Boss Hasselbaink wants more clean sheets after Cobblers show defensive resolve in Rovers draw

Richard O'Donnell, despite playing well in his three games, is yet to keep a clean sheet
Richard O'Donnell, despite playing well in his three games, is yet to keep a clean sheet

Keeping more clean sheets is the latest objective Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has set his rejuvenated team after their turnaround in form continued with Saturday’s hard-fought 1-1 draw at high-flying Blackburn Rovers.

The Cobblers have stopped the opposition from scoring in just four of their 30 league games this season with their most recent clean sheet coming over two months ago when they drew 0-0 at home to Bury on November 25.

Since then, they have not conceded an alarming number of goals, shedding 18 in 10 games including just three in three fixtures against title-chasing duo Wigan and Blackburn, but their lack of clean sheets has put added pressure on scoring goals at the other end, something they have struggled with throughout the campaign.

Town have been particularly porous on the road, conceding three at Doncaster and Portsmouth and five at Oldham in the past two months alone, however the new-found defensive resolve and resilience displayed at Ewood Park on Saturday suggests Hasselbaink’s transformed team are capable of keeping out opposing teams on a more consistent basis.

They will need to do that if their recent move out of the bottom four is going to become permanent too, given that their goals against column, currently standing at 50, is the second highest in the whole of Sky Bet League One, behind only Oldham Athletic (55).

“We need to keep going and try to stay away from the bottom four and move up the table which means we have to keep working and keep improving,” said the Town boss.

“We want to get better and try to also find a way to keep clean sheets. That’s our next aim because if we can do that, we’ll put ourselves in a much better position for winning games.”

Northampton had to soak up plenty of Blackburn pressure during Saturday’s contest, especially in the latter stages when, spurred on by Danny Graha’s equaliser, the hosts pinned their visitors back with wave after wave of attack.

But the back four, led superbly by captain Ash Taylor and new signing Jordan Turnbull, did not wilt and their heroic efforts meant goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell had barely a save of note to make throughout the 90 minutes, bar one stop from Bradley Dack’s long-range drive.

“It was a little bit nervy and it wasn’t as easy as it looked,” added Hasselbaink. “They put a lot of pressure on us but we coped with that and I think the unit at the back did exceptionally well along with the midfielder.

We want to get better and try to also find a way to keep clean sheets. That’s our next aim because if we can do that, we’ll put ourselves in a much better position for winning games.

“I thought (Matt) Grimesy was excellent and Ash Taylor, as well as the two full-backs, were all very good. They were asked questions but they responded and I’m happy with their performances.”

Earlier, the Cobblers were once again indebted to the goalscoring instincts of John-Joe O’Toole who capped off a sweeping counter-attacking move by heading home just 11 minutes into the game, a lead which Town held for over an hour.

That was O’Toole’s fourth goal in four games and Hasselbaink continued: “We needed some kind of presence arriving in the box and he’s one of those players who’s very good at that.

“We want to get him a little bit fitter and get him firing. He played 98, 99 minutes on Saturday and we want that so he can go at full speed for the whole game. That’s a process and he’s showing how important he is to the team.”