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Club News

In Focus: Cobblers v. Robins

2 May 2013

Fan and columnist Murry Toms looks ahead to the play-off semi-final versus Northampton.

Here we go again then.

Last weekend's combination of results assured fifth place, and a two-legged semi-final against Northampton Town. They secured fourth with a 2-0 win to relegate Barnet.

Both sides have had their fair share of play-off drama going into this one, experiencing the highs and the lows in three play-off appearances apiece over the last 16 years.

The Cobblers have experienced the full gamut of emotions - winning one, and narrowly missing out at both the final and semi-final stage.

Striker John Frain scored the club's most famous goal, a retaken free-kick, to sink Swansea in the dying seconds of the dramatic 1997 final to send over 32,000 of their supporters into raptures.

The Cobblers had completed a Welsh double that season, beating Cardiff City at the semi-final stage thanks to a 1-0 win at Ninian Park before edging a five-goal thriller at Sixfields.

They reached Wembley 12 months later, this time in the 1997 Division Two play-off final having found six goals against Bristol Rovers over the two matches in the semi-final.

Unfortunately on that occasion, they narrowly lost 1-0 to Grimsby Town, who completed a Wembley double with victory after success in the Auto Windscreens Shield final four weeks earlier. Remarkably over 40,000 Northampton fans made the trip to the capital that afternoon.

Their last appearance in the play-offs came towards the end of the 2003-04 campaign when, under Colin Calderwood's tutelage, they came agonisingly close to a third Wembley final only to lose to the eventual winners Southend United by a 1-0 aggregate scoreline. 

Meanwhile Cheltenham boast a near-perfect record, suffering their only defeat in last year's Wembley showdown.

They of course fell at the final hurdle last May, losing 2-0 to Crewe Alexandra to dent their impeccable record in major finals.

Torquay United were defeated en route to that warm afternoon in north London, Cheltenham taking a 2-0 lead to Devon before finishing the job with a memorable 2-1 win at Plainmoor.

Former boss John Ward defied the odds to mastermind a fantastic semi-final win over Wycombe Wanderers in 2006, eeking out a vital 0-0 draw after the hard-earned 2-1 first leg win at Adams Park.

Steve Guinan's cross-cum shot found the back of the net to beat Grimsby in the final at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium a week later.

The Robins first taste of success came in 2002, under Steve Cotterill, with a 3-1 win over rivals Rushden and Diamonds - again in Wales.

His side had edged out Hartlepool United in a tight semi-final that season, drawing 1-1 both home and away before coming out on top in the dramatic penalty shoot-out at Whaddon Road.

And this one looks set to go all the way, with just two points dividing the two sides in the final reckoning.

Solid home performances have provided the foundation for success, although both have performed indifferently on the road.

Northampton have the best home record of the lot, winning 17 and drawing two of their 23 games on their own turf.

Cheltenham on the other hand have picked up six away wins but lost nine in the process. Northampton's weaknesses on the road - they have won fewer and lost more - will be examined on Sunday night.

But for now Cheltenham return to the scene of their remarkable 3-2 success at the start of December, cancelling out a two-goal deficit with goals by Darren Carter and Chris Zebroski. Darryl Duffy netted the winner 10 minutes from time.

All in all Cheltenham have made a total of 12 visits to Northamptonshire since joining the league in 1999, winning four times, and encouragingly Mark Yates has steered his side to victory on their last two visits (both by a 3-2 scoreline).

It promises to be another terrific occasion.

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