25 November ~ As they sit and ponder the League Two table – in which their team lies three points about the relegation places – Northampton Town fans will be wondering where it all went wrong. This has gone beyond flirting with relegation, past going steady and straight onto planning a wedding in May. Rewind to August and, despite the nail-biting finale to last season, fans were confident that new manager Gary Johnson would lead them to a strong promotion push. Johnson, the first pick in a fans' poll, surfed into town on a wave of optimism.
He proceeded to bring in his brother as head scout and old mate David Lee as his assistant. With what we were told was one of the best budgets in the league, we looked forward to some good times. Fans' favourite Ade Akinfenwa was brought back from Gillingham but a disturbing trend of dispensing with personnel associated with the old regime led to players like Leon McKenzie, Liam Davies, Abdul ("he silenced the Kop") Osman and Shaun Harrad all being shown the door without even being given a chance. They were replaced by players apparently no better or, in the case of left-back Davies, not replaced at all.
It soon became evident that Gary Johnson did not believe in defence. After a few matches he started acting like a hyperactive teenager playing Football Manager. Loanees were flown in from all over the place; the team was different every week; and he relied on two of the ropiest centre-backs in the league. The 35-year-old Ashley Westwood showed up with his boots one day asking to join in training and was straight in the first team.
After Johnson decided that the players he had bought weren’t good enough and tried to dispense with ten of them, it became abundantly clear that he had completely lost the plot. After a dismal FA Cup exit to non-league Luton, he left by “mutual consent”. With assistant David Lee put in temporary charge, fans approached the home game against Shrewsbury with renewed hope. Surely things could get no worse? After 90 minutes and seven goals conceded, it was crushingly obvious that they could. A more inept spineless display has never before been seen at Sixfields.
You have to admire a stand-in manager for coming out for a radio interview having watched his hopes disappear in a few hours after the worst defeat ever seen at Sixfields. Having a go at the interviewer for asking some pretty basic questions, however, is probably not the best approach unless you have a few league titles under your belt. Clearly upset by the performance of the team he had put out, Lee proceeded to blame everyone but himself and embarked on a three and a half minute resignation speech, which the chairman gratefully accepted a few days later. It’s still on the BBC website for those who enjoy a bit of humiliation.
After an astonishing post-match radio interview, David Lee followed Gary Johnson onto the scrapheap and we are left with part-time goalkeeping coach Tim Flowers in charge for the match against Plymouth, who have plenty of problems of their own. It is November and we are already talking about this as a six-pointer, which is only ten points fewer than we have managed to accumulate all season. Most fans, directors and players would settle for a nil-nil, but let's be honest: we'd be happy with just letting in fewer than four. Steve Gibson