Cobblers boss Rob Page says his players have to start working harder to keep the ball, so that they don’t have to do so much running without it.
Ahead of Saturday’s tricky looking trip to Bristol Rovers, the Town manager has reiterated his claim that his players’ honesty and willingness to try and help each other out is at the root cause of the team’s tendency to sit deep and defend in the second half of matches.
The defeat to Bradford City on Monday was the latest in a series of games this season where the Cobblers have spent the latter stages of seemingly just intent on defending and holding on to what they have, rather than being positive.
Town led the Bantams 1-0 at half-time on Monday were penned in their own half for most of the second half before going on to lose 2-1, with the winner coming four minutes from time.
It was a very similar tale at Sheffield United on New Year’s Eve where the Cobblers played well and gave as good as they got in the first half, but then spent virtually the entire second period on the defensive, before conceding the only goal of the game after 88 minutes.
Page says it is not something he is telling his players to do, and after having to listen to the boos ringing out from the Cobblers fans as they surrendered to the Bantams, with a fair bit of flak heading his way, the manager insists he wants his team to be pro-active and positive, and that is what they work on in the week.
Looking back on a difficult afternoon at Sixfields on Monday, Page said: “All I can worry about is the performance on the field, I can’t worry about what is being said and what is going on around the football club.
“I can have an influence on that by how my team represents me on the football pitch, and I was bitterly disappointed with the second half performance against Bradford.
“We never once worked during the week on just camping on the edge of our box, we have never done that and it disappointed me, along with the supporters who made that clear, and I totally sympathise with that, and understand their frustration.
“I was frustrated as well, and we tried to make the change by bringing the new signing on in Gregg (Wylde), who has got pace and will turn the opposition, but we didn’t keep the ball well enough in the middle of the park.
“Ball retention in the second half wasn’t good enough, and that is something we have got to address, as the stats from the other day show that is the hardest we have worked without the ball all season.
“I would rather foresake that, and have the work-rate when we have got the ball, and be better with it. We will be working in that to put it right.”
The Cobblers weren’t helped by right-back Aaron Phillips having to go off at the break with a hamstring strain, and that meant central defender Zander Diamond had to play right-back, which is a far from natural position for him.
Bradford also introduced pacy winger Mark Marshall at the same time, which left Diamond exposed, and led to Sam Hoskins playing deeper and deeper to add support.
Page understands why Hoskins did that, but doesn’t want him to do it again.
“Look at Sam Hoskins, his stats from the other day showed he has probably run more in a game than he has ever run, but in the wrong half of the pitch,” said the Cobblers boss.
“He was practically playing as a right-back because of the change we had to make, and that’s not right.
“Yes, we need him to do his defensive duties but he is on the pitch to score goals, and we want him to be a threat to the opposition defence, and he wasn’t second half.
“Look at Alex Revell, and all the stats from the players, they have worked the hardest they have all season against Bradford, so that tells you they are honest, they are fit, but they are working too hard without the ball.
“I always want a centre forward to drop into midfield to help out the two midfielders, but not to camp on the edge of our box and stand there for 10 minutes heading balls away.
“Because inevitably when you clear those balls, it is going to come straight back into the box because you are not doing your job for the team in being the centre forward and stopping the ball coming back.
“That is what I mean about being too honest. The players are happy to go back and help out which is a great attribute to have, to want to help your team-mates.
“But having been a centre-half myself, when the centre forwards had come back to help out, I would then tell them to go and get back into their own position, because they are doing my job for me.
“That is where we need to improve, and to take the game to teams in the second half.
“It is about addressing what we are doing in the second half of games, and putting it right.”
Another factor is the Cobblers being under almost constant pressure against the Bantams was the fact all 11 Town players dropped back to defend corners, and Page doesn’t want that happening again either.
“We haven’t done that all season, and that was something that was said just before the game because of the way Bradford set up,” said Page.
“Some games we will do it, but in the main we ask the centre forward to stay up to occupy their two defenders, and then if he sees the threat of a short corner it is his responsibility to go back and help out.
“But for some reason we ended up with all 11 of our players in our box, which is something we haven’t done all season, and that is again something we will address in training.
“It goes back to what I said before about being honest, in that I have two centre forwards that want to roll their sleeves up and are warriors in Marc Richards and Alex Revell.
“But we need them up the field, so that when we do clear the ball, they are there to pin the cenre half and get hold of the ball and get us up the pitch.”
Despite the doom and gloom surrounding Sixfields following Monday’s game, Page wants everybody to quickly pick themselves up.
“We have to be positive, and we can’t sulk and feel sorry for ourselves,” said the Town boss.
“I want us all to be nice and positive around the place, and only us, and perhaps a couple of additions coming in, can help us climb the table now.”