O’Toole stars again but Hasselbaink knows Cobblers must find consistency to stay up

CRUNCH TIME: Hasselbaink's team have 12 games to save themselves. Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds
CRUNCH TIME: Hasselbaink's team have 12 games to save themselves. Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds

There were no prizes on offer for guessing which name once again dominated both the away end’s songbook and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s post-match interview during and after Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Scunthorpe United.

Ever since his return from injury towards the end of 2017, it’s become a regular occurrence for John-Joe O’Toole to be singled out in Hasselbaink’s interviews, whether that’s before or after matches, with the midfielder growing increasingly important in Northampton’s bid for survival this season.

As the clock ticked past the hour-mark in Saturday’s encounter at Glanford Park, O’Toole was at it again as he thundered in a header from Matt Grimes’ corner for his fifth goal in eight games – in addition to four assists – and that ultimately ensured the Cobblers responded to their tepid defeat against Gillingham in midweek with a handy and deserved point against the fifth-placed Iron, keeping them out of the bottom four by the narrowest of margins.

“It was a bullet header and that’s what he can do,” said Hasselbaink. “He can score those goals and he’s a magnet when crosses come in because he finds the little spaces.

“We need to put more crosses into the box for him and for Chris Long and we’re working on that.

“I think, overall, John-Joe could have played better but I’m happy with the point and he’s one of those players who doesn’t need to play well to score and that’s handy. Sometimes, actually, the worse he plays, the more he comes up with a goal, as strange as it sounds!”

But a fit and firing O’Toole in itself will not be enough. To ensure they avoid the drop, Town must also improve both their form at home and their overall consistency having won just once in the last five games and only three times in the past nine outings at Sixfields.

Couple that with the fact you have to go as high as Doncaster Rovers in 14th to find a team who doesn’t have at least one game in hand on the Cobblers – multiple games in most cases – and it means that creditable draws on the road alone will not be sufficient in keeping them in League One.

“Take nothing away from the boys, they fought (on Saturday) and wanted to put something right after Tuesday’s performance, especially in the first-half,” added Hasselbaink, who could have striker Kevin van Veen back this weekend.

“I thought Gboly (Ariyibi), who came in, gave us something different and now it’s about taking that fighting spirit into the next game and into Saturday.

Our last two home games we haven’t done ourselves justice. There were a lot of good plusses from Saturday and we want to take them into our next fixture.

“It’s a big game for many reasons. Our last two home games we haven’t done ourselves justice. There were a lot of good plusses from Saturday and we want to take them into our next fixture.

“Kevin still has a sore knee and we’re monitoring and hopefully, fingers crossed, he’ll be ready for Saturday.”

Cutting out soft goals is one aspect of Town’s game that would aid their chances of achieving greater consistency.

Thirty-one minutes into Saturday’s contest, Funso Ojo was afforded virtually the whole of Glanford Park to run from one half to the other as Northampton’s defence unwisely back-pedalled and Ojo gleefully accepted the invitation, galloping into the space before landing a precise shot into the bottom corner of Richard O’Donnell’s net.

Later in the game, 13 minutes from time, Town lost the lead for a second time when O’Donnell came but didn’t clear a set-piece and the ball fell kindly for Murray Wallace to nod in from under the crossbar.

“We could have done better with the goals,” admitted Hasselbaink. “The balance of the team, the shape, was gone for the first. We vacated the middle area of the pitch and that’s why he was able to run so far ahead.

“You have to make sure that the balance is right. Crooksy was dribbling with the ball and we lost it on the edge of their box and Grimesy was gone, so there was no balance in our team.

“Our opposite wide player was too far ahead to go and stop the boy. Normally, we have the right balance which stops the counter-attack but we couldn’t stop it.

“To be fair, the boy hit it really well and it was a good shot.”