Cobblers flunked the chance to show they are a class above League 2’s bottom pack with a dire 1-1 draw against 3rd from bottom Morecambe, writes Tom Reed.
The North West away side, with a grand total of 96 travelling fans could have taken the tie too via a Liam Mandeville chance in the dying minutes that thankfully sliced wide.
Keith Curle showed the limits of his tactical fluidity by lining up once more with a 3-5-2 formation. Attacking midfielder Jack Bridge made an unlikely left wing-back after loanee George Cox had gone down with injury at Cambridge United.
Northampton’s current injury crisis has hit centre-midfield hardest meaning debuts for 20 year olds Elšnik, borrowed from Derby County and Joe Powell, sent to Sixfields till the end of the season by West Ham.
On a horribly overcast and blustery day that was an advert for football being moved to the summer, it was clear that the match wasn’t going to be pretty and that proved the case with some of the worst football seen in Town this term.
The game was much about missed chances and miscontrolled balls as it was about piercing the net and the chant “what a load of rubbish”, a staple in the 90’s, was heard once more from the Cobblers die-hards.
Town look a timid outfit shorn of the tekkers of Kevin Van Veen and Matt Crooks, a short one too as Morecambe had the better of the physical tussles. Ian Atkins would have loved Kevin Ellison, the 39 year-old Morecambe menace given free reign to terrorise the callow Northampton lineup by boss Jim Bentley. Ellison looks like the grim reaper minus his hood and put the wind up the Northampton defence with a combative display.
It wasn’t the Atkins era that haunted Sixfields however, nor even the Chris Wilder years but Stuart Gray, the ace coach who brought so much quality to the club in the mid noughties. How Northampton could do with the likes of Jason Crowe and Danny Jackman as wing-backs, Bradley Johnson in central midfield and Poul Hubertz up top right now.
Yet Town had the lead via loanee Elšnik, the 5ft 8” midfielder dispatched from Pride Park bringing Town a bit of heart with a 22 minute left foot lasher. The Slovenian is clearly a decent player and showed good intent to slam pass Mark Halstead in the Morecambe goal at the second opportunity.
Joe Powell, meanwhile struggled at times with the reality of league football. The Hammers midfielder did nothing wrong but couldn’t quite compute the machinations of West Ham academy football with the thought process of his new Northampton team mates.
The portly Shrimps boss Jim Bentley, a savvy ex-player himself clearly saw that Cobblers have a soft centre and a 1-0 half-time lead for the claret and whites would have been no deterrent.
Morecambe duly got their equaliser in the 52nd minute via a swift counter attack that combined the long game with the short. A quick clearance forward saw Ash Taylor beaten in the air, Andrew Tutte skip forward before laying it off to Ellison who sent a low cross to Richie Bennett who tapped home.
A point may well be crucial come the end of the season and Town may be happy for it because Morecambe looked more likely to take the tie with a goal chalked off for offside before Mandeville’s last gasp horror miss.
Keith Curle has hinted that more players may leave the club but after this dross showing how much more can the squad be realistically cut?
Cobblers stare down the barrel of a gun just 7 points off the drop zone and tricky ties against Colchester, Tranmere and Stevenage to come. The empty shell of the East Stand looms like a beacon of despair, and a visible hole in what was known as fortress Sixfields. The whole place reeks of a need for a change in vision both on and off the pitch and boos rang out at the final whistle.
Player focus: Joe Powell by Phil Garlick
Having joined on loan from West Ham, Joe Powell made his league debut in an attacking midfield role. Alongside him, fellow loanee Timi Elšnik shone the brighter after already playing half a season at Mansfield. It was a quiet debut with little contribution of note, either good or bad.
In attack, Powell positioned himself around the 18 yard box looking for 2nd phase opportunities. The one such chance that fell his way was tamely curled into the keeper’s arms on 17 minutes.
Other moments of note were a couple of in-swinging corners and a missed opportunity to fashion a chance when running the ball out for a goal kick just before the break.
Like the rest of the side, he faded to grey in the second half before he was replaced by local lad Morgan Roberts. Powell, however, can be grateful he wasn’t lining up against Wimbledon with the senior West Ham eleven, the East End club hammered by the fan-owned Wombles in the FA Cup.
Player Focus: Timi Elšnik by James Clarke
Timi Elšnik had the privilege of being the first Slovenian to pull on the famous claret and white of Northampton Town in a rough and tumble basement level scrap with Morecambe.
Through all the first-half physicality and chaos, Elšnik proved that he has attributes beyond League 2. Playing ahead of Jordan Turnbull with fellow debutant Powell, Elšnik was ready to receive the ball in tight spaces, mix it physically and was always looking to play on the front foot.
His goal was a neat finish and and capped off a well deserved starring role. Morecambe’s more direct approach, which bypassed much of the midfield, nullified much of Elšnik’s threat the the second half while he often found himself exposed by the shortcomings of his team mates.
Elšnik has been a solid addition who will bring much needed quality, patience and ball retention to the Northampton midfield till the season’s end.