Football: Atkins happy as underdog

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The Independent Online
THE Northampton Town manager, Ian Atkins, has taken a leaf out of Alex Ferguson's book of mind games in the build-up to tomorrow's Nationwide League Second Division play-off final.

Atkins used the kind of psychological warfare the Manchester United manager is famed for when he claimed his side are "massive underdogs" going into the match against Grimsby Town. This is despite the fact that Northampton finished fourth in the table, just one place and one point below the Mariners.

Atkins feels Northampton have upset the odds to reach Wembley again just 12 months after they won promotion by beating Swansea in the Third Division play-off final. He maintains the Cobblers are small fry compared to Alan Buckley's Grimsby team, who have already won at Wembley this season in the Auto Windscreens Shield final.

"It's brilliant to be back at Wembley, but we're massive underdogs," Atkins said. "We've been viewed as underdogs all season even though we've been in the top six for most of the time.

"Everyone expected us to be relegated straight back to the Third Division after coming up last season. But we've done it again without spending a fortune on wages or transfer fees."

It is 31 years since Northampton were as far up the league as the old Second Division and, even though Atkins' side are possibly 90 minutes from ending that exile, he claims all the pressure is on Grimsby to win. He says the Cobblers will run out beneath the twin towers determined to enjoy themselves.

"We feel there's no pressure on us and we're just delighted to be back again," he said. "Grimsby are favourites because they finished third and really we're going there to enjoy the day. It's a wonderful opportunity to play in the First Division, but I don't think it will be a huge disappointment if we lose because nobody expected us to get this far."

Northampton, whose Sixfields ground holds only 7,653, will be cheered on at Wembley by a massive travelling band of 40,000 supporters as play- off fever has swept the town for the second successive year. Atkins reported no fresh injury worries, although they will again be without the long- term casualties Roy Hunter and Sean Parrish.