Northampton Town 1 Scunthorpe United 2 '“ match review, player ratings and highlights
Although Scunthorpe became the latest visiting team to leave Sixfields with all three points, there were enough positives in Northampton's performance on Saturday for the onlooking Justin Edinburgh to feel upbeat about his new side's prospects.
The end result may have been the same – a late goal, a home defeat and a glance over the shoulder at what lies beneath – but the refreshingly positive and proactive manner of Town’s display was a world away from any of those five previous defeats.
Appointed on Friday, Edinburgh was reduced to a watching brief for the visit of the title-chasing Iron and, in the main, he will be confident he has enough to work with to lead the Cobblers upwards once he takes over from caretaker Paul Wilkinson.
There was renewed belief and optimism around Sixfields on Saturday, a certain buzz that only comes after a managerial appointment, and the so-called ‘new manager bounce’ effect was demonstrated in the performance of a set of players whose confidence had previously looked shot.
The Bradford debacle and the Bristol Rovers humiliation were about as low as it can get but this was more like it; a team who played on the front-foot and who always carried a genuine goal threat instead of merely sitting back and waiting for the inevitable.
Edinburgh has already made clear his desire to adopt a positive approach and there were hints of that on Saturday, certainly the Cobblers played with more purpose than in recent showings at Sixfields.
So what positives can Edinburgh take from his seat in the Sixfields stands?
Well, he would have seen a team that possess the quality to compete in the top half of League One.
He would have seen a team that have the potential to match and beat any side in this division.
And he would have seen a team that still has the guts to scrap and fight for every ball and push a side as good as Scunthorpe all the way in spite of their poor form which has gradually eroded confidence.
There was enough there to offer Edinburgh encouragement, and if he can harness the good things and work on the weaknesses, there’s every reason to be upbeat.
On the flip side, he would also have seen shortcomings.
Fitness is one issue, as evidenced in the minutes after Scunthorpe’s winner when Northampton could barely mount an attack, let alone a sustained late bombardment on the United goal.
That did not owe solely to fitness, mind, but also the bewildering lack of substitutions, something which is seemingly not just reserved for Rob Page.
Town were crying out for fresh legs and a spark but Wilkinson did not see fit to change anything and utilise his bench, resulting in the Cobblers rather meekly sliding to defeat.
The ability to make positive, bold and game-changing substitutions is one thing which Town fans will be desperate for Edinburgh to bring once he takes the reins.
The defence also looks vulnerable – only Bury have conceded more goals and taken fewer points than the Cobblers since October 1 – and that was emphasised by Scunthorpe’s two goals.
Kevin Van Veen was twice afforded far too much space inside the penalty area and he made the home side pay at the second time of asking, and whilst Josh Morris’ winning goal was a superb strike, it was a poor header and a lack of closing down that allowed a man with 17 goals this season the opportunity to win it for an exceptionally hard-working and well-drilled Scunthorpe side who showed why they are enjoying such a successful campaign.
So there’s work for Edinburgh to do, but on the whole, Saturday was a promising afternoon.
The energy and tenacity of midfield duo John-Joe O’Toole and Hiram Boateng allowed Northampton to win the ball back with regularity and get control of the match, while Matty Taylor provided much more of a threat from the left than he previously had from the middle.
Alex Revell was back to something of his old self too, at least in the first-half, and was rewarded when cancelling out Van Veen’s opener with a fine header.
Chances then arrived at both ends in a thoroughly enjoyable second-half that saw the woodwork rattled three times – once by Zander Diamond and twice by Scunthorpe – before Morris had the final say, as he so often has this season, with his 17th goal of the campaign.
Though they remain 16th, results elsewhere went against Northampton on Saturday and with wins for five of the seven teams below them, the fact that they are in a relegation battle can no longer be denied.
With a new man at the helm and a favourable run of fixtures to come, the next month could well prove defining,
It’s hardly ideal that Edinburgh is walking straight into a pressured environment and in need of immediate results, with next week’s game at Milton Keynes Dons and the following home clash against bottom side Coventry two critical fixtures.
Get four or more points from those two outings and Town can start to look up again, but anything less and it will leave them precariously placed.
So any claim that Northampton are now moving in the right direction following Saturday’s improved performance must be reserved until after they start climbing the table again.
Edinburgh’s appointment has lifted spirits but that will quickly change if the results don’t take a turn for the better.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Wasn’t overly busy but twice saved well from Holmes. Emphatically beaten by two clinical finishes... 7
Neal Eardley - Straight into the side two days after signing and was very assured in a promising debut performance. Did the basics well and will provide good competition for his fellow right-backs... 7 CHRON STAR MAN
Zander Diamond - Not his best day. Missed a glorious chance at 1-1 and it was his misdirected header which gifted possession to Morris who capitalised to devastating effect... 5
Lewin Nyatanga - Back in the side and brought calmness to the back four, positioning himself well to mop up the danger... 7
David Buchanan - Didn’t get a moment’s peace against the menacing Holmes in a running battle but acquitted himself well, including one fine piece of defending when faced one-on-one... 7
Sam Hoskins - Provided glimpses of his pace and threat but was largely kept quiet by Scunthorpe. Often seems wasted on the wing... 6
John-Joe O’Toole - Busy and industrious in midfield, winning the ball back with regularity and using it smartly. Seems rejuvenated of late, only downside was his failure to track his runner for Van Veen’s opener... 7
Hiram Boateng - Only player who deserved to retain his place after last week. Brings mobility and energy to midfield and was unfortunate to be taken off... 7
Matty Taylor - Moved to the left and carried much more of a threat. Had one assist to his name but could easily have had two or three if his team-mates could finish... 7
Alex Revell - Real menace in the first-half. Three times was thwarted before finally getting on the score sheet. His influence waned as the game progressed... 7
Marc Richards - Not as prominent as his strike partner but could have put Cobblers in front when miss-kicking his shot from yards out... 6
Jak McCourt - 6