FEATURE: ‘I’ve been criticised this season but I just keep my head down’ – Defender Taylor feels back to his best
Such is the fickle nature of football, it does not take much for a player to go from standout performer one season to scapegoat the next.
As Cobblers defender Ash Taylor has been finding out to his cost, it is often a game of extremely short memories.
It was only 11 months ago when the 28-year-old scooped two player of the year awards for his excellent performances at centre-back, but his form dipped noticeably at the start of this season.
Throw in a couple of injuries, the team’s own struggles and the fact he was captain at the time, and you have a perfect storm.
“I’ve been criticised this season but I’ve just kept my head down,” said Taylor. “I’ve played better in some games than others but it’s all part and parcel of football and I’m happy to keep putting in good performances for this club.
“You can’t get too high when you go on a good run and you can’t get too low when things are going against you. I concentrate on my own game and focus on what I need to do as a player – and that’s to help the club and the team.”
Taylor’s cause, purely on a personal front, was not aided by the team’s success while he was out of action. Sidelined for two months in the autumn with a hamstring injury, Cobblers won six and lost just two of the 10 games he missed.
At one stage, their win ratio dropped to as low as nine per cent with him in the team and as high as 55 per cent without him.
Statistics like those do not help to win fans over.
He added: “I’ve picked up a couple of injuries this season and that’s been frustrating because it’s a bit stop-start.
“They were big injuries as well – hamstrings and that and you can’t rush anything.
“You have to get it out of your system quickly and now I’m just happy to be putting in performances I’m capable of.”
Town’s win rate when Taylor starts has since grown to a more respectable 23 per cent and it is perhaps no coincidence that, as his form has steadily improved in recent weeks, so has the team’s.
Neither is it a coincidence that the Cobblers look more secure and less vulnerable with a flat back four instead of the three-man defence manager Keith Curle had previously opted for.
“As a back four, we know our roles,” continued Taylor. “We’ve played well as a back three at times as well, but a back four is a bit more familiar with everyone else, but we’ve got the players who are capable of playing any position.
“Charlie Goode has come in and slotted in very well at right-back. He’s aggressive and that’s what you’ve got to be as a back four – aggressive and a unit and we have been.
“We didn’t concede too many chances on Saturday. They maybe had two shots and a corner they’ve scored from. It was disappointing not to defend the first phase of the corner better, but that happens sometimes.”
Taylor is referring to Town’s third win on the spin as they continued their resurgence with another accomplished and mature performance against Exeter City last Saturday afternoon.
The Cobblers controlled the first-half and showed astute game management in the second, with goals from Aaron Pierre and Andy Williams, scored either side of half-time, enough to clinch a victory that, remarkably, took them closer to the top three than relegation.
Unbeaten in seven following another win on Tuesday night, it has been some turnaround since losing 4-0 to Colchester.
“It was a massive win on Saturday,” admitted Taylor, who was named man of the match. “It carries on the momentum after the Colchester result. That game didn’t sit well with us and there was a bit of pride on the line.
“We wanted to rectify that and put the record straight and I think we’ve done that with the run we’ve had.
“A few players could have won it (man of the match) because everyone put in a performance and it was a fighting performance. We battled for everything – last-ditch tackles, headers, everything.”
It was also important for the Cobblers to finally win at home again, only the second time they’d triumphed at the PTS since November.
Taylor added: “You want to win your home games and you want to get the crowd up and cheering you.”
And the play-offs? “We don’t look too far ahead – we’ll focus on what we’ve got to do and that’s get three points.
“When you win games of football it always helps. The positivity runs right through the club, the staff, the staff behind the staff, the fans and the players - it helps the whole club.”