While it was far from the worst performance during his reign as Northampton manager, when news filtered through of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s sacking just hours after this 2-0 defeat to rivals Peterborough United, it came as very little surprise.
In the end, it had become a question of when and not if. And as it turned out, Hasselbaink’s time in charge of the Cobblers went the way of his predecessor Justin Edinburgh; removed from his position on the back of a disappointingly tame derby defeat to Posh.
This game, in many ways, encapsulated Hasselbaink’s tenure. His team started promisingly, then paid the price for inexplicable defending and ultimately went down without much of a fight, seemingly accepting defeat well before the full-time whistle sounded.
It was not on the same scale as their dismal efforts against Charlton Athletic three days earlier but it was disappointing and frustrating all the same, made so much worse by the fact they began so brightly and actually looked up for the battle.
The Cobblers have not often been fast out of the traps under Hasselbaink but they most certainly were here. The first 15 minutes of this game were peculiar and unexpected and yet thoroughly in keeping with Northampton’s dismal campaign. Dominant for the first 10, missed chances and then haphazard defending allowed Posh, who had done nothing up to this point, to storm into a 2-0 lead.
And this is one of the many problems with Northampton: they make it so incredibly easy for the opposition to take control of games. While the Cobblers have to work hard and be patient to even create a chance, let alone score, it only seems to take one attack for the opposition to break down their defensive rearguard and get in on goal, and once behind, their already brittle confidence quickly seeps away, drastically diminishing any chance of a comeback.
And so for a team who struggle to sustain pressure, create chances and score goals, clawing back a two-goal deficit at the home of your closest rivals always seemed highly unlikely. The sting had been taken out of Town’s play and the second-half, though depressingly predictable, came and went without much incident. There was not even a hint of a fightback.
Sam Foley, impressive on his return, struck the woodwork and Chris Long had a close-range effort blocked but the Cobblers, as they have done so often this season, went down with a whimper. The fans, unsurprisingly, let their feelings known and they didn’t have to wait long after the full-time whistle to get their wish.
Peterborough, like Fleetwood, were no more than average but that’s all you need to be to beat Hasselbaink’s Northampton, which is why Kelvin Thomas had to make the decision he did. But should it have been made sooner?
Though Posh are becoming to Northampton managers what South Africa are to England cricket captains, in truth the damage was done well before Easter Monday’s game. Town’s 3-0 home loss to Rotherham was the day when most realised the team were only heading backwards under Hasselbaink, a fear confirmed by Good Friday’s humbling at the hands of Charlton.
With just five games left and four wins likely needed to stay up, this season looks to have gone. However, the right decision has been made and now the Cobblers have time to take stock and plot their next move. Whatever they choose to do, making the right appointment is a must.
How they rated...
Richard O’Donnell - Uncharacteristically shaky at times between the sticks, not that he made any blatant or costly errors. Flapped at one or two crosses but was sound when it counted, making several routine stops... 6
Shay Facey - Returned to right-back and didn’t do a lot wrong, cutting down the threat from United’s left and trying to get forward wherever possible, whipping in some fine crosses that found the head of his team-mates... 6
While the Cobblers have to work hard and be patient to even create a chance, let alone score, it only seems to take one attack for the opposition to break down their defensive rearguard and get in on goal, and once behind, their already brittle confidence quickly seeps away.
Ash Taylor - One of his poorest afternoons of the season was compounded by an admittedly harsh red card late on, didn’t even look a foul let alone a sending off. Failed take command at set-pieces and seems weighed down by carrying his team-mates for so much of the campaign... 5
Leon Barnett - Unsurprisingly Rusty on his first start since early December. Unable cut out Shephard’s free-kick, giving Baldwin a simple opener, and passing was iffy, though did pull off one magnificent challenge to deny Marriott a certain second... 5
Jordan Turnbull - Was given the tricky task of nullifying Maddison’s threat and all in all did a decent job with United’s main creative force kept on the fringes of the game, though his inclusion in the team effectively sacrificed any attacking thrusts from left-back... 6
Matt Grimes - Unable to put his stamp on the game, instead letting it pass him by. Tried to get the play moving but his passes weren’t penetrating enough to hurt Posh, who were also given too much time when in possession themselves. Set-pieces, once again, were a particular frustration... 5
Matt Crooks - Looked right up for it in the early stages, driving forward from midfield and being at the heart of Town’s most threatening moments, setting up Long and missing two good chances himself. Like everyone else though, faded out of the game once Posh scored their two goals... 6
Sam Hoskins - Has decent movement and made some darting runs but his lack of end product is indicative of the team’s problems, with little or no threat of a goal once their bright start fizzled out... 5
Daniel Powell - Hard to remember him giving United’s defence too much grief throughout as the home side kept on a tight leash. Another player who just isn’t offering enough at this current moment... 5
Sam Foley - Largely impressive on his first start for three months and was unfortunate to be taken off. Sent a couple of headers over and also hit the post as he forced defenders into mistakes and proved an effective link man for Long... 7 CHRON STAR MAN
Chris Long - Can’t be squandering such a glaring chance as he did in the first few minutes. Denied by O’Malley when through, it predictably proved costly and his only other shooting opportunity came much later and was easily blocked... 6
Kevin van Veen - 6
Gboly Ariyibi - 6
Joe Bunney - 6