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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Cobblers give Gray the boot

And that makes four. Stuart Gray's dismissal as Northampton manager today saw him join the trio of Football League bosses already out of work this season. Just a month into the new campaign and managers are tumbling like a house of cards.

Under pressure from chairman David Cardoza to return the club to League One at the first time of asking, Gray always required a good start to this season. Indeed, some fans considered him fortunate to have kept his job after relegation last season.

However, back-to-back defeats against Burton and then Barnet in Friday evening's home match, finally sealed the 49-year-old's fate.

In truth, after the promise of the previous year, 2009 has been a disastrous year at Sixfields. A strong finish to the 2007/8 campaign saw the Cobblers finish 9th, their highest position in over 40 years.

And a 5-1 win over Crewe in January this year saw them comfortably in mid-table with over half the season played. However, just four more wins between then and the end of the campaign saw Town slide into the relegation zone on the final Saturday.

It was a disastrous run, and a relegation that seemed unthinkable had become reality. And for the owners who, on joining the club, had claimed they would take the club to the Championship, they were right back where they started.

Then, under Martin Wilkinson, and then Colin Calderwood, the club spent big on transfer fees and wages to help climb out of the bottom tier. After successive play-off failures, a 2nd place finish in 2005/6 secured a return to League One.

Gray had been in charge at Northampton since 2007

However, the club who have traditionally been a yo-yo side between the bottom two tiers of the English game, saw their Championship dreams suffer. First, manager Calderwood departed to Nottingham Forest.

Then, problems with the re-development of their Sixfields stadium, seen crucial to the club's growth, led to the owners holding back any further investment. In days of clubs pushing themselves too far too soon, it appeared a wise decision.

Whether it constituted taking their League One status for granted and helped contribute to dropping down is up for debate. However, it appears to have been a relegation as costly as it was wholly preventable.

They aren't the first side, nor will they be the last, to slide from a comfortable position the previous season to relegation the next. Indeed, they have form themselves. During the 90s, Cobblers defeat in the play-off final under Ian Atkins was followed by demotion the following campaign.

It was third consecutive year, after Notts County and Brentford, that the previous term's play-off final losers had been relegated the next season. On that occasion, Northampton made an instant return to the third tier.

Achieving the same will now be expected of Gray's successor. And, with 40 games of the season still left, and the bulk of their League One team in place, Town should find themselves at least in play-off contention come May.

Quite simply, promotion back to League One this season is essential, hence today's decision. For Gray it really was that black and white.


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