Northampton Town 0 Peterborough United 1 – match review, player ratings and highlights

DOUBLE DELIGHT: Posh have now done the league double over the Cobblers. Pictures: Sharon Lucey
DOUBLE DELIGHT: Posh have now done the league double over the Cobblers. Pictures: Sharon Lucey
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To lose to your closest rivals in the final minute of a compelling derby tussle is perhaps the worst feeling any football fan can experience, but before any rash judgments are cast, it’s worth remembering the fine margins which separate success and failure.

With the emotions still raw and frustrations running high, it would be easy to overreact and call for drastic action, but it could have been oh so different.

Like at GIllingham seven days earlier, Northampton were on course for at least a point against rivals Peterborough United on Saturday, and in truth, with a bit more nous and game awareness, they very easily could have won both games.

Seconds before United’s winner, Sam Hoskins hit the bar. Prior to that, Matty Taylor and Alex Revell were both denied by fine saves, while Town also had three decent - one stonewall - shouts for a penalty turned down.

Chances went begging at the Priestfield Stadium too where Town also had the game under control at 1-0 ahead before allowing Gillingham to claw their way back.

On another day and with a bit more luck, the Cobblers might well be six points better off and sitting pretty in Sky Bet League One’s top five.

Instead, it’s back-to-back defeats, no points collected and 12th position, making for a very different perception of the progress Rob Page and co are making this season.

Those are the fine margins in football and sport in general, and unless the Cobblers develop a ruthless streak and cut out those fundamental errors which have plagued them on several occasions this term, those fine margins will continue to go against them.

Page will, naturally, take the brunt of the criticism for Saturday’s defeat – he already has if his argument with a fan at full-time is anything to go by – because he makes the big decisions, but whilst football is a results-based business, let’s not forget that all is not lost and a couple of bad results does not mean the world is about to end.

The jury remains out, of course, but that was always going to be the case at this stage of the season because four months is not enough time to judge a manager, one way or another.

Sitting mid-table is hardly a disgrace after promotion, and it’s encouraging that Northampton have seldom been outplayed or overwhelmed this season and they’ve invariably kept themselves in games, even when not at their best, such as on Saturday or at Gillingham.

If they can step up a level, find some consistency and perhaps strengthen in January, there’s no reason why they can’t maintain their position or even push for a top 10 place.

But it would be naive to pretend everything is rosy because there are obvious problems, not least Northampton’s inability to kill teams off or see out games.

Saturday was the third time this season they’ve conceded a stoppage-time winner, calling into question their fitness and capacity to to make something happen in the closing stages rather than opting for the cautious approach.

Page’s tactics and decisions also continue to come under scrutiny.

His decision to move Sam Hoskins, who’s thrived in the free role in recent weeks, into a wide position on Saturday backfired as he saw little of the ball and played a peripheral part in proceedings, while the make-up of the midfield was not quite right as John-Joe O’Toole and Matty Taylor struggled to assert themselves.

Another recurring problem for Northampton this season, especially away from home, has been the lack of support for the lone front man, and that was again evident here as Page’s apparent 4-3-3 became, at times, more of a 4-5-1.

With the midfield dropping deeper and deeper, Revell was frequently left stranded up front which meant every time the Cobblers tried to counter-attack or break out having been penned in, the ball came straight back with Revell outnumbered and overpowered.

That made it difficult to build sustained attacks and keep the pressure on Peterborough, who by contrast always left men forward and continually posed danger on the counter-attack.

Eventually, that threat told, and with the knives now sharpening, Page now has much to digest and plenty to ponder ahead a crunch run of fixtures that may make or break Town’s season.

Though low on quality, Saturday’s tight affair was a hard-fought, entertaining and evenly-matched tussle played between two teams of a similar standard.

In the main, both defended well and both kept chances for the other at a minimum although Northampton had the game’s clearest opportunities as Luke McGee pulled off two excellent stops from Alex Revell and then Matty Taylor.

By contrast, Peterborough’s pretty build-up play promised much but when push came to shove, their final ball was often found wanting and they were restricted to harmless long-range efforts.

Brendan Moloney’s bursts from right-back were a running theme throughout but having shaded the first-half, the Cobblers lost their way after half-time and went on to pay the ultimate price.

Now the challenge is to regroup and go again, but that’s easier said than done, especially given their next two games are against former Premier League clubs and two of the hot promotion favourites in Bolton Wanderers and Bradford City.

Lying slap bang in the middle of League One, Northampton’s season is currently at a crossroads and can go one way or the other. It’s up to Page to ensure it heads in a positive direction.

How they rated...

Adam Smith - Barely had anything to do all game but then hesitated at the crunch moment when failing to command his area and providing Forrester with the freedom of Sixfields to win it for Posh... 5

Brendan Moloney - Motored forward time and again and always looked dangerous with his darts into the area. Was the standout performer of anyone in a Cobblers shirt... 8 CHRON STAR MAN

Zander Diamond - His participation was curtailed by an early head injury... 6

Lewin Nyatanga - Deservedly kept his place in the side and was excellent for the most part here, but he too played a role in United’s winner, allowing Forrester to drift off the back of him and get a free header... 7

David Buchanan - Twice let Nichols get in behind him but recovered well both times. Can never question his desire or determination to win, and did little wrong... 7

Jak McCourt - Returned to the team and put in a workmanlike shift in midfield, regularly winning the ball back and then using it simply but well. Unless injured or tired, strange decision to take him off... 7

Matty Taylor - Excellent free-kick almost won it but otherwise his set-pieces were below-par and he wasn’t really able to get himself in the game and on the ball in dangerous areas... 6

John-Joe O’Toole - Mixed afternoon. Did some good things but that was offset by loose passes and moments of carelessness... 6

Paul Anderson - Good movement and some classy touches but little substance or end product to show for it... 6

Sam Hoskins - Had a good battle up against the equally fleet-footed Lopes. Ruined one glorious counter-attack opportunity having singlehandedly led out the breakaway, which encapsulates him as a player... 7

Alex Revell - Back in the starting line-up but endured a frustrating afternoon, largely due to an absence of service and support from his midfield. Had only the one chance which McGee thwarted... 6

Substitutes

Gabriel Zakuani - 7

Harry Beautyman - 5