The Football League play-offs kick off tonight with Northampton Town hosting Cheltenham Town at Sixfields as the battle to get out of League Two reaches squeaky-bum time and for Aidy Boothroyd, the chance to rebuild his reputation has arisen.
Boothroyd was in charge of Watford when they came from nowhere to win the Championship play-offs in 2006 and at that point, it seemed like he was destined for the top – there was even talk, however fanciful, about him being a future England manager.
How ridiculous that seems now. The Hornets were relegated, Boothroyd was eventually sacked with the club languishing in the second tier and after poor and undistinguished stints at Colchester United and Coventry City, he looked to be on the managerial scrapheap.
Yet Northampton offered him a route back via the bottom tier, and having saved the club from dropping out of the Football League last season, he has masterminded the Cobblers’ first promotion challenge for some time.
His side finished sixth in the regular season, just two points behind Cheltenham, and with little to choose between the sides these two matches promise to be tight affairs.
But it is Northampton who get the nod at 6/5 to take a lead into next week’s second leg over the 11/5 on the draw or 2/1 about the away win.
Punters registering with bwin today can claim a free £20 bet and placing this on Boothroyd’s men would return £44 if they manage to secure a lead.
Mark Yates has done a fantastic job at Cheltenham, who were beaten play-off finalists last season, and that experience could hold his players in good stead come next week, but Sixfields has been a fortress for some time now.
The Robins actually did the double over their hosts this season, but since winning at Sixfields in December their away form has been poor – Yates’ side have only won two of their subsequent 12 games on the road, losing six, and come into the match on a run of just four wins in nine.
Conversely, since that home reverse, Northampton have won 11 of their 12 home matches while keeping eight clean sheets, going on to post the second best home points tally in the division.
Only Burton Albion won more points on their own patch than the 53 amassed by the Cobblers, who kept a divisional-high 13 clean sheets in their 23 games, 17 of which ended in victory.
So it all points to Northampton getting their noses in front ahead of the return leg, and I’ll be on that 6/5.