It’s hard to know what to make of Tuesday night. On the plus side, we secured a routine win and scored four goals without having to produce an especially brilliant performance. On the down side, we conceded three and even if one should perhaps have been disallowed and the other an utterly stupid, aberrant mistake, the fact that all our goals were scored by loan players has me a little worried that things are little unsustainable at the moment.
We’ll get a vision of our possible future during this FA Cup clash with Northampton Town. With Adam Armstrong and Ryan Kent unavailable for selection due to the wishes of their parent clubs, we’ll lose that ability to stretch defences with the pace and penetration they both provide. Given that none of our other strikers, or Joe Cole, have the ability to run in behind, there’ll be pressure on the likes of Jacob Murphy, Ruben Lameiras and Jim O’Brien to provide a goal threat, which they can offer but only on an inconsistent basis thus far.
It is slightly extreme to use this match as a barometer of our future hopes this season, not only will Armstrong and Kent be replaced if they don’t stay but we’re also missing Romain Vincelot who you suspect will further increase his importance to the side as the season wears on. His replacement Conor Thomas, may be able to replace that assertive role in midfield which has always been the best feature of his game. What Thomas seems less likely to be able to replace is that ability to cover gaps in the defence which Vincelot does so well. It will put extra defensive strain on John Fleck and will offer Northampton Town the hope that they can hit our slow defence on the break.
This game will be an important one too for Aaron Phillips given that a loan defender may soon be arriving. The greatest shame about his mistake for the penalty against Barnsley was that he had actually played rather well for the 90 minutes prior, both in getting forward and in being fairly solid defensively. Over the past few games, I’ve noticed he’s been much more disciplined in timing when he dives into tackles which is a sign that he’s learning. A strong performance in this game could go a long way to exorcising the memories of the three penalties he has given away this season.
Last Time We Met
Our last competitive meeting with Northampton Town came in this same competition back in 1990. We lost 1-0.
The last game between these two teams that I know you’re all thinking about is the Jackson Grundy Cup back in 2009. Leon Best gave City the lead before Billy McKay levelled late on for the Cobblers. Things were tense at Sixfields as this classic appeared to be heading for extra time before club legend Sean Jeffers secured the Sky Blues the prestigious cup. No word yet on whether Jackson Grundy are handing out another trophy for this game.
How Are They Doing?
When Chris Wilder, once in the frame for the job here, arrived at Northampton nearly two years ago, the team looking likely to be relegated into non-league for the first time in their history. After pulling off a miraculous survival attempt in the second-half of his first season, Northampton finished unremarkably outside of the League Two play-offs last season.
King of the slow build in League Two, having done a similar job at Oxford, Wilder made sensible improvements to the squad at Northampton in the summer and they’re right in the mix for promotion from the fourth-tier this season. The only problem is, they are broke thanks to the mysterious dealings of chairman David Cardoza who had previously done so much good for the club. There is a chance now that this could be Northampton Town’s final game with their fate set to be decided in the courts on Tuesday.
On the pitch, Northampton’s main danger looks to be coming from the productive strike pairing of Marc Richards and Sam Hoskins. Richards is a journeyman League Two goal poacher, aside from one decent season with Barnsley in League One, he’s never really cut it when given an opportunity at a higher level. Hoskins, a former Southampton youth-teamer, has really come into his own this season and is a more mobile, pacey forward player.
There is plenty of attacking support in midfield with Nicky Adams and John-Joe O’Toole both goal threats from that area. O’Toole is exceptionally tall for a midfielder but likes to play a more attacking role than his frame would suggest. Adams was an important player last season in Bury’s promotion push from League Two and has previously been a strong performer in the third-tier, he’s the main source of creativity, either out wide or pushing forward from a central position.
Northampton’s defence is likely to be marshalled by Ryan Cresswell and Zander Diamond in the centre who are both uncompromising, grizzly lower-league centre-backs. David Buchanan at left-back was a fairly important player at Preston before being surprisingly released in the summer. They could also include Brendan Moloney at right-back if he is fit, he being another player in this team capable of playing at a higher level.
This is going to be a massive game for Northampton Town, not only is this a fairly local derby and there is that bit of needle between some of our fans and their club about our exile there, but this is also potentially the club’s final ever game. They are clearly going to be incredibly fired-up for this game and if one or two of our players don’t take this game seriously, Northampton could really put us to the sword.
What with us losing our biggest goal threat due to the preference of his parent club and our key holding midfield player also being out and our defence having been so leaky of late, I’m not feeling positive heading into this game. I’m going to predict a grim old 2-0 defeat.