Give Chris credit for carefree Cobblers...
CONFIDENCE is a big thing in football. Without it, you tend to overthink things.You make mistakes. Every game is like climbing a mountain. But when you’re flying, the opposite is true.You don’t even think.The game just flows.There’s nobody you fear.You look forward to playing the top teams.You think you can smash the strugglers.The next game can’t come quick enough.
Which is exactly how Northampton must feel. Chris Wilder’s Cobblers have won ten straight games and went into this weekend 12 points clear at the top of League Two. At this rate, they could be up by the end of March.
It’s an incredible achievement, and all the more impressive for all the off-field shenanigans they’ve had to deal with.
They’ve fought off a windingup petition. Come close to bankruptcy. Before Kelvin Thomas’ consortium took over in November, the PFA had to step in and pay the players’ wages.
I know from experience how tricky it is to ignore that kind of thing.
When I was at West Ham, Björgólfur Guðmundsson bought the club and started splashing the cash. Next thing you know, he’d lost pretty much all of his money in the Icelandic banking crash.
It was even worse just before I left Cardiff in 2005.We actually went into administration.We were coming in and there were literally players leaving left, right and centre.
One day you’d be training with a guy who’d been there for years. The next, he was on the road somewhere going for a medical, pushed out the door for a few quid.
I was only 24 but I ended up being captain because the actual skipper – Graham Kavanagh – had been sold to Wigan.
You try to play and train like normal but it’s hard when you’re not being paid. At that level, nobody is earning Premier League money.You go a couple of months without wages and you have serious problems.You’re worrying about the club. All the best players are leaving and morale goes through the floor. It’s tough.
But Northampton dealt with that ever so well and, even at its worst, there was no sign that it ever affected them. I think Chris Wilder has to take a lot of credit for that.
He’s the one who has to focus minds on football. He’s the one who has to communicate what’s happening upstairs to the players whilst also getting results.
Chris has seen it all before – in 2008 when Halifax Town club went bust and he was left out of a job – and he’s obviously done a very good job of insulating the players from all the chaos.
When he left Oxford to join Town in January 2014, a lot of eyebrows were raised. At the time, they were bottom of the league. Now it looks like a masterstroke.
Of course, it will get tougher. When the finishing line gets closer and the pressure is on, things won’t flow so naturally.
But they’ll easily have enough. The lads clearly want to play for Chris. They’ve got a good squad, probably the two best strikers in the division in James Collins and Marc Richards. As a combination they’re a handful for any defender.
Ricky Holmes is in good form. They beat Oxford, who are probably the best footballing side in the division. They beat Wycombe. They’re strong at the back, mentally robust. Basically, there are no weaknesses. They will walk it.
LOOKING ROSE-Y: Danny Rose celebrates scoring Northampton’s winner against Wycombe last weekend and, inset, manager Chris Wilder