League Two Play-off Final: Fallen stars sense chance for renewal in showpiece game as Northampton face Bradford
Bright young managers of yesteryear lock horns at Wembley
Seven years ago this month Aidy Boothroyd and Phil Parkinson were regarded as two of the brightest talents in management. Boothroyd, then 35, had steered Watford into the Premier League; Parkinson, then 38, had taken Colchester to the Championship.
On Saturday they will face each other at Wembley in the League Two play-off final, with Boothroyd’s Northampton Town regarded as slight underdogs against Parkinson’s Carling Cup finalists Bradford City.
It was not supposed to be like this, but both men are looking forward, not back. They are still only 42 and 45 respectively. Both, though they have taken wrong turns, have obviously still got management ability. Each inherited a relegation battle last season, achieved safety, then mounted promotion challenges this term.
“We decided that we wanted to run with a smaller squad, but with better quality players,” said Parkinson. “I felt last year that through the sheer number of players at the club there wasn’t the spirit required to get the club to where it needs to be.”
A memorable season has ensued but, while Parkinson won admirers during the Bantams’ cup run, the Cobblers’ turnaround under Boothroyd has been equally impressive. Northampton were three points from the drop when he became their 10th manager in 11 years in December 2011. Six weeks later, after one win in nine, they were adrift. They finally climbed off the bottom in March, finished 20th, and began planning for this season.
“I made a decision with the chairman that we would go for a tighter squad with quality rather than depth,” said Boothroyd in an echo of Parkinson. The drawback, he added, is “it leaves you vulnerable to injuries”. The worst has been a broken leg suffered by his then leading scorer Alex Nicholls in October. Not much can be done about contact injuries but to reduce the risk of muscular problems Boothroyd hired a sports scientist, moved training and, with sponsors’ help, had the use of a gym. “That helps when there’s snow on the ground,” he said.
Cobblers now train at Northampton Saints, who contest rugby union’s Premiership final at Twickenham next Saturday. “Northants cricket team have started well too and the whole town is buzzing,” said Boothroyd.
Northampton will take around 25,000 to Wembley. While Bradford were there earlier this season few Northampton players have experience of the venue. Clarke Carlisle, the PFA chairman, won a play-off final with Burnley, captain Kevin Langmead lost two with Shrewsbury Town, and Chris Hackett won and lost with Millwall. Then there is 20-year-old goalkeeper Lee Nicholls, who saved a penalty in the play-off semi-final at Cheltenham, after which Boothroyd compared him to England’s Ben Foster, whom Boothroyd worked with at Watford. Nicholls is on loan from Wigan Athletic and made his first visit to Wembley to watch his parent club win the FA Cup last Saturday.
As for Boothroyd: “I’ve only been there professionally as a radio pundit. Wembley was being rebuilt when I was at Watford so we had the play-off final [won v Leeds United] at Cardiff and the FA Cup semi-final [lost v Manchester United] at Villa Park. So I’m excited, but there’s still work to do. Everyone is looking forward to the final, but we want to go there and win.”
In 2006 Boothroyd took the players to Cardiff in the build-up, walked the stadium, and stayed in the same hotel. Unusual then, common now, and he has done the same with Wembley. “A lot of teams are overwhelmed by the occasion. It is important that the players are relatively familiar when they go there, that there are no surprises.
“It’s been quite a transformation – 28 players have gone, a lot have come in. It has involved a lot of hard work and a lot of tough decisions. We’ve had highs and lows, now we’re hoping to end on the biggest high of all.”
Brentford v Yeovil (Wembley) Sunday, 1.30. TV: Sky Sports 2
Bradford v Northampton (Wembley) Saturday 1.30pm. TV: Sky Sports 1
Latest in Sport
Chelsea vs Tottenham combined XI: Hugo Lloris or Thibaut Courtois? Willian or Christian Eriksen? Who makes the final cut?
Manchester United vs Sunderland match report: Wayne Rooney scores twice but referee Roger East sends off Wes Brown instead of John O'Shea
AP McCoy on Arsenal: 'If I was performing that bad I'd have retired a long time ago'
Charlton sex video: Addicks admit pair caught on the pitch was a publicity stunt
Carl Frampton vs Chris Avalos; Tyson Fury vs Christian Hammer; Dmitry Chudinov vs Chris Eubank Jr - boxing on TV this weekend
- 1 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 2 Man to be beheaded in Saudi Arabia after ripping up a Koran and hitting it with his shoe
- 3 Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
- 4 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 5 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Russia's roadmap for annexing eastern Ukraine 'leaked from Vladimir Putin's office'