Managerless Macclesfield put in a seamless performance in seeing off clunky Cobblers at Sixfields on Saturday but it was Andy Williams’ mega miss that will stick in the memory.
The Northampton forward contrived to shank an open goal shot wide after Nicky Adams’ free-kick had clattered the woodwork and fallen at his feet with the game poised at 1-1. The howler was not so much miss of the season but miss of the millennia and will feature on football blooper tapes for years to come.
In truth, Cobblers should never have been in the match after being outplayed by a fluid Macclesfield side that showed no sign of distress after losing high-profile manager Sol Campbell in midweek. Rumours swirled that ex-England man Campbell left Moss Rose after payment issues but the Northampton players don’t deserve any bunce this weekend after putting in a showing of all too little intent.
Keith Curle’s Cobblers started in a 3-4-3 shape with local lad Shaun McWilliams and Ryan Watson anchoring the midfield while Matt Warburton and Sam Hoskins aimed to deliver a pincer attack either side of the tall Harry Smith.
The problem is that Northampton resorted to their shortcut football, bypassing central areas and trying to feed Nicky Adams on the wing constantly. In the old days, the squat Adams would have been cleared out after 5 minutes but, with the game as technical as it is, he is free to terrorise full backs with jinks and crosses that are almost impossible to defend. Adams can’t carry the team on his own however and Macclesfield soon doubled up on him allowing their superior possession play to tell.
The Silkmen let Cobblers play, almost as if to shift them out of possession and then hit them on the counter. The away side, in front of a hardy bunch of 198 travelling fans, were patient in possession on a warm August day and a little bit of quality was all it took to notch the opener.
Macclesfield’s Ben Stevens, ex-Kettering of course, had shown good touch and awareness throughout and the pony-tailed forward ran cleverly onto a beautifully weighted Theo Archibald through-ball to slot past Dai Cornell on 39 minutes. Ex-Cobbler Jack McCourt then hinted that Cobblers should be 2-0 down with a whipped right-footed free-kick that smacked a post before hitting the rebound just over.
Keith Curle has said he wants his side to play free-flowing, entertaining and attractive football but it was the Silkmen who had that nailed down. Macclesfield had their former employee, Cobblers target man Harry Smith’s card’s marked however, double teaming him from the off, with the old one in front one behind marking, that teams used to do against Akinfenwa, rendering Smith redundant.
Smith was hooked at half-time for another lumbering front man in Verdaine Oliver. It was however, only the introduction of the out of favour Junior Morias with 20 to go that Town were stirred into action. The whole final attacking third for Cobblers had been a no mans’ land but the little tank Morias takes territory for fun. After his arrival for a soggy Warburton, Jordan Turnbull was able to prod a Nicky Adams cross home from 6 yards.
Then came Williams embarrassing wonder-blunder. Nicky Adams sent a cute free-kick up and over the Macclesfield wall, on to the post and out with the centre of the goal glaring and plum on Williams’ right foot.
God knows what was going through his mind as he power-shinned the ball a good few feet wide.The unfair ending to Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones? Or maybe he hates gambling so much that he hooned the ball into the Sky Bet hoarding so hard that the North Stand shook. The Cobblers fans barely raised an eyelid, having seen similar misses over the years and were just waiting for his shorts to fall down to reveal love heart boxer shorts and for Williams to cry “oopsie”.
The finale was inevitable with Macclesfield handed a last minute winner as the away side slinked through with the all too familiar slalom in front of Cobblers defenders who look like they’ve met sheet ice after leaving an alpine bar and 15 shots of Jägermeister.
Dai Cornell was beaten by a tame Archibald pea-roller low to his left as he has been beaten so many times before. Cobblers fans headed for the exits, reducing an already paltry gate of just over four thousand to even fewer.
Macclesfield were good value for the win, adding to the list of away sides that relish coming to Sixfields and winning through basic possession play. The Cheshire side didn’t need target men, they weren’t over reliant on individuals and were content to bide their time, which they did to killer effect.
Keith Curle’s jigsaw is in bits, the cat has eaten some pieces and it’ll be only so long before the hoover comes out to suck up the rest.
The 90’s revival is all the rage at the moment with the Sixfields Sounds DJ busting out SNAP’s Rhythm Is A Dancer in the pre-match. Whether Keith Curle is the answer remains to be seen.
Cobblers added to the 90’s nostalgia by being fourth from bottom in the basement division at the end of play.
Top of the table Swindon follow on Tuesday night followed by difficult ties versus Colchester, Plymouth, Bradford and Newport. Curle needs his magic hat, he needs something, he needs a win.
Homegrown player watch
McWiliams starts. No other youth product in the squad.