Tom Reed looks at Bradford’s visit to Sixfields…
Northampton fell to a narrow 1-0 defeat to Bradford City on Saturday but came away with credit after matching the well-supported Bantams throughout. While the Cobblers couldn’t erase the memories of the 2013 Wembley Playoff thrashing by City they did put together some decent football and showed signs of being a team on the up.
Cobblers boss Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink may be considering lacing up his boots once more however as Town squandered two golden chances to claim a late draw. Both Alex Revell and Marc Richards spurned serious last-gasp opportunities to take a point.
Town started the game tentatively on a warm September day at Sixfields. Matt Crooks returned form suspension to line up in the middle of a fluid 4-3-3 formation. Yet, it was City’s compact centre-midfield paring of Romain Vincelot and Jake Reeves who were happy to dictate play. On the right flank for the Cobblers, Brendan Moloney tried to dribble while Town relied on the imposing Ash Taylor to repel any balls into the box.
Matt Crooks, strangely, struggled to keep pace despite having a week off due to his previous dismissal and it was interesting to see Hasselbaink dealing with Crook’s reluctance to press the opposition. Crooks is clearly a talented individual but not a perfect fit for the Northampton’s boss’ preferred high tempo style and that is something that Hasselbaink will continue to wrestle with. Mind you, a fair number of Cobblers players also struggle for mobility and at times Hasselbaink was attempting to get F1 performances from Ford Fiestas with his sideline directions.
But it was referee Graham Horwood grabbing the attention on 34 minutes when Brendan Moloney was harshly adjudged to have impeded Alex Gilliead 25 yards from goal. Tony McMahon stepped up to place a cute dipping free-kick up and over the wall to claim the lead for the Bantams. It was a great finish but a large target to aim at with Cobblers stopper Matt Ingram giving himself a lot to do to make a save.
Town striker Chris Long was then hooked much to the home crowd’s bemusement and his displeasure with the Burnley loanee being Town’s star performer in recent weeks. Hasselbaink obviously felt the striker turned winger was struggling and brought on Billy Waters to take the attack to Bradford.
City’s 1145 away following and their animated manager Stuart McCall would have been uneasy going into the break with such a narrow lead however and Northampton duly came out out flying in the second half. In particular, young Man Utd loanee Regan Poole was able to nip about in midfield and pick passes to his team mates on the run. Yet it is in the wide attacking-midfield areas that Cobblers are really struggling and Hasselbaink is crying out for a Ricky Holmes style offensive option.
Associate Director and ace scout Graham Carr was in attendance and there is no doubt that Carr, Andy Melville and Hasselbaink will be looking to improve on Town’s attacking options come January. That need for squad strengthening was rammed home in time added on when the ageing Alex Revell headed wide with the goal gaping then Richards raised his creaking legs to poke over from 8 yards. Fans will be questioning why Revell and Richards where given a chance together in a forward two when Long, arguably Cobblers’ best striker was played wide and then substituted?
Still, Town left the field to applause and the shoe army appreciating the endeavours of a hard working Town team and manager. MK Dons follow on Tuesday night and goals are firmly on the agenda for Hasselbaink as well as points in the local grudge match.
Player Focus: Matt Crooks by @Phil_Garlick
A frustrating afternoon for Matt Crooks who had scored in each of the 3 games he’d played under JFH. A resolute Bradford side provided him with fewer scoring opportunities, his best chance being a shot from 15 yards out on 42 mins that was deflected for a corner.It was Crooks however who crafted the chance with a deft first touch and he is one of the few Town players who will make chances for himself.
Given a free role behind Revell he provided a target for the speculative punts upfield but also combined out wide, more so on the right. A good early pass for Long down the right channel resulted in a corner and late on he combined with Buchanan who delivered a dangerous ball from the right corner. He is certainly versatile, moving to the left when Richards was introduced on 68 mins and then into the centre with Grimes on 74 as Hoskins made his return.
An interception in the centre circle on 85 mins resulted in an attacking free kick but all too often it just didn’t seem to be Crooks’ day. Too often he seemed to just fail to control the ball or deliver the right pass. I speculated that it may be the fact he gets in positions others won’t that makes it so frustrating.Fine margins maybe although one West Stand sage was heard to describe Crooks as the worst player ever to play for ntfc. That he most certainly is not.