Bristol Rovers 5 Northampton Town 0 – match review, player ratings and highlights

DOWN AND OUT: Harrison hammers in his fourth and Rovers' fifth on Saturday. Pictures: Sharon Lucey

DOWN AND OUT: Harrison hammers in his fourth and Rovers' fifth on Saturday. Pictures: Sharon Lucey

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A humbling defeat, his job security at an all-time low and some ill-advised post-match comments; it’s fair to say Rob Page has had better days.

The phrase ‘when it rains, it pours’ springs to mind on this horrible afternoon for the Cobblers whose season took another turn for the worse. If their poor form was a wobble before Saturday, it’s now serious cause for concern.

Page went into this game at Bristol Rovers with the hope and expectation of an improved performance, if not result, than the one against Bradford City just five days earlier when the Cobblers meekly surrendered to defeat.

What he got, however, was something altogether different, something that only compounded the crisis which Northampton are now bordering upon.

There were no redeeming features on this sorry afternoon. Nothing to cling to, no silver lining, nothing. From start to finish, it was a catastrophe, an unmitigated disaster that leaves Page’s position as Northampton manager hanging by a thread.

If he was looking for a reaction from his players after Monday’s terrible defeat against Bradford, he got the exact opposite.

Rovers were faster, stronger and simply better. They outfought and outfoxed the Cobblers who, at 4-0 down inside 25 minutes, were staring at double figures, and had the Pirates been more ruthless, it could well have been seven or eight instead of five.

If they had scored more, Town could have had no complaints. In no way would that have flattened the ease at which Rovers outplayed and overwhelmed their beleaguered visitors.

It was very much, as the saying goes, men against boys.

It was embarrassing to watch, for both the players and Page. It was a game between two teams who looked a world apart, which is telling given that they both won automatic promotion only last season.

There is something ironic in the fact that one of Northampton’s greatest recent humiliations came at the scene of their first step to one of their greatest triumphs; an illustration, perhaps, of how far they have fallen in their short time in League One.

Another illustration of that fall from grace comes in the fact that it was Saturday’s opponents who finished a mighty 14 points behind the Cobblers only last May, the same a team that watched on with jealously last April when the two sides played out a 2-2 draw, a result which was enough for the Cobblers to seal promotion.

The tables have well and truly turned. Now it is Northampton looking on with envy. Rovers are flying just outside the play-offs. the Cobblers are crashing and burning and tumbling towards a relegation dogfight.

But that is the thing: is this team really that bad? Are these players really incapable of putting up a better show than Saturday? Is nine defeats in 11 games really reflective of their ability as individual players?

Simply put, this Northampton team is currently far less than the sum of its individual parts. And unfortunately for Page, that failure rests on the manager.

The answer, of course, is no.

They are better than this. Much better.

Any well-reasoned onlooker who has watched Northampton this season will see that there is enough quality and enough experience in this team to compete in the top half of League One at the very least.

They still might, if extremely unlikely, but any side that is completely drained of confidence and belief will struggle, no matter how good they are.

Simply put, this Northampton team is currently far less than the sum of its individual parts. And unfortunately for Page, that failure rests on the manager.

It is somewhat baffling that they have as many points as they do – 30 from 26 games – given the deficiencies and shortcomings that have been brutally exposed over the past three months, such as their inability to hold onto leads, or their inability to turn games around, or their inability to do the absolute fundamentals which form the basis of any self-respecting team.

From play-off hopefuls in November to relegation candidates in January, their season has unravelled in spectacular fashion.

It was evident from an early stage on Saturday that Northampton were a team completely devoid of confidence, belief and direction, and Rovers ruthlessly took advantage by romping into a 4-0 lead inside 25 remarkable minutes.

There was no clear game plan or structure. Some players pressed, others stood off, allowing Rovers space and time to do as they pleased.

Page identified ‘decision-making’ as the chief reason behind the terrible performance but it was more than that; there was no cohesion and no clear structure.

Matty Taylor went missing in midfield, leaving the completely overrun Hiram Boateng hopelessly exposed, whilst there was a total breakdown in communication between the two centre-backs, leading to at least two of the five goals.

Even the usually reliable David Buchanan wasn’t at the races, his poorly-timed challenge setting the tone as former Cobbler Billy Bodin took advantage by smashing home a brilliant opener.

Alex Revell barely featured up front and the same could be said of Harry Beautyman and Greg Wylde before they suffered the the ignominy of being subbed before half-time, both replaced inside half an hour.

Again, like Monday, there was no fight in Northampton. Hardly a tackle was made throughout the 90 minutes. Instead they just stood off and allowed Rovers time to pick their passes and find their spots.

The fact they committed just five fouls - their average this season is 11 - is indicative of their reluctance to get stuck in and at least rattle their hosts.

It was all too easy and, in the end, Rovers deservedly left with five goals and three points, leaving Northampton to lick their wounds and reassess where they go from here.

There is no doubt now that change of some kind is desperately needed and it must come sooner rather than later because the longer their slide goes on, the harder it will be to stop and the closer relegation will loom.

After next week’s visit of title-chasing Scunthorpe, there is a kind run of fixtures which will play a big role in determining the direction in which this season goes: up or down.

Something can still be salvaged. Beat the likes of Chesterfield, Swindon and Oldham at Sixfields – teams in equally poor form – and things will start to look up again.

But that looks a long way off at this moment in time, and once a team begins to slide, it doesn’t take much for events to spiral out of control.

Kelvin Thomas now has a decision to make. I have always been a believer in giving managers time and backing to do the job because it’s a difficult, unrelenting environment that requires so much dedication.

Page is a good man who only wants the best for the club. If he does fail, it won’t be for the want of trying.

Ultimately, though, results and performances are the be all and end all. And, at present, neither of those two are anywhere near good enough.

How they rated...

Adam Smith - Left exposed by his defence and didn’t have any answers. Only really culpable for the second goal... 5

Paul Anderson - Not a right-back which clearly showed. Miserable day was compounded by a nasty injury... 5

Zander Diamond - Complete breakdown in communication and understanding between him and his centre-back partner, fatally so. Horror mix-up for the fourth goal followed by an equally horror clearance leading to the fifth... 4

Rod McDonald - Looked understandably rusty and was all at sea throughout as Harrison ran rings around him. His lack of game-time clearly didn’t help but even so, he can do better than this... 4

David Buchanan - Beaten far too easily by Bodin for the first and that set the tone for a torrid afternoon. As bad a performance as he’s produced in Cobblers colours... 4

Hiram Boateng - The one ray of sunshine on an otherwise gloomy day. A real presence in midfield and showed an eye for a pass despite the chaos that surrounded him. Must be wondering what on earth he’s signed himself up to... 6

Matty Taylor - Started in midfield, then moved to left-wing before ending up at left-back. Never got to grips with the game in any of those positions... 4

Harry Beautyman - Ineffectual before being hooked within 30 minutes... 4

Sam Hoskins - Flashes of promise counterbalanced by poor decision-making and no end product... 4

Greg Wylde - A peripheral figure before his early withdrawal, which seemed a tad harsh... 4

Alex Revell - Barely featured in the game as the Rovers defence kept him under wraps... 4

Substitutes

Marc Richards - 5

John-Joe O’Toole - 6

JJ Hooper - 5