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No goals but positives are building for Cobblers

Danny Brothers was at Sixfields to see Cobblers draw 0-0 with Scunthorpe in the first round of the FA Cup…

As bonfire night loomed ahead later in the evening, the Cobblers and Scunthorpe United barely mustered a sparkler between them as this FA Cup First Round tie made its case to be at the very bottom of the highlights package this Sunday night. The draw wouldn’t have thrilled anyone in either camp and the lack of enthusiasm shone through in a crowd of under 3,000.

Both sides had their moments in the game but the second half in particular saw neither grab the initiative and both seemed strangely settled to come out of the match with a replay in what will now turn into the second of three meetings in two weeks between the clubs.

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, a finalist in this competition twice as a player, was forced into one change with Matt Ingram not given permission to play in the competition by parent club QPR so he was replaced by David Cornell whilst Matt Grimes was given the weekend off. Town set up initially in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Chris Long back up front and John-Joe O’Toole playing behind him.

It was the Cobblers who started the brighter, coming agonisingly close to taking the lead twice inside the opening ten minutes. Lewis McGugan, in for Grimes, sent in a free kick from the right and Aaron Pierre smashed the ball off the crossbar with a free header that bounced down onto the goal line. The ball was cleared out to the left and another free kick was awarded inches from the penalty area. McGugan again stepped forward and had a go himself this time, curling the ball against the post.

Those two men would again go close in the first half with Pierre having another header cleared off the line and McGugan testing visiting keeper Matt Gilks from distance with a long range free kick. Scunthorpe were slowly coming into the game and sent a few dangerous crosses in but couldn’t find a finishing touch with Hakeeb Adelakun blasting over from one such opportunity.

The Cobblers’ best chances seemed to be from McGugan set pieces which had been delivered with quality but they were also occasionally worrying the visitors with the pace of Daniel Powell and Sam Hoskins on either wing. The Iron, though, were a big, physical outfit setting out to break up play regularly, frustrating any attempts by The Cobblers to put together anything going forwards from open play.

O’Toole was replaced five minutes into the second half by Marc Richards having apparently picked up a knock. It wasn’t the multi-time Player of the Year’s best afternoon and the game passed him by a bit too much during his fifty minutes on the pitch. Richards coming on meant that the Cobblers switched to two up front and as the game entered the final third you got the feeling that the crowd, very quiet up until that point, were up for getting the job done here rather than set up another game on the fixture list with a replay.

David Buchanan started to cause a few problems down the left hand side, linking up well a couple of times with Powell and he created a half chance for Richards who headed wide when well placed. Josh Morris almost produced a moment of magic in the final knockings but David Cornell pushed the effort away well.

There was to be no frantic finale, though, no scramble or desperation from either team to go and win the tie outright and we will do it all again in around ten days’ time before Scunthorpe visit Sixfields once again in the league in two weeks!

Hasselbaink will draw on the positives – matching a strong and in form Scunthorpe side, keeping a good clean sheet and showing flashes of quality – and there does seem to be something building in terms of a solid base and shape about the team. Ash Taylor and Aaron Pierre are building a good partnership at the back and Shaun McWilliams has filled in at right back seamlessly in the last couple of games, showing tremendous maturity for one so young. McGugan should only get better with fitness, too, with some real touches of class on show this afternoon.

At the top end, there is much work to do. The Cobblers get into good positions but as hard as Chris Long and others work there needs to be that out and out goal scorer if we’re going to start clinching games like this. The shambles that was the Bristol Rovers game has at least been put to bed though and that particular result seems more a freak than anything so the signs are that Hasselbaink has the nous to steadily turn this season around, particularly with a vital transfer window to come.

As for this tie, neither side will be thrilled to play again at Glanford Park but that’s what we get and the Cobblers can at least be consoled with a place in the hat for Monday’s draw.

Danny Brothers is @dannybrothers on Twitter

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