Wembley verdict: Heartbreak for Cobblers as Bradford came to party
They say it’s the hope that kills you, but any the Cobblers had was extinguished so early on at Wembley.
Bradford came to party, and party they did as they ripped up Town’s dreams of playing in league one next season.
The east side of Wembley was a sea of claret heartbreak as Cobblers froze on the big stage.
It was horrible to watch for those who have traipsed up and down the country, hoping, praying that this campaign would end in promotion.
But on the day, there was no celebratory Champagne, only flat beer and spirits shattered.
Three goals inside the first 30 minutes put the boot into the Cobblers and, no matter what they tried, there was no way back.
Bradford were drunk on thoughts of playing the likes of Wolves and Sheffield United next season.
For the Cobblers the hangover will hurt as they again plan for trips to Accrington and AFC Wimbledon.
They should come back stronger from this. Take Bradford, who were humbled 5-0 by Swansea at Wembley just a few months ago. They shrugged it off and went again.
Aidy Boothroyd will do that with Northampton. He’s too good a manager not to.
On this occasion, though, his tactics and selection didn’t pay off. We all have those days, when things don’t quite pan out how we’d hoped.
His decision to start Clive Platt up top in place of Adebayo Akinfenwa was as shocking as some of the Bradford supporters’ pre and post-match dancing.
But the Cobblers fans hoped he knew what he was doing. Hoped he knew how to hurt the opposition.
Wildcard winger Ishmel Demontagnac was also handed a start. Had Boothroyd made the right call. You hoped so.
With the cast assembled and the stage set, the crowd built to a crackling crescendo.
Expectation and anticipation oozed out of every pore inside England’s most famous football stadium.
Bradford fans ramped up the cries of ‘who are ya?’, while those in claret and white fizzed in anticipation, looking for their team to respond on the pitch.
Ben Harding took one for the team straight away, bleeding claret for the cause after throwing himself at an early cross into the box.
It was combustible stuff with both teams launching waves of aerial attacks, but Bradford were first to profit.
James Hanson sent the City fans into ecstasy, guiding his header over Lee Nicholls into the Cobblers net.
The Bradford end was buzzing, the fans bouncing. Northampton needed a response. They needed some territory, they couldn’t get it.
Crisis time was fast approaching as Rory McArdle plunged a dagger into Cobblers hearts, heading home from Stephen Derby’s centre.
Just 20 minutes had gone, but Northampton spirits had been punctured.
Boothroyd looked bewildered by what had unfolded in front of his studious gaze, while Roy O’Donovan tried to mount a response, getting a blow to the face for his troubles.
Cobblers were dazed, clinging to the ropes as their opponents looked to land a knock-out punch. They soon did.
Nahki Wells, forever a thorn in Cobblers’ side, struck an almost inevitable third. Three goals inside the first 30 minutes; the stuff Wembley nightmares are made of.
Some Town fans hid their faces, embarrassed by their side’s showing, others stood tall, cajolling the men in claret to restore some pride.
Hope had long faded.
Bradford were defending like lions, their belief roaring out as they feasted on every ball into the box.
It was the tale of two penalty areas: Cobblers so easily breached, Bradford unbreakable.
The City fans celebrated the half-time whistle as if the game had ended. It pretty much had.
As Daft Punk’s Get Lucky blared out over the Tannoy at half-time, Town fans knew their side would need more than just good fortune to get back into this one.
It was time to at least restore some Northampton pride.
Akinfenwa was introduced to the delight of the Town faithful. They hoped he could make the difference. But not even switching Beast Mode on could alter the course of this one.
The second half was a damp squib for Town, a procession towards the prize of promotion for Bradford.
Nothing could hurt Phil Parkinson’s side. They were on cloud nine, well out the way of danger.
Goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin was having the day he’d hoped for. His goal untested and never close to being breached.
That Yorkshire shindig was about to start as referee Keith Stroud checked his watch.
Some Cobblers fans sat, disconsolate. Other trudged away into the Wembley evening, knowing their team had not given a true reflection of themselves. They’re better than this.
They will be desperate to show that next season, to go up either automatically or here at Wembley next year.
And there’s that hope again.