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League Two

Sammy McIlroy's Blog 40

22 May 2013

What did I tell you last week about Wembley? It's the kind of place that can play funny tricks on players, and unfortunately I think we saw that in Northampton Town's below-par performance against Bradford City.

They just didn't get going, and if we're being honest the 3-0 score line might even have flattered them a touch.

Their biggest problem will have been down to nerves, not quality. Sadly, if your emotions get the better of you on a football pitch it's simply impossible to play your normal game.

You feel unusually leggy, sapped of energy, your mouth goes dry, and your concentration levels have a dip, too. Northampton weren't the first, and won't be the last team to freeze on the big occasion. It's a pretty common thing.

As I predicted, the experience of having played at the stadium just a few weeks ago definitely helped Bradford City. They knew what to expect, they could picture the scenarios better beforehand, and as a result they attacked the Play-Off Final with confidence and verve right from the kick-off. They played like they owned the place.

Standing helpless on the sidelines I felt sympathy for Aidy Boothroyd, but there was nothing he could do to prevent the individual defensive errors that contributed to the goals. Some of the marking was really, really bad.

Even though Phil Parkinson's men only just scraped into the top seven, I do feel they're better equipped than most to handle the step up in class next year.

If they can keep hold of Nahki Wells and James Hanson that will be a boost, as strike partnerships which click like theirs does aren't easy to stumble upon. Those two will score goals in npower League 1.

I also like the look of the side in general. They have some strong guys down the spine of the team who revel in leading the players around them. And, with huge crowds inevitably flooding back to Valley Parade next season they will have a distinct advantage in their home matches.

The club desperately hope this promotion sparks the revival they've been waiting so long for, and although the path won't be easy, I can see Bradford climbing back into the npower Championship in the next few years. That's their true level I think.

As for Northampton, I'm convinced they will come back just as strong next term.

That said, I was a bit surprised to see Adebayo Akinfenwa start from the bench at Wembley, and even more shocked to learn that he's since been released by the club. He hasn't got a typical footballer's build, but the 'Beast' is still a useful performer that scores goals. Plenty of clubs will be interested in his signature.

One place he's unlikely to end up at is Exeter City, who, after missing out on the Play-Offs, are going to be working under much tighter financial constraints next season.

Manager Paul Tisdale has gone on record as saying that he only expects to be able to bring one new player into his squad, replacing the rest of the players who've gone with youngsters from the youth set-up.

I'm led to believe that Exeter have a number of exciting young kids coming through so it might be a blessing in disguise, but losing experienced players such as Matt Oakley and Jamie Cureton will hit them hard. I know that Tisdale is hoping they'll stay, but as yet the club haven't been in a position to offer them new contracts.

Budget cuts are a familiar story in the lower leagues, and as a manager who never ever enjoyed the luxury of a healthy pot of cash to spend myself, I know it's something you just have to get on with.

Luckily, Exeter City have a bright young coach and although his job will be made tougher by the cutbacks, he still has the ability to bring about success next season.

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