Northampton sing a joyous refrain
Monday 26 May 1997
The game ended dramatically. The slightly better team lost. The match winner was an unlikely hero, and the story of Northampton's rise from the edge of extinction to the heights of Wembley and victory in Saturday's Third Division play-off final was as romantic as you could wish.
The football was appalling. Not that anyone should have expected anything but anti-climax, however, after Wembley attempted to turn even this modest occasion into an hysterically over-hyped, firework dazzling, ear blasting festival of light and sound, with a less than average Third Division game dutifully following on like a street cleaner after the carnival.
The story was far better than the telling. Only five years earlier, Northampton had been pounds 1.6m in debt and seriously waiting the knock on the door from the receivers. After they recovered a little, they should have been relegated from the League three years ago but Kidderminster Harriers, who had qualified to replace them, were told their ground was not up to scratch.
Then, on Saturday, came the personal story of the injury time match-winner, John Frain, who for months at Birmingham City had wondered which would come first, his next first-team appearance or another testimonial. He went on loan to Northampton and was signed permanently just before transfer deadline day - a good move for the player and his new club.
In their first appearance at Wembley, Northampton seemed to set out with the idea that they could consolidate before they had anything to defend. But it worked. Swansea's player-manager, Jan Molby, who everyone thought would use his Wembley experience to ping wonderful passes all over the pitch, got immersed in a cluttered midfield and looked like a old star guest player invited for a five-minute appearance, which was about as long as he appeared fit enough to make a consequential contribution.
In the circumstances, it was appropriate that Frain should score the winning goal with a re-taken free-kick three minutes into injury time. With constructive skill restricted mainly to a few well-intended but rarely finished attempts to thread his way through midfield by Northampton's Christian Lee, it was Frain's persistence, steady defending and opportunistic attacking from deep that summed up the reason why, in the end, Swansea's more ambitious football came to nothing.
No doubt it could all have been different had not Carl Heggs' fifth-minute volley been splendidly tipped over by Andy Woodman. But Swansea rarely followed Molby's advice to use the width.
Northampton turned an occasion into a work day and it worked. Frain had just provided John Gayle with a fine centre, from which the header brushed the crossbar, when he was called on to take a free-kick not far outside the penalty area.
His first effort hit encroaching defenders. By the time the referee had taken the name of Jonathan Coates, his watch had gone beyond normal time. Frain's second attempt found a gap, the ball sinking in the far corner. Swansea had no time to recover.
Goal: Frain (90) 1-0.
Northampton Town (4-2-4): Woodman; Sampson, Rennie (Peer, 40), Warburton, Frain; Hunter, Parrish; Gayle (White, 76), Clarkson, Grayson, Lee. Substitute not used: Gibb.
Swansea City (4-3-3): Freestone; Penney, Edwards, Walker, Moreira; Ampadu, Molby, Coates; Torpey, Heggs, Thomas (Brown, 83). Substitutes not used: Chapple, Lacey.
Referee: T Heilbron (Newton Aycliffe).
Bookings: Northampton: Gayle, Hunter, Clarkson, Grayson. Swansea: Ampadu, Thomas, Coates.
Man of the match: Frain.
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