DCSIMG

Jefferson Lake’s Rotherham v Cobblers view and player ratings: Town back to earth with a bump

BAD DAY - Rotherham celebrate the second of their three goals against the Cobblers (Picture: Kelly Cooper)

BAD DAY - Rotherham celebrate the second of their three goals against the Cobblers (Picture: Kelly Cooper)

 

So it appears rumours of the current Cobblers’ side’s impending greatness have been somewhat exaggerated.

The rush of excitement that greeted the club’s elevation to third place in the league two standings 10 days again has been swiftly dampened by a pair of reassessment-generating away defeats.

If the team could play all of their games at Sixfields they would be league champions, or at least very close to it.

But while they are all-conquering on their own ground, elsewhere they are routinely awful; although the loss at Rotherham did not plumb the depths of, say, the Barnet debacle, the result never really seemed in any doubt.

Town fought reasonably hard in the opening exchanges and they were very unlucky with the penalty - opinion is split in the Cobblers camp over whether Ben Harding played the ball or the man first, I personally thought it was the ball.

Rotherham’s route into the game was a fortuitous one but they fully deserved their victory and, when going through the gears in the latter stages of the second half, they looked immensely stronger than their opponents.

The away form is this team’s Achilles heel. It is a stark and obvious weakness. If they don’t improve it they can certainly forget about automatic promotion and probably forget about the play-offs too.

Aidy Boothroyd has tried a number of different methods to rectify it and the latest seems to be to play a more defence-minded system with an extra man in midfield - it worked very well at Aldershot, well to an extent at Gillingham and then not very well at all at Rotherham.

The argument could, and should, of course be made that a top-seven finish is not the expectation of this group of players, who are either new recruits or ones who a little more than a year ago were fighting for Football League survival.

Therein may lie the problem. Although the team now contains plenty of technically-sound players - Chris Hackett and Joe Widdowson are notably strong recent recruits - they still bear the scars of last season’s struggles.

They are still perhaps not mentally equipped to deal with the psychological demands of away matches, despite their protestations to the contrary.

There may be too many of what Gary Johnson would have called ‘shrinking violets’ in the team, players who, for whatever reason, produce diluted performances when in hostile environments.

If that is the case - and proving it either way is pretty much impossible - then the only solution will be to either replace the personnel (which is not really possible at this point) or give them time to build the necessary skills and mental strength.

Time, though, is running out. The season is now almost two-thirds complete, which means Northampton have 16 games left to play, eight at home and eight away. They must win at least six of their home games to have any chance of being in the top seven.

And they must then somehow discover the mettle to start getting results away from home. Because, unless the club can convince the Football League to allow them to play both play-off semi-finals and the final itself at Sixfields, then their Achilles heel will undermine what might yet be a glorious destiny.

How they rated...

LEE NICHOLLS

Confident handling and kicking, thoroughly exposed on all three goals ...6

BEN TOZER

Caught ball-watching for third goal and needs to sharpen up in general play ...4

CLARKE CARLISLE

Took his goal well but made a couple of errors that added to the uncertainty at the back ...4

KELVIN LANGMEAD

Typically rock-like and actually carried the ball quite a lot, presumably because he felt the midfield was not doing so ...6

JOE WIDDOWSON

Was on the receiving end of some rough treatment from both the referee and his marker ...5

CHRIS HACKETT

A definite one to forget for the winger who was either double-marked or took a bad touch when in space ...5

BEN HARDING

Went missing for long periods of the game and seems to be in a real slump at the moment but was unlucky on the penalty ...4

LUKE GUTTRIDGE

Tried to liven the team up both on and off the ball and contributed some thundering challenges in midfield ...6

MANNY OMEYEKE

Was tasked with man-marking Pringle initially but then deployed as a wide midfielder. Made a limited impact in both roles ...4

JAKE ROBINSON

Hit a nice shot against the post in Northampton’s best moment of the game and was not found wanting for effort ...5

ADEBAYO AKINFENWA

Nothing seemed to go his way as the defenders got on top of him and the supply lines were cut elsewhere ...5

Substitutes:

ROY O’DONOVAN (for Omeyeke, 46mins)

Showed promise with some real industry and intelligent movement but was swimming against the tide for most of it ...5

CLIVE PLATT (for Robinson, 71mins)

The timing of Rotherham’s goals took the sting out of Town not long after his introduction, making a tangible contribution difficult ...5

Not used: Johnson, Demontagnac, Snedker, Moult, Hornby

 

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