Northampton Town 1 Bradford City 2 '“ match review, player ratings and highlights
If Saturday's battling performance at Bramall Lane offered encouragement, this dismal home defeat, surrendered in alarmingly meek fashion, was entirely dispiriting and may prove a watershed moment in Northampton's season.
It wasn’t so much the result, which saw the Cobblers succumb to a fourth successive home reverse and an eighth defeat in 10 in all, it was the depressingly predictable and horribly feeble manner in which it was inflicted.
By refusing to take the game to Bradford City, even after Alex Revell’s first-half header had put them ahead, Rob Page’s side were a sitting duck who had to rely on desperate last-ditch defending and Adam Smith’s goalkeeping to hold on.
But the crushing inevitably of Bradford’s two goals were almost was painful as the goals themselves as Northampton inexplicably dropped deeper and deeper and deeper to virtually resign themselves to defeat when a victory was all too possible having held sway at half-time.
Let’s not forget, this was not against a team in top form or a team flying high at the top of the table, like Sheffield United two days earlier.
Bradford hadn’t won since the reverse fixture against Northampton in November, losing to struggling Swindon and only managing a home draw against woefully out-of-form Bury since, yet they were made to look like a world beaters on Monday.
The second-half became tough to watch as time and again – and despite Page asking for his players to push up from the bench – the Cobblers had all 11 players camped inside their own third, unable to alleviate the unrelenting Bradford pressure due to their own negative approach which started from within seconds of the restart.
It was clear for all to see, so much so there were even chants of ‘attack, attack, attack’ and whilst those intentions were admirable, it was wholly unrealistic due to the mindset which has been created in this team.
It’s difficult to pinpoint when and why they became so negative. Page insisted it was not a tactical decision afterwards, describing his players as ‘too honest’ and too willing to help out defensively.
But that then begs the question: why? Are they ignoring instructions or are they lacking in confidence and fitness to squeeze up the pitch and take the game to the opposition? Either way, it’s not a good look.
Tiredness is a reasonable excuse given the rush of games and the exhausting nature of their performances but even then, questions would be asked over why the squad hasn’t been rotated more.
That’s even more pertinent given that Page opted to keep with the exact same XI that started at Sheffield United just 48 hours earlier for Monday’s visit of Bradford.
Not for the first time at Sixfields, there was a complete lack of structure or cohesion to Northampton’s play on Monday, with the wide men playing as full-backs, the full-backs as extra centre-backs and the two central midfielders as deep sitting players.
It was a mess, almost as if they had adopted a 10-0-1 formation, even in the first-half there were times when the back four turned into a back six, even a back eight, with the gap between midfield and attack resembling more of a chasm.
The final possession count was 35% – and even that figure seems a stretch for anyone in attendance at Sixfields – which, for a home match against a side who hadn’t won any of their previous five, told the whole story.
Even from the first whistle on Monday, it was abundantly obvious to all those in Sixfields how Northampton dropped off and allowed Bradford dictate proceedings, seemingly unwilling to press, engage or even tackle their opponents.
That is further reflected in the fact that the Cobblers haven’t picked up a single booking in their last two games, much owing to their decision to stand off the opposition almost to the degree where they don’t make a challenge, highlighted by Mark Marshall’s equaliser on Monday.
Despite being just yards from goal, the City winger was given ample time to make room and pick his spot, firing sweetly beyond Adam Smith and into the far corner.
Northampton’s defensive mindset was further visible after Revell’s goal, which came out of context in a largely drab first-half, as the Cobblers immediately sought to protect their lead for almost an hour.
But, in the end, Bradford’s victory was a matter of time. Marshall and Jordy Hiwua ensured that was the case and their goals prompted loud boos from disgruntled home fans at the full-time whistle.
It was the fourth time on the spin that those unhappy supporters had witnessed their side beaten at home, all in similar fashion.
If you so wished, you could look at the stats and make the point that all eight of Northampton’s defeats in their last 10 outings have been by the odd goal, perhaps suggesting that they’re not far away.
But that would rather miss the point. It’s not so much the defeats, it’s the way in which they are suffered, particularly at home.
The bewilderingly passive manner of Town’s play at Sixfields has allowed visiting teams to boss games, while their inability to hold onto leads has cost them 18 points in total this season – the third most in League One.
Indeed, if every game finished at half-time, the Cobblers would currently be sitting fourth in the table with 44 points.
Many of those dropped points have come late in games due to the intense pressure they have invited as well as their failure to put teams to bed once they hit the front.
That was again on show against the Bantams who gleefully took advantage by making their own game-changing substitutions through Hanson and Marshall, both of whom played a key role in their victory.
Batams boss Stuart McCall was quick to lavish praise on his side for their ‘outstanding’ and ‘attacking’ second-half performance but if truth be told, City were gifted their domination by the Cobblers.
The defeat leaves Town 16th, eight points above the relegation zone. This team, based on personnel, should not be relegated, but playing the way they are, it’s entirely possible.
Their only saving grace may well be that there are several teams even worse.
Page will, most likely, get the opportunity to put things right in the coming weeks and rightly so, but after witnessing the backlash and the extent of frustration felt by fans at Sixfields yesterday, he faces a tall order.
A big month, both on and off the pitch, awaits.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Smart work to race off his line in one instance in the first-half, and excelled himself in the second with two fine saves. Helpless for the two goals... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
Aaron Phillips - Solid first-half before injury forced an early withdrawal. Could be sidelined for a while... 6
Gabriel Zakuani - Last game before he heads to Africa and it was another reminder of his value to Northampton, almost single-handedly keeping his side in the game with block after block... 8
Lewin Nyatanga - Did everything he could do see off the Bradford onslaught but that wasn’t enough... 7
David Buchanan - Kept getting sucked inside in similar fashion to Saturday at Bramall Lane, a consequence of Bradford’s relentless pressure. Was the architect of the move which led to Revell’s header... 6
Sam Hoskins - Couldn’t get the ball under control on numerous occasions, which squandered what few chances Northampton did have to get forward... 5
John-Joe O’Toole - Dogged in midfield again and broke up play effectively, even if he was guilty of being dragged out of position too often. Withdrawal for McCourt brought boos but did look exhausted... 6
Matty Taylor - Superb early cross almost brought a goal before his quickly-taken free-kick set up Richards in a bright start, but lost his discipline tactically in the second-half and then lost his man for City’s winner... 5
Paul Anderson - Good cross for the opener before he retreated so much he became a full-back... 6
Alex Revell - Finally got back on the goal trail with a well-taken header, his first strike in 15 matches, but crucially failed to hold the ball up in the second-half which meant City’s onslaught was relentless... 6
Marc Richards - Denied by a fine save in the first-half. Was a peripheral figure otherwise... 5
Zander Diamond - 5
Greg Wylde - 6
Jak McCourt - 5