Tom Reed’s report from Northampton v Oxford United…
Northampton left the field to yet more booing after failing to dispatch Oxford United in a goalless relegation tussle on Saturday. The result sees the Cobblers just 2 points above the League 1 drop zone.
Town boss Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was given the cold shoulder by the Shoe Army at full-time on a freezing Sixfields afternoon with Town striker Chris Long missing a succession of gilt-edged chances.
The Northampton faithful were up in arms at Hasselbaink’s controversial withdrawal of Man Of The Match Gboly Ariyibi on 72 minutes as Town poised themselves to tear the tie from their neighbours from down the A43.
Instead of hooking the tiring Sam Hoskins, Town’s Dutch manager replaced the talented American loanee Ariyibi with Hildeberto Pereira, a move which appeared to hand the impetus to the visitors who could have snatched a later winner via a Wes Thomas header that clattered off the woodwork and away.
It’s not the first time that Hasselbaink has had the Northampton West Stand howling in tactical frustration but the former Chelsea striker was still aggrieved with their reaction at the final whistle in the 0-0 draw.
Town suffered from the soggy finishing of loanee forward Long on a crisp winter winter day on Upton Way. On 10 minutes the striker borrowed from Burnley couldn’t hit the target from a Matt Crooks give and go. Long then dragged a left-footer agonisingly wide after being released into good space from 6 yards with 20 on the clock.
Cobblers missed the bite of a tackler in midfield with Shaun McWilliams benched meaning Oxford were able to move the ball from back to front easily. Town are a touch too respectful of opponents and this let Oxford’s Brazilian wing-back Ricardinho in for a cross shot bundled away in a melee.
Northampton’s languid midfielder Matt Crooks then had the large Oxford away support worried with a superlative chest and nutmeg but saw his 18 yarder sail narrowly wide on the half-hour mark. The U’s then went up the other end with Robert Dickie testing Richard O’Donnell in the Town goal via a cute curler that couldn’t quite caress the net.
The second half proved a pensive affair with the strength of the two team’s benches likely to prove the difference.
On 68 minutes confident Cobblers wide-mean Ariybi produced good work to free Hoskins for a volley saved at the back post by United stopper Simon Eastwood. Town fans then vented their ire at Aryibi’s number 45 being held up by the 4th official when Hoskins looked the more likely player to make way for Pereira.
Therein lies the problem with Hasselbaink’s tactics in being a seemingly conservative manager with a squad full of attacking players rarely let off the leash.
Northampton have the arsenal to finish off games but instead it was Oxford who looked the more likely winners at the death.
Saturday’s goalless showing was the 19th time that Town have failed to score this season.
Whatever the case, now is not the time for consternation between fans and manager. Northampton need to start picking up points in threes quickly or a thoroughly needless relegation à la Cobblers under Stuart Gray in 2009 is on the cards.