Newport County 3 Northampton Town 1 – match review, player ratings and highlights

Tough night: Cobblers were never at the races during Tuesday's loss to Newport
Tough night: Cobblers were never at the races during Tuesday's loss to Newport

While it would be ill-advised to jump to conclusions based on the evidence of one game, it’s not as if the Cobblers can say that Tuesday’s unnerving 3-1 defeat to Newport County hadn’t been coming.

Fortunate not to be further behind before nicking a late equaliser, via an opposition player, at Exeter City last weekend and then outplayed by lowly Grimsby Town in the second-half on Saturday, Town finally paid the price for their recent string of substandard performances with a deserved defeat in south Wales.

If nothing else, it signalled the end of Keith Curle’s honeymoon period. Now, the real work begins.

In isolation, this loss at Rodney Parade is nothing to get worked up about. Northampton simply lost to a good team who were in better form and who boast an excellent record on home soil. It has happened before and it will happen again

But it was not so much the defeat itself as the manner in which it was inflicted that evoked painful memories of times gone by. Placed within the context of what happened before Curle’s arrival, there are legitimate concerns to be had that the Cobblers, hindered by a flaky defence, an overrun midfield and a blunt attack, are falling into old habits

It would not be the first time in recent seasons that they have reverted to type following a brief upsurge under a new manager. It happened under Justin Edinburgh, it happened under Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, it happened under Dean Austin and it’s threatening to happen once again under Curle.

Of course, it remains far too early to say that with any certainty because Tuesday’s defeat could simply be an aberration, but the warning signs have been there and it’s up to Town to remove them as quickly as possible.

The tone for the evening at Rodney Parade was set in the opening minutes when the Cobblers stood off their hosts and gave up time and space in dangerous areas. That was highlighted by Dan Butler and Josh Sheehan who combined for the latter to find the bottom corner from 20 yards.

Andy Williams’ sweet finish from a set-piece got the visitors off the hook, but they didn’t make the most of it as a disastrous four-minute spell saw Jamille Matt and Padraig Amond profit from weak defending. From there, a second league defeat under Curle was inevitable.

While Town’s defence will take the brunt of the flak, their midfield should also be questioned. In theory, a successful midfield should do two things: protect the defence at one end and supply forward players with good possession in good areas so they can create chances at the other.

It would not be the first time in recent seasons that they have reverted to type following a brief upsurge under a new manager. It happened under Justin Edinburgh, it happened under Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, it happened under Dean Austin and it’s threatening to happen once again under Curle.

On Tuesday, Town’s midfield did neither. It doesn’t seem to matter what make-up Curle opts for at the moment – whether it’s two in the middle (Exeter), three in the middle (Grimsby) or a diamond (Newport – his midfield becomes swamped by opposition bodies and struggles to get a foothold in games.

John-Joe O’Toole, hooked at half-time on Tuesday, has been a show of his former self for much of the campaign so far, particularly in recent weeks, while the talented Shaun McWilliams is yet to rediscover his best form following injury.

In some ways, the second-half was worse than the first. There were fewer defensive mishaps, admittedly, but that owed more to Newport taking their foot of the pedal and sitting back than anything else.

Even with the home side playing conservatively, Northampton showed ho hint of getting back into the match. There was no urgency, no cohesion and without Matt Crooks, certainly no creativity.

Long balls were lumped hopelessly forward in the general direction of Williams and Hoskins, both of whom grew increasingly frustrated by the stark lack of quality service as they chased aimless lost causes all evening long.

Three chances came their way in the final 10 minutes but by then defeat was assured.

It’s worth reiterating this is only one game and does not undo the positive progress Curle has made. But the manner of the defeat and the familiarity of Town’s undoing will send shivers down the spines of supports. Curle, unlike his many predecessors, must find a swift solution.

How they rated...

David Cornell - Fortunate no Newport player was on hand to snap up the loose ball after his fumble from Matt’s header. Didn’t always convince on crosses and was easily beaten three times... 5

Hakeem Odoffin - Returned to right-back having been recalled to the side but wasn’t able to shore up the defence, with Town’s right side particularly exposed on the night... 5

Ash Taylor - Failed to take command of the situation when balls came into the box and was too easily skinned by Matt in the build-up to County’s third. Looks clumsy and awkward at times, especially when under pressure on the ball... 5

Aaron Pierre - Probably the best of a poor bunch in defence, although was still off his best. Didn’t make any major errors and cleared the danger when necessary... 6

David Buchanan - It wasn’t exactly a routine from the training ground but his free-kick delivered another goal for the Cobblers, hammered in by Williams. Endured a tough night in defence... 6

Sam Foley - One of few players to emerge with credit, but unfortunately his hard work on the left side of the diamond went to waste as Town were exposed in the middle. At least put a shift in... 6 CHRON STAR MAN

Shaun McWilliams - Well below his best since returning from injury as Town’s midfield became overrun and swamped by opposition bodies on Tuesday, affording Newport too many gaps and too much time to play their football and they gleefully exploited it... 5

John-Joe O’Toole - His form over the past few weeks remains a real cause for concern. Was hooked at half-time after an ineffective first 45 minutes at Rodney Parade... 5

Kevin van Veen - Started at the tip of the diamond before moving to the right side. Rarely in the game in either position, his threat nullified by the home team... 5

Sam Hoskins - Always looking to make runs in behind the opposition defence but at some point he needs to contribute with goals and assists, especially if he’s to play as a striker. Must be said he wasn’t helped by some of the hopeless service into him on Tuesday... 5

Andy Williams - Terrific instinctive finish got Town off the hook after they trailed within four minutes, but it was downhill from there for both him and the team. Starved of quality passes into him. Some last-ditch defending denied him a second late on after he took a brilliant first touch ... 6

Substitutes

Billy Waters - 6

Daniel Powell - 6

Morgan Roberts - 6