Sam Hoskins has experienced the highs and the lows that the end of the season can bring with Northampton Town.
In his first season at the club, he lifted the League Two trophy, having finished top of the table with 99 points. Five years later after suffering relegation from League One back to the fourth tier, the Cobblers’ top scorer is dreaming of promotion once again as his Northampton Town journey continues.
It may be a slightly different experience this time around, but you’re in the Play-Off Final which must be a great feeling?
It’s going to be different of course, but we’re really pleased. I’ve never played at Wembley before so on a personal note I’m really pleased as well. It’s a shame that the fans can’t be there, but it’s going to be a great experience none the less and we’ve got a job to do, so we’ve got to play the game as we would any other. There’s a job to do and hopefully we can go there and do it.
What does it mean to you and the club to be in the Final and have that chance of promotion back to League One?
I actually got promoted with Northampton the last time we went up, so I’ve been on the emotional rollercoaster with the club ever since. The way the club is set up right the way through is brilliant, it’s an amazing club with amazing people and definitely a club that deserves to be in League One.
I think we have the quality to achieve it, even though the season was cut short we’ve shown that we deserve to be where we are, and the fight and determination we showed to get through to the Play-Off Final was there for everyone to see.
On the Semi-Finals, you had to sit the first leg out due to being suspended. How frustrating was it to watch the side lose the first leg and you not being able to do anything about it?
It was pretty agonising having to watch from the sidelines. The squad has enough quality in it though, we proved that in the second leg, but it was really tough to miss out and not be able to do anything to help. Fortunately I was back in the side for the second leg, and it’s a credit to everyone, staff included, that we are in the Final. We didn’t feel sorry for ourselves, we knew that we could go there and turn it around if we played the way we knew we were capable of doing.
What was the team’s mentality going into that second leg? To overturn a 2-0 scoreline away from home is a fairly big ask, but you seemed to have a really positive mentality from kick-off…
I might be biased, but I felt we were a bit hard done by to lose the first leg 2-0. But we had to get our minds right, get over the disappointment quickly and just focus on the second leg. We knew the first goal would be crucial, a two-goal lead can be quite dangerous because the next goal can swing the tie one way or another.
Thankfully we got the first goal early on and from there were on top throughout. Everything seemed to go right for us, which wasn't the case in the first leg, but I think ultimately it was the belief that we could do it that got us through. We never went there thinking we wanted a respectable scoreline, we genuinely went there to win the game and score three goals.
A lot of people talk about 2-0 being a dangerous scoreline, why is that?
It should be a comfortable scoreline shouldn’t it! Maybe subconsciously players tend to relax a bit more when they’re 2-0 up, I’m not sure. But I think it can be dangerous because ultimately the next goal can swing the game either way depending who scores it.
This season, we’ve let a few 2-0 leads slip through a lapse of concentration and through trying to defend the lead rather than carry on playing our game, so I think the third goal in a game can more often than not be the most important one to score.
And is it true that before the second leg the manager showed you the game between Arsenal and Liverpool in 1989?
Yeah, he did. Arsenal had to win that game by at least two goals to win the title and we watched that game just to see that it could be done at the top level against top opposition really. Therefore, why couldn’t we do it.
Belief is a massive part of winning a football game, if the belief isn’t there there’s no point in you turning up to the game, but there wasn’t anyone within our club that thought a win against Cheltenham was beyond our reach. So watching videos such as that just spurred us on and gave us more belief that it could be done.
You started out your career at Southampton and prior to playing for Northampton had various loan spells. You’ve now been at the club since 2015 and seem settled, was it always the aim for you to find somewhere to play your football permanently and stay long term?
Definitely. I think you need first team experience to develop as a footballer, whether that’s through loan spells or dropping down leagues to play. League experience is so important because it’s completely different. It’s much more physical, it’s competitive and I think it prepares you physically and mentally for what’s to come. With some of my loan spells I didn’t have a good run of games that I needed, so I wanted to find somewhere permanent and I’ve done that at Northampton. I’ve been here five seasons now and they’ve played a huge part in my personal development.
This is your fifth season with the club, you’ve won promotion with them before, but statistically in terms of goals scored, this has been your best season yet. Have you felt in your performances that you’ve been at your best?
Definitely. A few years ago I suffered quite a bad knee injury just as I was getting a run in the team which set me back a bit, but credit to the current manager because he’s given me a lot of game time and I like to think I’ve repaid his faith shown in me with my performances this season.
I’ve had a successful season myself, but as a team we have as well and it’s been great to be a part of this season. But as I’ve said before, there’s one more game to be played and we want to go on and win promotion.
And the manager is very well respected within the game, he’s played and managed at this level, what’s he like to work with?
He’s brilliant. He will never shy away from telling you what he’s thinking. He’s open, honest and always there if you need anything which I think is really important as a manager. And it’s good that we’ve had such a successful season this season, because when he took over we were struggling and I think it shows how good he and his coaching staff have been.
We've assembled a really strong squad this season and that’s down to him, he deserves a lot of credit for taking the club from where it was to where it is now in such a short space of time.
You’re the team’s go-to penalty taker, that’s obviously something that could come into play on the day of the Final. Is that a responsibility that you enjoy?
It is. This season is the only season I’ve been on penalty duty, but I’ve always backed myself to be confident when taking a penalty. That’s probably something that made the first leg even more frustrating for me, because we got awarded a penalty and I couldn’t take it, but it’s a responsibility I enjoy and I’m confident in myself. At the end of the day there is an element of luck in taking a penalty, but if it comes into play in the Final, I’ll be ready for it.
You’ve got to get past Exeter City to win promotion, they came from behind in their Semi-Final against Colchester and have proved that they’re going to be a tough team to beat haven't they?
We’ve won one and lost one against them this season. They’re renowned for doing well at this level and getting to the Play-Offs, they’ve got to the Final three times in the last four years, but we’ve got to go into the game confident off the back of a really good performance in the Semi-Finals. They’ve proved that they’re a good team and are not in this position by luck, but we will prepare as we do for every game and focus on us knowing what we are capable of.
Exeter finished above Northampton in the table, but with the long break and with this being a Play-Off Final, it’s a one-off game isn’t it where anything can happen?
Absolutely. Like Exeter, Cheltenham finished above us in the table and we got past them so anything can happen. It’s a one-off game, but we’ve shown that we can beat them as we have done this season already and I believe we’re going into this game full of confidence from our Semi-Final. You never quite know how the games are going to go but we’re confident that we can get the job done.