Cobblers claimed a creditable point from promotion chasing Mansfield on Saturday but it was the performance of 18 year-old Scott Pollock that caught the eye, writes Tom Reed. Town boss Keith Curle has said he doesn’t trust his players to do the basics so it was left to debutant Pollock to show them how it is done and that he did with a slick showing.
Not that it took much football to stand out on a cool but bright April day where football had to be identified by its dental records. Those enjoying the funfair on the hill overlooking Sixfields wouldn’t have bothered to try and catch a glimpse from the airborne rides because they could have seen the ball in the sky from ground level.
Mansfield made the mistake of trying to play Cobblers at their own game and match them for physicality when rapid counter attacking would have done the trick. Curle reverted back to his favoured 3-5-2 with a sigh for the Northampton faithful but it appeared to be working with a strong start from the claret and whites. Aaron Pierre almost nipped in at the back stick to score with a early header from a cute Buchanan in-swinging free-kick but the Cobblers centre-half could only nod into the side netting.
Yet it was Mansfield, who notched the opener against the run of play in slapstick 11th minute fashion when Mal Benning’s corner sailed directly in past a rooted Dai Cornell. You’d see more movement from a static caravan in the Billing Aquadrome close season.
For Cobblers fans looking for positives, Pollock was your man, intelligent and creative with an ability to make space for himself, he showed his teammates up. Pollock’s passes were well measured while Sam Hoskins was air-kicking and even the Player Of The Season elect Aaron Pierre shinning into touch.
Pollock reminded the shoe army what watching professional football is about:Players who can play. Curle often goes on about his jigsaw and his first current personnel, bar Pollock, Foley, Pierre and Bridge, are jigsaw performers, incomplete, good at one or two aspects and generally uncomfortable with ball to feet.
At half-time you’d still have backed Mansfield, with their vociferous away backing to go and take it. However, David Flitcroft’s men just couldn’t find another level after a long old season. Cobblers got the equaliser from a set-piece which Town practice again and again on the Sixfields pitch in midweek. Pollock got the assist with a perfectly placed corner and the intelligent Foley outthought his marker for a free header.
The goal masked a multitude of sins for Northampton in contract renewal mode. If Cobblers had lost, the knives would have been out but the draw gave the cruel hope that Town may just be as good as a team in second place. Of course, over the season that’s rubbish with the full-time whistle leaving Cobblers 6 points below mid-table and the away side on course for League 1.
This is a Cobblers team with several well paid members signed to do a job at League 1 level who have made a pig’s ear of this season. Dean Austin was in the crowd with the ex-Town boss famously saying “good luck with that one” regarding a new manager getting anything better out of the current Cobblers crop.
Curle has done that, just, but still seems ill at ease with handling technical players like Pollock who stole the show here. 3-5-2 has reared it ugly head again, a percentage formation at this level, that tries to cover all bases.
Pollock, previously sent on loan to lowly St Neots showed the benefit of first-team minutes, League standard officials and the Cobblers faithful roaring him on. How many other Cobblers youth products could have benefitted from such an experience in what has been a season wasted on has-beens and never will be’s?
League 2 has been woeful, so it won’t take much to get at the right end of the division next term. If Curle can be brave enough to build a team around Pollock and his fellow under-18’s who play with fearlessness, ingenuity and class then Town will have a chance. It’ll be taxis for the rest.
Player Focus: Scott Pollock by Phil Garlick
“That Scott Pollock is one of our own” sang the Sixfields faithful as the 18 year-old was subbed with a couple of minutes to go. By that time he had made his full professional debut, set up the equaliser and bagged the sponsors’ Man Of The Match.
At the start of this season, Pollock wasn’t even in the Academy having been promoted from the Further Education programme as a 17 year-old in September, he found himself on the bench at Mansfield in what would be Dean Austin’s last game in charge.
It was after that defeat that Austin declared Pollock would be starting in midweek. Austin was, of course, released of his duties and Pollock was made to wait for his chance. It was therefore fitting that Austin timed his return to witness what he knew all along: Scott Pollock is a class act.
Since Austin’s departure, Pollock has had a couple of loan spells with St Neots and made a debut as an early sub at Cambridge. That proved to be a baptism of fire as Cobblers put in one of their too frequent no shows.
Starting in a 3-5-2 alongside Foley, it didn’t take long to show his credentials. He can hit a first time pass; control the ball; challenge for possession and swing in a corner.
He’s not the finished article as was shown when giving the ball away late on to cause a last chance attack for the visitors. He also sold Buchanan short in the second-half, leaving the angry left-back to take a whack on the ankle.
With luck he could be the next Michael Jacobs.