Proud Zakuani says he ‘coped comfortably’ with Rooney threat

Gabriel Zakuani steps out of the tunnel at Sixfields. Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds

Gabriel Zakuani steps out of the tunnel at Sixfields. Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds

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Cobblers defender Gabriel Zakuani felt he and fellow centre-back Zander Diamond ‘coped quite comfortably’ with the threat of England captain Wayne Rooney during Wednesday’s EFL Cup tie.

Restored to the starting line-up for the first time since going away on international duty, Zakuani picked up from where he left off with a typically tenacious performance at the heart of defence.

Stationed up front, Rooney was relatively quiet for much of the game although did miss one sitter early on before he was joined by fellow strikers Marcus Rashford and Zlatan Ibrahimović in the second-half.

But their threat was largely nullified by Zakuani and Diamond, only for Ander Herrera’s sweet strike and a poor error from Adam Smith to gift United victory.

Zakuani said afterwards: “It was a massive challenge but I thought Zander and I coped quite comfortably with Rooney for the majority of the game.

“We didn’t really get split open as a back four which is positive and it can only stand us in good stead for the League One campaign when you play against those players and they don’t create many chances.

“We thought we frustrated them, we kept our shape and we were hard to break down. We feel disappointed with the goals we conceded because we made it easy for them.

“But I thought we played really well as a team. We were solid and hard to break down.”

For 20 minutes either side of half-time, Northampton had their illustrious visitors ruffled and an upset looked a real possibility before Herrera’s crucial 68th minute strike.

“We rattled them and we had the momentum,” added Zakuani. “We kept them under pressure and it shows how far you’ve come when you’re disappointed to lose to one of the biggest club in the world.

We didn’t really get split open as a back four which is positive and it can only stand us in good stead for the League One campaign when you play against those players and they don’t create many chances.

Gabriel Zakuani

“We’re happy with the account we gave of ourselves but we’re disappointed as well.”

It was a packed house at Sixfields for the visit of United and with the Sky Sports cameras also in the ground, it was a night to remember for everyone associated with Northampton Town.

“The atmosphere was unreal,” continued Zakuani. “That’s what you dream of. When I came here I got told about the supporters and I saw it in full force.

“It was brilliant to play in that kind of game for the club and I’m very proud and happy to experience it, and hopefully there’s more big games to come this season.”