Sunday, 4 March 2012

Cobbling together a point

If, on May 5 at 5pm, we look at the final League Two table and see Cheltenham Town in third place by a point, this is the point we will look back on.
For the first half, we were dominated by one of the best-organised sides we have come up against all season - it was the usual situation where a passing alien would have thought we were bottom of the table.
We couldn't handle our friend Mr Akinfenwa, and with Clarke Carlisle winning every header, Ben Tozer every second ball and Michael Jacobs and Brett Williams tormenting our full-backs, 2-0 was the least the Cobblers deserved.
It could have been more but for Jack Butland's block after Bayo's poor touch let us off the hook after he had 'charged' away from Steve Elliott and Alan Bennett, then Williams somehow missed after Luke Garbutt left him free in the box.
Northampton out-competed and out-muscled us in that first half - as poor a 45 minutes as we have seen all season.
It was good to see 4-4-2 at home, but the absence of Russ Penn from the team-sheet left our midfield very short of bite.
Pack, Summerfield, Low and McGlashan are good players on the front foot, but they are not the sort of players who will win those 50-50s.
After a game a friend of mine used a cricketing analogy - they are fine when the scoreboard says 200 for three, but ask them to dig in at nought for two and it is a different story.
It shows the value of Russ Penn to us - he just brings that drive, energy and, most importantly bite - and if we are to play 4-4-2 he has to be in the side.
Pack and Summerfield as a midfield pair does not work on this evidence, and also from the start of the season when they played together, and the evidence shows our best results come with Russ in the engine room.
That lack of midfield impetus stopped the ball getting out to Jermaine McGlashan and also left the front two of Jeff Goulding and Jimmy Spencer isolated.
Although we created a few half-chances, that's all they were and Summers' long-range effort tipped over, and another chance he put wide was the closest we came.
Having seen Watford play a few times under Adie Boothroyd, I knew they would not be a pushover. Bottom of the league they may be, but they have a decent squad and on this evidence more than enough to get out of the mire.
They set up with a 4-1-4-1 and looked to make the most of Tozer's long throws, good delivery from corners and Mr Akinfenwa, who made things as uncomfortable for Benno and Steve as anyone has all season.
The first goal was a near post corner, hit the post and was prodded in by Tozer - not sure much could have been done about that and it gave Northampton a lift and made things look ominous for us.
Then big Bayo got the second, literally rolling round Benno and prodding past Jack Butland - great forward play and a good finish from a man who now has eight goals in seven games against us. A real nemesis.
Bayo's charge from half way was blocked by Jack after a heavy touch and Williams' amazing miss was another let-off for us, and eventually we made them pay.
I thought we were going to make at least one change at half-time, but Yatesy - I suspect after a half-time blast - sent the same side out again and waited for 12 minutes before unleashing the cavalry.
Russ, Kaid Mohamed and Darryl Duffy came on, with Josh Low, Jeff Goulding and Summers coming off - the right three changes, and it made an instant difference.
We laid siege to the Cobblers' goal, and Matt Duke made some great saves while their defenders were stoic and put their bodies on the line, and we finally got to grips with Bayo - well, Russ Penn did - and in the main we stopped the supply to him and the wide players.
The penalty came at the right time - whether it was the right decision or not - and there was no doubt where it was going as Darryl is deadly from the spot, and he is also Scottish - as our best penalty-takers down the years always have been!
Then Darryl showed his value again with the equaliser - it was good work by Steve Elliott, an air shot from Clarke Carlisle and a nudge through from Kaid, followed by a very cool finish indeed, keeping calm to roll his shot in.
Whether we deserved it doesn't matter - over the 90 minutes probably not, but for our last half-hour performance probably we did, but let's face it we will take it.
It would have been two points lost on paper at the start of the game but as the 90 (plus) minutes panned out it is a point gained, and keeps us totting up the points as the season hots up.
Mark Yates deserves some credit though for the substitutions, and all three need to start on Tuesday at Morecambe, before the five-game stint which will define our season kicks in.

Player by player
Jack Butland - No chance with either goal, and only really had one save to make, but it was an important block from Akinfenwa. Thought his distribution was disappointing.
Sido Jombati - Had his hands full with Michael Jacobs defensively and was a useful outlet coming forward in the closing stages.
Luke Garbutt - Struggled with Brett Williams and nearly made to pay for a couple of mistakes. Not as effective coming forward as Sido.
Steve Elliott - Like Alan Bennett, never got to grips with Akinfenwa but paid a crucial role in the equaliser.
Alan Bennett - As poor a 45 minutes as he has had all season against Bayo. Was turned for the second goal and was dominated by him like no other forward has done all year.
Marlon Pack - Thought he had a poor game. He and Summers were dominated by Guttridge, Harding and Tozer.and thought his passing was wayward as we failed to set the tempo.
Luke Summerfield - As with Marlon, he struggled and was the right decision to take him off.
Josh Low - Justified in keeping his place after last week but never got into the game against his old club and was taken off.
Jermaine McGlashan - Drew a booking from the left-back, but our problems at the back and in centre-midfield he was starved of decent ball.
Jeff Goulding - Disappointing. He and Jimmy were too isolated in the first half but equally I am not sure he and Jimmy worked hard enough.
Jimmy Spencer - A few fans are turning against him but I think that's harsh. Clearly wants to do well and looked more likely than Jeff in the first half and seemed happier with Darryl alongside him.

Substitutes
Russ Penn (for Luke Summerfield, 57 mins) - Again showed his value to us and is a key player who has to start. Our midfield and system just does not seem to function without him.
Kaid Mohamed (for Josh Low 57 mins) - Hit the ground running and caused them problems straight away. Should be a key man at Morecambe and Swindon.
Darryl Duffy (for Jeff Goulding, 57 mins) - Right place at the right time at the end, and reliable from the spot. Has 14 goals now, and from not many starts. Has to start- but can he play the lone role in the 4-5-1...?