for Guttridge and provided a cool head during two or three vital moments ...7

Not used: Demontagnac, Platt, Snedker, Robinson, Moult