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Matches of Yesteryear - Northampton v U's 24/4/99
Written by wessex_exile on Friday, 14th Feb 2020 18:13

Well, here we are going through the exhilarating highs and despairing lows of what it is to follow the U’s rollercoaster journey this season – one wonders what Saturday will bring, apart from yet another storm (Dennis this time). Vale Park is a tough enough place to go at the best of times, so will howling winds and lashing rain be the great leveller for the U’s? We shall see, but in the meantime, how about we go back to a time when our perennial concentration around this time of the season always seemed to be at the wrong end of the table, maybe put things a little bit into perspective…

[b]Northampton Town v Colchester United

Saturday 24th April 1999

Nationwide Football League Division 2 (Tier 3)

Attendance 6,146[/b]

Match #44 of the series, and we go way back to 1998/99, and at the tail end of what was our first season back in Nationwide League Division 2 (that’s Division 3 in old money). Steve Wignall had left in January, with Mick Wadsworth taking over, and despite a fairly ropey time in March and early/mid-April we were doing just enough to avoid getting sucked into the relegation dogfight. Northampton Town weren’t quite as fortunate, sitting in the fourth and final relegation slot. They weren’t by any means adrift, and had been on a fairly decent run through April, but desperately needed points from their last four games if they were to escape.

Always a pleasant surprise when I find these things, as this is another match that I discovered I still had my ticket stub for - £10.50, nice! Mind you, I needed one, as the match (certainly for the U’s supporters) was an all-ticket affair – the U’s had been allocated 800 tickets, and over 500 had been sold by the middle of the week before, with most of the rest expected to go by close of sales at 5pm on the Friday.

I travelled over to this match on the train, meeting up in Northampton with my brother-in-law Steve, his parents Joyce and Dennis, and my nephew and niece (Steve had bought my ticket for me). I’m not 100% certain, but I think we met at the Sixfields Pub – I know they don’t normally allow away fans in, but I know I’ve been there once, and pretty sure this was the occasion. Given the significance of the game for both clubs, there was a very decent crowd that day, with the allocated 800 places more or less filled by the noisy faithful from Essex, and all in excellent voice. I know Joyce and Dennis were very rare travellers for away games, so that gives a measure of the level of support for the U’s that day.

The U’s lined up:

1….Tamer Fernandes

2….Fabrice Richard

3….Stephane Pounewatchy

4….Simon Betts

5….David Greene

6….Paul Buckle

7….Richard Wilkins

8….Warren Aspinall

9….Jason Dozzell (Steve Germain 87’)

10..Neil Gregory (David Gregory 60’)

11..Paul Abrahams (Karl Duguid 60’)

Northampton Town were at the time managed by our very own Ian Atkins, who had spent a season at the U’s as player-manager failing to get us out of the Conference at the first attempt. His career thereafter was a largely unsuccessful mismatch of player-manager, player-coach and assistant manager appointments at various clubs, including Birmingham City, Cambridge United and Doncaster Rovers. He eventually arrived at Northampton Town in 1994 – where he finally hung up his playing boots – and had already managed the Cobblers to two Wembley appearances (winning one) and promotion to this league.

That Mick Wadsworth was developing a penchant for Frenchmen is nought but a scurrilous rumour, but having already signed Stephane Pounewatchy, Fabrice Richard and Steve Germain, he had added a young 17-year old Thomas Pinault (from AS Cannes – same club as Steve Germain) to the squad during the week leading up to this game. Pinault had gone straight into a reserves game at Oxford United on the evening of the day he signed, though didn’t make the matchday team for this game. Also not on the team sheet was talismanic and mercurial Lua Lua, who thanks to a moment of madness at Burnley on Easter Monday, was starting a three match ban for the straight red card he’d earned. With points vital to ensure survival, that was not a smart move…

Before we get to the match itself, we encountered a very sorry ‘health and safety gone mad’ moment, whilst queuing to get into the ground. Steve’s elderly and quite frail parents (sadly no longer with us) had a small bottle of water each to take into the ground. Regrettably, the stewards were having none of it, and insisted that they had to be either drunk there and then or tipped out on the floor. All very unnecessary, and quite distressing for Steve’s parents to be honest, but that’s jackboot stewarding for you.

And so to the match. Whilst there was much about the day and matters leading up to the game that I remember very well, there’s hardly a thing about the actual match itself I can recall. If anyone else has any recollections of the game, I’d be delighted to hear them – might even flush out things I’d thought I’d forgotten.

What I do know from the stats is that Paul Buckle got us off to the perfect start, scoring in just the third minute, with Dave Savage equalising in the 18th minute. Then came the Tale of Two Penalties – Carlo Corazzin converted from the spot just before halftime to put the Cobblers 2-1 up in their quest to avoid relegation. Not to be outdone, Warren Aspinall returned the compliment from the spot straight after halftime (in front of the travelling faithful), to bring the U’s back level – and great merriment in the away end.

With an hour gone, Wadsworth was the first to mix things up, making a double substitution – David Gregory for his brother Neil, and Doogie replacing Abrahams. Not sure if that really worked at the time, as Northampton restored their lead a few minutes later when Lee Howey scored their third. However, something must have eventually clicked, because substitute Doogie again levelled the scores in the 71st minute.

It was then Atkins’ turn to try to change things to their favour, making his own double substitution in the 80th minute, bringing Ally Gibb and Duncan Spedding on. However, the U’s held firm, and after sacrificing Jason Dozzell for the young Steve Germain in the 87th minute, we held on for a 3-3 draw – almost there for the U’s, a point really not enough for the Cobblers.

[b]Northampton Town 3 (Dave Savage 18’, Carlo Corrazin 41’p, Lee Howey 63’) Colchester United 3 (Paul Buckle 3’, Warren Aspinall 47’p, Karl Duguid 71’)[/b]

This game marked a number of milestones for Colchester United – it was both Paul Abrahams’ and Neil Gregory’s last appearances for the U’s, and as it turns out Paul Buckle’s last goal for us as well. The vital point gained left us one point short of the magical 50-point mark. Not quite mathematically safe at the time, that would come the following Tuesday night at home to promotion chasing Bournemouth.

Remarkably, although Northampton Town went unbeaten for all of April and May ’99 – nine matches in a row – there were only three victories in that lot, and they couldn’t garner enough points to avoid relegation. Ian Atkins carried on in charge into the following season, but after a poor start finally left in October 1999.

Wadsworth, after decimating the club (and the team spirit) over the summer, thankfully resigned in August 1999. After a reasonably positive start to his managerial career at Carlisle United and then Scarborough, his time at the U’s would probably be considered by neutrals broadly as a success – certainly compared to the dismal litany of failure that followed. Just goes to show that stats aren’t everything…

Up the U’s

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