It was a game of contrasts for wildly inconsistent Cobblers against a solid but not spectacular Cambridge United side at Sixfields on Saturday, writes Tom Reed.
At times, Town appeared a 2 man team with midfielder Matt Crooks and Dutch striker Kevin Van Veen a class apart as the best players on the pitch. Northampton’s Marks and Spencer store in Abington Street was vacated recently and it was Town’s inability to shut up shop which cost them the win in the 2-2 draw.
Cobblers are stuck in the no man’s land between relegation from League 1 and a mismatched team with aspirations of promotion at the first time of asking.
Indeed, Van Veen and Crooks could easily be playing at a higher level through sheer technique whereas young right-back Hakeem Odoffin and goalkeeper David Cornell have yet to convince they are league level performers. Stalwart left-back David Buchanan again struggled against pace down his wing while there are question marks over the distribution of centre-backs Ash Taylor and Aaron Pierre.
Northampton boss Austin has promised a high-tempo playing style yet Town offered very little in the way of pressing in the opening skirmishes against the U’s. This allowed former England Under 19 international Ade Azeez to waltz through for a 10th minute shot blocked for a corner.
With John-Joe O’Toole injured, Town suffered from an attacking midfield void in central areas with Crooks too deep in the first half hour and the ghost-like Sam Foley more interested in simple passing within a limited axis.
So, right winger Sam Hoskins shouldered the responsibility of carrying the ball for Town, which he did effectively but found his crossing coming up short on several occasions.
Hoskins clearly needs practice on getting more height and whip on his deliveries but there has to be sympathy for Cobblers squat number 7 who looks more of a through-ball chasing striker than a chalk on your boots winger.
Meanwhile, Kevin Van Veen, who has set himself a target of 20 goals this season, strolled around in first half, leaving his strike partner Andy Williams to try and worry the opposition goal. A 28th minute curler from Williams was his best effort, beaten away by Bulgarian keeper Dimitar Mitov. Alas, Van Veen and Williams proved too similar in their frame and movement except that Van Veen is far more competent in piercing the net.
Crooks who, drifts in and out of games like a lilo on the sea shore, then reminded everyone who the serious players on the pitch were with a sublime take and turn on 34 minutes before releasing Hoskins. Crooks couldn’t finish the return ball but Sixfields had been given a glimpse of significant skill.
Town were in control but had again failed to capitalise and were lucky that the powerful Cambridge forward Jabo Ibhere sent his free header over just shy of half-time.
Austin’s Northampton team talk would have been of the ‘keep doing what you are doing’ ilk. Indeed, although Cambridge looked competent in their short passing, Cobblers appeared to have the class to put the game to bed.
Step up Former PSV Eindhoven schoolkid Van Veen to smash home a top-corner beauty on the hour mark after being fed by Danel Powell. The 16 yarder should have been enough to demoralise the visitors from down the A14 but it shows the shakiness of Town’s defence that Cambridge knew they could get back in the game and that they did on 70 minutes.
George Maris showed he was no couch potato with a cute side-footed finish but the goal was enabled by pathetic tracking back from Town and weak control of his box from keeper Cornell.
Van Veen, however, was in no mood to be on the losing side and he showed contemptuous skill to first rob U’s defender Harry Darling, then ease the ball onto his right and lash another top corner screamer home in front of the North stand on 76 minutes.
2-1 should have been enough to down Cambridge once and for all but shadow boxing defending in the 86th minute let in ex-Cobbler Gary Deegan to send a curler over a despairing Cornell. Deegan, known as the crab at his time at Sixfields for his limited mobility proved that he has claws.
Again, the less than lofty Cornell had been targeted from distance and once more the keeper had failed to get a hand to the ball.
Cambridge’s 600 fans taunted the shoe army with chants of ‘It’s all gone quiet over there’. In truth, Sixfields had been muted throughout with Town fans uneasy at watching a side able to match the sublime with the stupid. At least they have the highlights of the Van Veen goals which will be replayed time and time again with houses with a NN postcode. Cobblers meanwhile sit in a lowly 20th position in League 2 have not beaten Cambridge at Sixfields in 11 matches.