Keith Curle put the blame on individual mistakes, rather than the system, for Saturday’s defensive capitulation against Colchester United when the Cobblers crumbled during a woeful second-half and were hammered 4-0.
After making a decent start, it began going wrong for Curle’s men 25 minutes in when the defence switched off from a corner and Frank Nouble was left unmarked to poke in Harry Pell’s initial header.
The personnel that are there understand what should have been done so when players don’t do their jobs, it can make the system look untidy.
The Cobblers stemmed the tide for the rest of the first-half and looked to mount a fightback in the second, but their hopes were dashed by two goals in three minutes as Colchester sliced through their hosts on the break.
Sammie Szmodics, Town’s tormentor-in-chief throughout, brilliantly set up Abobaker Eisa for a second, and then Eisa turned provider as Kane Vincent-Young fired in United’s third.
Szmodics himself got in on the act when converting Brennan Dickenson’s cross and there was still time for Pell to miss a late spot-kick before the referee called time on a miserable afternoon for the Cobblers.
Asked about his side’s defensive troubles afterwards, Curle said: “Sometimes it was through naivety and sometimes it was through a desire to get forward at the wrong times and not having a base to work from.
“If you look at their goals, we have three or four corners before them and don’t put good quality balls into the box. They get one corner, put it into the area and score.
“We worked on zonal marking and if you lose first contact, you’ve got to squeeze the box so if they head it down, they’ve got to be offside. We didn’t adhere to that individually.
“It’s not all about winning or losing the first contact, even though we’re big enough to be winning it,. The second phase should be offside but it wasn’t because a player has stayed in and that’s just the fine margins.
“It’s not a crime to lose a header against a 6ft 4in centre-back but when you zonal mark, you have to make sure you attack the ball when it’s in your zone.
“If someone does head it, we have the policy whereby we step up and that goal should have been offside. When you look back at it, it’s basic defending.
“The personnel that are there understand what should have been done so when players don’t do their jobs, it can make the system look untidy.
“What we need to do now is reiterate the basics and the fundamentals and go again.”
Curle was also frustrated by his side’s poor finishing at the other end, with debutant Marvin Sordell missing two good chances at key moments while Junior Morias and Daniel Powell also had clear opportunities to score.
“The scoreline will make a headline and I fully understand that but, within it, there’s a story to be told about the opportunities and the chances that we created,” added Curle.
“We didn’t take those chances and you have to say it was good goalkeeping on their part. The goalkeeper played a massive part in their win on Saturday and that’s pleasing for us.
“On another day, we might only create four or five chances and score two goals and come away 2-0 so there are still positives to come out of it despite it being a 4-0 defeat.
“It’s a different story if we go 1-0 up. They are massive ‘ifs’ but we are creating chances.”