Football: Man in grey suit not impressed

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The Independent Online
Northampton Town 2

Gillingham 0

A club which once bought a new centre-forward in exchange for a set of tracksuits can scarcely have been impressed by the business agreed between Newcastle and Manchester United this week. In the event, all Gillingham's thoughts were on dole rather than Cole, as the spectre of impending closure drew nearer.

Not for Mike Flanagan the luxury afforded Alex Ferguson this weekend of deciding who to leave out to accommodate his new £7m man. The manager of the club which set Tony Cascarino on the road to fortune wonders if there will even be 11 for him to pick. With two of his team suspended, Flanagan must go cap in hand to the receiver today for permission to extend Mickey Bodley's loan.

To the footballing folk at the poor end of the street, the receiver is not a dish you screw to the wall to pick up the latest goings-on in that far-flung and super-rich land called the Premiership, but a man in a grey suit who comes in when nearly all hope has gone, and who has to decide whether to send your club to the wall.

Tom Burton - the accountant called in on Monday to find a new buyer - was present at the new Sixfields stadium, which is a monument to how club and community pulled Northampton Town out of their own financial corner towards a new prosperity. He watched gloomily as two second-half goals carried the home side to victory and above Gillingham at the foot of the Third Division. With only Scarborough beneath them, the Gills could be down and out of the Endsleigh League even before Burton calls time.

Somebody made the point afterwards that, having sat through their shambolic display, the receiver might well decide to close the door there and then. Gillingham were very poor indeed, and a moment of cruel misfortune could not disguise their inadequacies. With only 12 minutes separating them from a point, Neil Grayson's shot struck Andy Arnott on its way to goal. It looked more a case of face than hands but, even if it was the latter, Arnott was surely standing too close for it to have been deliberate.

Nevertheless, that, to Gillingham's fury, was how John Holbrook saw it. Darren Harmon converted the penalty and four minutes later the substitute, Dean Trott, made it 2-0. A harsh blow for Gillingham, who then proceeded to demonstrate that, if the worst comes to the worst, they will go down kicking.

So high were tempers at the end that a size 10 boot was imprinted on to the visitors' dressing-room door. A bill for repairs will find its way to Kent this week; another cost Gillingham could really have done without.

The hapless Arnott was left without excuse for Northampton's second, which followed his attempt to control the ball in his own area. For the home side, Harmon was always composed and Grayson, too, showed flashes of enterprise. One hopes their new manager, Ian Atkins, whose first game this was, will encourage them, because extolling the merits of "physical aggression" and "getting stuck in" in his programme notes was hardly a promising fanfare.

Down in the depths, there is little romance and fantasy to go round. Just ask poor Gillingham.

Goals: Harmon (pen 79) 1-0; Trott (83) 2-0.

Northampton Town (4-4-2): Stewart; Norton, Sampson, Warburton, Hughes; Harmon, Burns, Colkin, Grayson; Aldridge (Trott, h-t), Brown. Substitutes not used: Ovendale (gk), Harrison.

Gillingham (4-4-2): Banks; Arnott, Green, Butler, Bodley; Micklewhite, Carpenter, Smith, Watson (Reinelt, 80); Foster, Pike. Substitutes not used: Barrett (gk), Dunne.

Referee: J Holbrook (Ludlow).

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