Cobblers 0 Walsall 1: The Goode, the bad and the ugly of Town’s opening-day defeat
There was a strong sense of déjà vu when the full-time whistle sounded at the end of Cobblers’ season-opening fixture against Walsall on Saturday.
Twelve months earlier, pre-season optimism was punctured by an underwhelming 1-0 home defeat to Lincoln City as Town generally played OK but paid the price for wasteful finishing and one lapse of concentration in defence, ultimately beaten by a well-taken header.
History repeated itself against Walsall on Saturday when this time it was James Clarke who nodded home the only goal of the game, with Northampton again guilty of missing numerous chances.
The defeat to Lincoln last year set the tone for a disappointing campaign but the first game so rarely offers an accurate indication for what follows and Cobblers will hoping that’s not the case this time around.
So let’s take a closer look at Saturday’s defeat...
Birthday boy Goode
The obvious positive to come out of Saturday’s game was the performance of captain Charlie Goode, who looked inspired with the armband on his sleeve. The 24-year-old, who was celebrating his birthday, led by example with a dominant, commanding display at the heart of Town’s back four.
Goode won headers, slammed into tackles and made important blocks. He also showed leadership by taking control of potentially tricky situations, not leaving it to others to clean up the mess.
With Walsall unable to create many clear chances from open play, it will be of immense for frustration for both Goode and manager Keith Curle that their winning goal came from a set-piece, Clarke afforded too much space to nod home a corner.
It was not all about Goode, though. His centre-back partner, Scott Wharton, eased himself into the game and impressed on debut, while Joe Martin played an increasingly influential role on the left and hinted of his potential threat with some dangerous crosses.
Cobblers failing to score at home is nothing new but they at least created opportunities against Walsall and enough of them to win the game, let alone draw it.
Nicky Adams carried the chief threat – quelle surprise – with his crossing ability. He may well have had three assists on another day while Harry Smith’s hold-up play also created opportunities for others and Andy Williams was one of three players superbly denied by Saddlers goalkeeper Liam Roberts.
Of course, creating chances is of little use if you do not convert them and going forward the Cobblers will need the likes of Smith and Matty Warburton to get among the goals.
However, Town still played some tidy stuff and the more this new-look team plays together the more relationships on the pitch will improve, which should lend itself to more fluent, cohesive football. Hopefully the goals will soon start to flow.
Opening games of the season are always likely to be frenetic, frantic affairs in any case but when you have nine debutants in your team – if you include Charlie Goode and Nicky Adams – that becomes almost inevitable.
Nervous players are anxious to impress their new audience and sometimes that can spill over into rash, hurried decisions. Whilst there were some good moments from the Cobblers, as mentioned above, there were also times when they became ragged and loose and lost their way, particularly either side of half-time.
Reece Hall-Johnson looked a little nervous at right-back and was caught in possession on several occasions, and Cobblers were also too quick to go long to Harry Smith instead of playing through central midfield. In future, they’ll hope to make better use of Chris Lines whose ball-playing attributes were almost wasted during Saturday’s helter-skelter affair.
Nothing is won or lost on the opening day of the season but a victory would have been so precious for the Cobblers and their fans given how the last couple of campaigns have unfolded.
Confidence drained away during a slow start 12 months ago and ultimately led to Dean Austin’s downfall with his side one point outside the relegation zone after 10 matches.
We’re a long way off that point now but getting that first win as soon as possible will be vital for Curle and his players, though it must be said Town now have a changing room full of strong, experienced characters who are better equipped to deal with adversity and handle the pressures of defeat.