After four games undefeated, and an exciting transfer window, Northampton Town were given a reality check as they suffered a disappointing 1-0 defeat at the hands of Keith Hill’s Rochdale.
This was the Cobblers’ first loss since New Year’s Day, when Wigan Athletic took all three points in a 1-0 win at Sixfields. It certainly wasn’t the worst Northampton have looked this season, but it was a step backwards from how they were playing in January. It felt very much like the Cobblers we were used to seeing between August and December, which is a scary thought.
The first big negative of the game saw right back Shay Facey go down with what seemed like a hamstring problem, which forced him to be taken off. Now most fans are in agreement that the ideal change in that scenario would be to bring on Shaun McWilliams, who has played a handful of games at right-back this season and performed well there.
However, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink had other ideas and decided to bring on Regan Poole, who has only played one game at right back this season, and that was the 6-0 defeat to Bristol Rovers. With this in mind, Hasselbaink changed the formation from a 4-4-1-1 to a 3-5-2, meaning a handful of players were out of position which clearly killed the flow of the game for the Cobblers.
This was evident early in the second half, when Rochdale pushed forward with ease, with Calvin Andrew slotting the ball home from a short distance. This led to a few harsh words between captain Ash Taylor and Hildeberto Pereira. The Portuguese winger was subbed off soon after, which meant even more changes in tactics which completely ruined any plans for the players.
As for Rochdale, they looked like a side in mid-table rather than in 23rd place, showing pace, simple passing and good running down each wing. Their game plan to stop John-Joe O’Toole from doing anything worked very well, and Hasselbaink decided to take off O’Toole with a while of the game to go. This left Chris Long without good service, which allowed the Rochdale defence to relax and the rest of the side to push forward. It was a good game plan and was effective against a Northampton side who didn’t seem to win a battle all afternoon.
Kevin Van Veen was subbed on in the second half for his debut, but struggled to create many chances despite making some good runs. Fellow striker Boris Mathis was left out of the squad, as teams are only allowed five loan players in the matchday squad, and Mathis was the one to take the sacrifice on Saturday. Winger Gboly Ariyibi tried his hardest after coming on but couldn’t create anything that looked threatening.
I struggled to remember a single shot from open play that challenged goalkeeper Josh Lillis throughout the game. The only close chances that spring to mind are a few free kicks from Matt Grimes that went just over the bar, and a header from John-Joe O’Toole, which should’ve gone in but instead went straight to Lillis who was able to get it clear.
The result leaves Northampton in 20th place, just two points clear of the relegation zone after wins for Oldham Walsall and Southend. Rochdale are sitting in 23rd place, eight points away from the Cobblers but with four games in hand. If Dale continue to perform in the way they did on Saturday, survival could look a lot more likely come Easter.
Northampton’s next match is against AFC Wimbledon at Kingsmeadow, which is now a very important encounter with Wimbledon sitting in 18th place, just a single point ahead of Hasselbaink’s side. As for Rochdale, their next game is at home to Fleetwood, which is certainly a winnable encounter for Keith Hill’s side.
Northampton: O’Donnell, Facey (sub Poole 36′), Taylor, Turnbull, Bunney, Crooks, Grimes, Pereira (sub Van Veen 57′), O’Toole (sub Ariyibi 72′), Foley, Long.
Subs not used: Cornell, Buchanan, Hoskins, McWilliams.
Yellow cards: Poole, Crooks, Long. Red cards: N/A.
Rochdale: Lillis, Rafferty, Wiseman, McNulty, Delaney, Done, Camps (sub Humphrys 86′), Cannon, Kitching, Andrew, Henderson.
Subs not used: McGahey, Rathbone, Moore, Knott, Hart, Dobre.
Yellow cards: Camps. Red cards: N/A.
Referee: John Busby
Featured Image Credit: Matt Churchill