Tom Reed was at Northampton v Portsmouth…
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink claimed his second win in four days as Northampton saw off Portsmouth on a sodden night at Sixfields. On a evening of what Peter Kay calls the ‘fine rain that soaks you through’ the Cobblers swamped their South Coast opponents with moments of real individual quality.
Portsmouth, managed by Kenny Jackett, named after the one item soaking wet fans wished they’d worn, took the early initiative as Matty Kennedy looked to get at Town’s Brendan Moloney down the left wing. Indeed, Pompey were happy to receive the ball in central areas too with Cobblers centre-midfield pairing of Matt Grimes and Shaun McWilliams content to leave the team in blue with possession.
Yet it was a moment of on-the-ball brilliance from 19 year-old academy graduate McWilliams that saw Town open their account. McWilliams dropped a shoulder in the centre-circle to skip past Adam May, before driving forwards and releasing Chris Long with a cute outside of the boot through-ball. The imposing, athletic Long made no mistake and slotted past Luke McGee in front of the downcast Portsmouth faithful on 18 minutes.
Then, with Cobblers on the front foot and the Shoe Army chanting ‘You Are My Sunshine’ through the teeming rain, McWilliams was caught on the ankle by a strong Pompey tackle. Sixfields fell silent as the youngster received lengthy treatment before being stretchered off with a serious looking injury. Iraqi international Yaser Kasim, sporting green and orange boots, came on on his place.
But, just as Northampton fans cursed their luck just as the team was getting going, Cobblers turned up another gear and claimed a second goal. The elegant Matt Crooks, began to show the deft first-touch and dribbling prowess that had seen a move to Rangers from Accrington Stanley and it was the 6ft 4” midfielder who headed home a corner just after the half-hour mark. Crooks’ signing had excited Northampton fans and the imposing player showed why he could be Town’s next cult hero.
Not that Cobblers had it all their own way with a tentative prod in defence from Aaron Pierre headed onto his own post by Ash Taylor and then a Stuart O’Keefe long-ranger tipped over by Matt Ingram in time added on. Cobblers give away a freshly prepared pizza to the home fans at half-time and it was Town going into the break piping hot.
The wind picked up after the restart and maybe Town will blame the altered flight-path of the ball in failing to clear their lines and prevent a Kennedy goal for Pompey on 49 minutes. Pompey’s squat winger was able to turn and shoot from 15 yards when Cobblers should have simply got rid.
This would normally be the moment that Town cave in but Northampton’s defence appear to have a solidity about them which will repel balls into the box. Centre-backs Taylor and Pierre can block and head for fun, while Dave Buchanan and Brendan Moloney add composure at full-back.
Yet Pompey’s Jamal Lowe was a constant threat and the number 18 missed a huge chance on 50 minutes when heading wide unmarked at the back post. The talented but raw as steak tartare Lowe then contrived to blaze wide 6 minutes later when a top corner curler beckoned.
For all that though, Pompey didn’t have the striking guile of Long, the immaculate technique of Matt Grimes or the nonchalant skill of Crooks and Cobblers reinforced their superiority with 20 minutes to play. Persistence from Moloney on the right wing saw a swinging cross fall to Long for the Burnley loanee striker to stroke home. The 1153 blue army in the away end were left dumbfounded while the shoe army were in raptures.
Portsmouth had plenty of possession and a fair few chances but like Doncaster on Saturday put in a 6 out of 10 performance and were shut down by Town’s strength and technical superiority. Indeed, the capable Matt Ingram repaid Hasselbaink’s faith late on with a fine diving save to his right to finish out the match.
Hasselbaink shouted instructions throughout and it’s clear that the Dutchman’s meticulous approach is paying off in style.
Older Cobblers fans will remember being ferried to matches by Northampton Yorks Travel coaches, named after naval ships but it was sailor team Pompey all at sea with Cobblers right at home under Hasselbaink. Town supporters travel to another coastal club, Southend United, on Saturday relishing a chance to watch what could be their best team in years.
Player Focus: Ash Taylor and Aaron Pierre by @phil_garlick
Ash Taylor and Aaron Pierre are turning into a strong central defensive partnership for Cobblers and showed that versus Portsmouth. Taylor is the more mobile of the two but ex-Wycombe stopper Pierre is the rock.The pair won most if not all of the first half aerial challenges. Not complete players though and the pair almost let Portsmouth in with a dodgy moment of bad communication where Taylor headed against his own post. In contrast to Portsmouth’s ball playing centre-backs, Taylor and Pierre looked to get the ball moving forwards more quickly which has its pros and cons in terms of ball retention. They need to improve their control of the offside trap but weren’t helped by in inconsistent officials. Still, a solid understanding growing and the two will be important parts of NTFC’s spine.