They couldn’t, could they?
Just six weeks ago, Northampton Town supporters were seriously questioning whether their club would be about to embark on their second relegation battle in two seasons after an awful 4-0 defeat at the PTS Academy against Colchester United.
The result left Keith Curle’s side just seven points above the danger zone after a run of one win in eight games in League Two with any hope of a push for the play-offs all-but extinguished for this season.
However, fast-forward to Tuesday’s dramatic late 1-0 victory against Newport County and suddenly fans are starting to dream of their first trip to Wembley Stadium since their ill-fated clash against Bradford City in 2013.
A run of four straight victories has seen the Cobblers jump from 16th in the standings to 11th and within six points of the seventh-placed Colchester United who currently occupy the final position in the play-offs.
Joe Powell’s stunning late winner against the Exiles has ensured that Curle’s side have reached 51 points, a total that all-but-guarantees survival in League Two and leaves his manager with an ultimatum.
With nine games to go this season, Northampton have an outside chance of finishing in the top seven but also have the luxury of embedding their youth academy graduates into the team ahead of the 2019/20 campaign.
For lower league sides, the importance of developing players from an early age to get them ready for senior football can pay off if done correctly.
Milton Keynes Dons placed their trust in Dele Alli at the age of 16 whilst Barnsley handed John Stones his Championship debut in 2012. Both players have established themselves as regulars in the Premier League for Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City whilst also securing a serious windfall in terms of money for their former clubs via transfer fees.
Northampton’s academy has produced the likes of Ivan Toney and Michael Jacobs in recent years yet the money recuperated for all three has been minuscule compared to other clubs with the highest fee ever received being £470,000 for Mark Bunn in 2008 from Blackburn Rovers.
A new crop of players that includes centre-back Jay Williams, full-back Camron McWilliams and midfielder Scott Pollock have featured sporadically this season for the first-team but have all shown signs of promise.
Williams is still with the squad but McWilliams and Pollock have both been loaned out on short-term deals to Corby Town and St Neots Town as part of the club’s player development plan.
With relegation avoided and the possibility of finishing in the play-offs very unlikely, Curle could opt to give all three teenagers the chance to demonstrate their skills at league level by cancelling their current deals.
Even if just one of the players force themselves into the starting eleven for next season, it could ensure that the club has a bright future as they could sell-on their young stars in the coming years.
Although many of the Cobblers’ players have featured in League One before, promotion this season could be detrimental for Curle’s side as they may not be able to make the step-up as a team.
Therefore, building a nucleus of a squad that can set League Two alight next year should be a priority and the implementation of youth players could benefit Northampton both in the short, and the long-term.
What do you think Northampton fans? Should the club recall their teenagers from loan to give them a chance in the first team? Or should Curle go all out for a play-off push? Let us know below.Like what the TT have on offer? Sign up for more notifications!