Peterborough United 3 Northampton Town 0 '“ match review, player ratings and highlights
First there was the hype, then followed the crushing disappointment, now comes the inquisition.
The renewing of a feisty local rivalry will always be a source of great pride and excitement among football fans but this eagerly-awaited affair quickly descended into a nightmare for those of a Cobblers persuasion.
There is no shame in defeat, even to your closest and most bitter rivals, but it was the nature of this derby day disaster, coupled with Saturday’s home loss to Millwall, that will sharpen the knives and have the naysayers in full voice.
These past two games, against two woefully out-of-form sides no less, have brutally exposed the shortcomings in this Northampton team, both on the pitch and off it, and got the alarm bells ringing.
Millwall went into Saturday on the back of four straight league defeats and before Tuesday, Peterborough had just one win in the previous 10, yet neither of those two teams needed to get out of second gear against the Cobblers.
It’s easy to criticise, point fingers and declare the end is nigh, but let’s put things into perspective for a minute.
Northampton are 12th in League One, three points adrift of the play-offs and there have been enough positive signs this season to suggest they are more than capable of competing at this level.
That comes on the back of an unsettling summer when a new manager was instilled and a host of players introduced, all after promotion too, so it was always going to take time for things to settle down.
But there is no denying the fact that the early season optimism, which now feels an age ago, has fizzled out and fears are growing over which direction this team are heading.
What is of major concern for supporters is Northampton’s attacking play, which can become stale, predictable and one-dimensional. They lack a spark or invention at times, instead the stock tactic appears to consist of lumping aimless balls into the box at every available opportunity.
That certainly rung true on Tuesday when it became so predictable and basic that a team who have yet to keep a clean sheet all season were easily able to repel the danger, goalkeeper Luke McGee forced into just two saves – both of which were routine – throughout the 90 minutes.
It could be argued that Northampton edged the second-half but the fact they had more of the game and applied increased pressure owed more to Peterborough’s change of tack as much as anything.
At 2-0 up and in control, the hosts dropped the tempo, let Northampton have the ball and then look to strike on the break.
And even then they carried more of a threat with Adam Smith thwarting Paul Taylor, Brendan Moloney miraculously denying the same man off the line before Tom Nichols put the seal on a famous night for the home side.
Chances at the other end were less glaring as United restricted their visitors to pot-shots from range, with the dwindling gusto of the 2,170 fans all too apparent, their enthusiasm slowly turning to exasperation, culminating in boos at the full-time whistle.
It crowned a wretched evening for all involved.
From the moment Rob Page named his rather ambitious team, he was playing a risky game.
Win and he’d be hailed a genius; lose and there’d be trouble.
Lose they did and so emphatic and demoralising was the defeat that Page now must allay the growing concerns by reverting back to the basics which worked so well earlier in the season.
His decision to name one central midfielder on Tuesday backfired spectacularly but though making such drastic changes was always a gamble, this defeat was as much about individuals as it was anything else.
For all the talk of tactics and formations, it was the lack of a fundamental element of the game that was Northampton’s undoing on Tuesday – defending at set-pieces.
A once resilient, robust defence has almost gone soft overnight, this the fourth time in five games that they have conceded three goals.
After three mistakes led to three cheap goals against Millwall on Saturday, this time the Cobblers opted to hand their opponents two-goal head-start by failing to properly deal with two corners.
Then, at a time when they desperately needed a response, came the distinct lack of quality in the final third.
Time and again Northampton found themselves with space and time to trouble Peterborough’s supposedly vulnerable defence, yet time and again the delivery into the box was found wanting, with Marc Richards and Alex Revell not even able to feed off scraps.
The evening also savagely exposed the lack of strength in depth in this squad. Without the class of Matty Taylor and the tenacity of Jak McCourt, Northampton have no balance in midfield and become easy to overpower.
But even with those two present, the Cobblers are a team without an identity and a team which is yet to really control and dictate a game for an entire 90 minutes.
Sam Hoskins did at least provide Town with one bright spark on Tuesday; his jinking runs and menacing pace causing problems for Peterborough all evening, but him aside, there was little else to speak of.
So what now? Well, the natural setting for football fans in these situations is to panic and overreact, but that rarely does anyone much good.
Northampton’s up and down form is rather reflective of the division as a whole which has already seen its fair share of surprise results, none more so than on Tuesday when AFC Wimbledon won away at Bury and Oldham Athletic shocked leaders Scunthorpe United.
With that in mind, Page must now find a way to arrest their current slide and steady the ship.
Just weeks after there was talk about a potential play-off push, it’s now all doom and gloom. That’s the fickle nature of modern football.
But win and perform well at rock bottom Shrewsbury on Saturday and the picture will again take on a different complexion. Lose, however, and the interrogation will only intensify.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Couple of super saves prevented an embarrassment, though question mark over whether he could have come out and claimed the corner which led to the second goal... 7
Zander Diamond - Had to be stronger for his own goal, even if there was suggestion of a foul. Didn’t really seem settled in the new system... 4
Lewin Nyatanga - Never looked at ease in the back three, like everyone else, and was duly sacrificed when Page went to 4-4-2... 5
Gabriel Zakuani - Excellent last-ditch tackle prevented a certain goal and was probably the pick of the back three... 6
Brendan Moloney - Got into good crossing positions from wing-back but delivery was poor, while at the other end he pulled off a miraculous goal-line clearance... 6
David Buchanan - Similar to Moloney in how he enjoyed plenty of space but failed to do anything with it. Not used to finding himself in such advanced areas and it was evident... 5
Joel Byrom - Thrown into the deep end and his lack of match sharpness was all too apparent as he was overrun and outnumbered, though you felt sympathy for him given he was the only natural central midfielder... 4
Sam Hoskins - By far and away Town’s brightest spark, his driving runs provided a constant source of danger, and he forced the only real save of note from McGee... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
Paul Anderson - Started in central midfield and the game rather passed him by. Loose in possession and weak on the ball... 5
Alex Revell - Fed off scraps all evening, can barely remember him touching the ball in the opposition area... 5
Marc Richards - Hardly able to get into the game with the lack service... 5
John-Joe O’Toole - 6
JJ Hooper - 5