At least Tuesday night’s exploits in the Checkatrade Trophy provided some small amount of salve to the open wound that is our football club at this moment in time. It’s not just that we’re bottom of the division and not even a win in this upcoming game will change that, it’s that the game-plan last week against Fleetwood was so dire that it’s hard to see us putting together the requisite run of wins to mount a bid for survival. Oh, and also that horrible feeling lurking underneath that staying up this season will only delay the inevitable.
Maybe that shoot-out win on Tuesday night will boost the confidence of this team, maybe Slade won’t tell the team to hoof the ball aimlessly again, maybe Charles Vernam will be the new Adam Armstrong, maybe we will survive this season, and maybe that will be the start of something special. But it’s hard to see how.
Last week’s 5-3-2 formation against Fleetwood (that looked more like a 5-0-2) was purportedly Slade’s tactical masterplan to match-up against one of the division’s in-form sides, which may mean that it will be discarded for what is now a must-win game against Northampton Town. A switch to a back-four is probably on the cards, with Jordan Turnbull likely to drop-out of the side, although Slade may be tempted to stick with the five due to Ryan Haynes’ defensive deficiencies.
Stuart Beavon being fit and available to last long enough to make an impact on this game is crucial for us to even look like scoring. We could really do with George Thomas, Andy Rose or Kyel Reid looking like more of a goal-threat than they currently do, but maybe this is where Charles Vernam comes in to save the day. Whoever it is, someone needs to score some goals for us, or those goals we keep on leaking are going to send us into League Two without a whimper.
Last Time We Met
We’ve already played Northampton twice this season, both times at the Ricoh Arena. The first encounter looked to be a typical match for us this season, we played some okay football, but got bullied by Northampton’s physical prowess and organisation and fell behind. However, Jodi Jones did something he hasn’t done enough this season, produced an end product, in jinking on the edge of the area and putting in a delightful cross for Marcus Tudgay to divert in with the faintest of touches.
The second game came in the early days of our glorious run in the Checkatrade Trophy, just after Tony Mowbray had resigned as manager. Mark Venus oversaw a performance brimming with attacking flair as Dan Agyei scored an amazing individual effort in the first seconds of the game, Northampton pegged us back almost immediately, before Jodi Jones once again produced an end product in putting us quickly back ahead. A wonderfully incisive 35-yard pass from Chris McCann sent Ruben Lameiras through in the second-half to seal the victory. There was some hope then that maybe we could haul ourselves away from the relegation battle.
How Are They Doing?
Northampton Town looked to have settled fairly comfortably into life in League One following Rob Page’s appointment as manager in the summer. They were well-organised and carried a threat on the counter, as well as via Matthew Taylor’s set-pieces and Alex Revell’s aerial threat in attack. However, things unravelled incredibly fast for Page as the autumn leaves turned to brown, and he was sacked just over two weeks ago and quickly replaced by Justin Edinburgh with the team in danger of falling into the relegation scrap.
For Justin Edinburgh, it’s been an almost equally swift fall from grace, having been seen as one of the brightest young managers outside the Championship at the start of the season following his exploits at Gillingham last year, he was sacked early this calendar year with his own team dropping like a stone down the division. It was surprising that he chose to get back into management so quickly, rather than reflect and learn from where things went wrong for him at Gillingham.
The recent change of manager at Sixfields gives them an air of unpredictability about them, although Edinburgh hasn’t really made many changes to the squad at the moment. Fortunately, target-man Alex Revell is ruled out of this game through injury. However, former Portsmouth and West Ham midfielder Matthew Taylor will be a big threat via his pin-point left-foot from both open play and dead ball situations.
Northampton have a fairly hard-working group of players, who perhaps lack that element of explosiveness to be more of a threat. Millwall loanee winger Gregg Wylde offers something different with his pace down the left-wing, however, he is a fairly similar type of winger to Kyel Reid in that he’ll run in straight lines and regularly makes poor decisions with his final ball.
The Cobblers have one of the poor defensive records in the division, although it’s probably been inflated by conceding twelve goals in their past three games, and we should be looking to force them into errors, like we did so well against Bolton at the start of the month. Their defence is filled with experienced, but slow, lower league defenders, they’ll lap up long balls and crosses into the box and Slade would be foolish to replicate last week’s tactics against Fleetwood in this game.
Our main hopes going into this game are that as bad as we’ve been recently, Northampton have only been slightly better. Interestingly, Northampton have taken fewer points at home this season than we have, which is remarkable but also goes to show that it has been our away form that has dragged us to the bottom of the division.
You’d hope that eventually this terrible run of form will come to an end, even if only because of the law of averages. Failing to win this game would be as disastrous a result as a league game in January could possibly be. I don’t even want to imagine the meltdown that losing such an important game, at Sixfields, at this moment in time would trigger. I don’t and I won’t. A 2-1 win for the Sky Blues, please, oh footballing gods.