While it’s an embarrassment to lose 6-1 in any game, I would still argue that last Saturday’s capitulation against Bradford was worse as well as a potential defeat of any kind in this forthcoming game against Northampton. Tuesday’s result says a lot about the state we’re in at the moment, but it’s a result that’s easier to move on from simply because it came in the League Cup rather than the league.
The worry is that a heavy defeat for our first XI in a game that didn’t really matter, and one which comes in the midst of a packed schedule of fixtures, affects the ability of the players to physically and mentally in a game that is probably the most important of the season so far to win. Tony Mowbray didn’t have much choice but to pick the 11 players he ended up choosing, but losing by that margin puts further pressure on the team to bounce back.
With no new signings having arrived this week and no-one looking like they’ll be back to full fitness in time, Tony Mowbray doesn’t have much choice but to name a similar 11 to one that has lost by an aggregate score of 9-2 over the past two games. This may be a time though to take Ben Stevenson out of the side just to protect him in what could be a toxic atmosphere for this game. I would expect a recall for Ruben Lameiras which may see us return to the 3-4-3 shape we’ve played over the first few games of the season.
The other call to be made is between Ryan Haynes and Lewis Page in that left wing-back slot. It’s starting to look like Haynes might be the better option out of the two, calling into question Mowbray’s judgement in signing Page in the first place. We did need someone to challenge Haynes’ position, but Page doesn’t seem to be demonstrably better than him and it’s hard to see what’s gained by exposing a young Premier League loan player rather than seeing what our own player can do with a run of games.
Last Time We Met
We last played Northampton relatively recently when we faced up to them in FA Cup back in November. Shorn of several key loan players to international duty and the instructions of their parent clubs, it was hardly surprising that it was a fairly toothless performance. Northampton didn’t create much but were very well drilled at the back and countered with efficiency in the first-half to twice take the lead with only a Jacob Murphy goal offering hope that we could actually win the tie.
How Are They Doing?
After losing Chris Wilder, as well as wingers Ricky Holmes and Nicky Adams, and midfield engine Danny Rose, it looked like it would be difficult for Northampton to start the season with momentum having won League Two last season. New manager Robert Page has made some fairly big changes to a winning formula but has kept them as solid as his Port Vale side were last season.
The Cobblers are yet to lose in the league this season and have done so via conceding just two goals in their first four games. They also enter this game with the momentum of having knocked Premier League West Brom out of the League Cup on penalties on Tuesday night. You’d imagine that they’ll fancy their chances in this game.
The main man thus far has been Alex Revell, brought to the club by Robert Page this summer. The hulking centre-forward is a classic, experienced, lower-league target-man striker but he also has the odd wonder goal in his locker. Of the two league goals Northampton have scored this season, both have come from his boot, with the first being credited as an own goal from the opposing goalkeeper.
Swansea loanee Kenji Gorré has caught the eye with his pace and trickery out wide. With the wide threat that Gorré poses and the physicality of Alex Revell up front, that’s a pretty classic smash-and-grab away day formula set for Northampton with the rest of the side set-up to soak up pressure and occasionally threaten from set-pieces, not least because they have the deliveries of former Portsmouth and Burnley man Matty Taylor to call upon.
The other key man for Northampton is goalkeeper Adam Smith, who has kept up his impressive form from their League Two title winning season. The former Leicester City youth-teamer was sacked along with Scunthorpe’s Tom Hopper and Barnet’s James (son of Nigel) Pearson following an incident on a post-season tour last season, but has forged a reputation for himself as a player after some commanding performances in goal over the last season.
In ex-player watch, Aaron Phillips has started in most of Northampton’s games thus far this season after arriving this summer. The decision to release him was probably justified but the lack of a replacement for him makes Mowbray’s call seem stranger and stranger with each passing game. Phillips has acquited himself fairly well but may not feature due to the return of first-choice right-back Brendan Moloney from injury.
There’s no doubt about it, this is our most important game of the season. The negativity has been growing and growing over the summer and a poor start to the season has only confirmed everyone’s worst fears. A win here would be the first small step to countering that negativity, a defeat here would eliminate any small amount of optimism left in most Sky Blues’ fans hearts.
Northampton are set-up to frustrate us and prey the sense of self-doubt that comes after a poor run of results. Not only that, but the Ricoh Arena is a big, and fairly close, day-out for Northampton fans, which just adds to the sense that this might be the perfect away day for them.
For some reason though, I still have hope that we can kick-start our season in this game and start to grow into the season. Probably because I don’t want to think about losing this game, but I’m going for a 2-1 victory for the Sky Blues.