Shrewsbury Town 1 Northampton Town 0 '“ talking points, player ratings and highlights
Such is the notoriously fickle nature of football, it does not take much for pre-season optimism to erode away - and that was no better illustrated than between 3 and 5pm on Saturday afternoon when Cobblers fans went from upbeat to deflated after a limp opening-day performance.
To jump to conclusions and read too much into the first game of a new season would be foolish, and for Northampton’s sake, they will hope this disappointing 1-0 defeat to Shrewsbury Town is not a sign of things to come over the next nine months.
But while there were many negative comments swirling around post-match, that pre-season optimism was created for good reason and one bad day should not change that, just as a good performance and convincing victory would not suddenly mean that everything is rosy.
Occasionally, the first game can provide decent gauge of future prospects and offer a hint of what lies ahead.
Two years ago Northampton impressively won 1-0 away at Bristol Rovers thanks to a winner from John-Joe O’Toole, the first of many steps on the way to the title, while last year’s feeble home draw with Fleetwood Town was followed by a largely feeble season.
There will be trouble ahead if Saturday’s defeat to Shrewsbury sets the tone for the next nine months but although it was a deeply anticlimactic way to kick-off proceedings, even for football fans this would be a premature time for doom and gloom to set in.
The opening 45 minutes were particularly dispiriting. Outplayed in all departments, the Cobblers were disjointed and struggled for cohesion, perhaps a reflection of the fact they are still getting to grips with playing 3-5-2.
It was in stark contrast to nine months ago when, on the same pitch between the same teams, it was Northampton who overpowered a beleaguered Shrewsbury side to earn a 4-2 victory.
This Salop outfit is a much stronger one almost a year on thanks to the sterling work of Paul Hurst, and it would be a surprise to me if they were relegated on his watch, irrespective of what the bookmakers think.
Even so, Northampton were a pale imitation of the team that many hoped they would be - and might well still be.
Problems from last season were evident again, such as a lack of natural width, an exposed defence and an overrun midfield.
They will also need time to settle into their new formation.
One of the potential problems with 3-5-2 is that it requires specialist players for specialist positions. Wing-back is a prime example. While it’s not too dissimilar from full-back, it’s a role that requires players to perfect the balance of attack and defence, knowing when and where to be to both cover defensively and provide a wide attacking threat.
Neither David Buchanan nor Daniel Powell were able to provide that on Saturday.
Both were caught out defensively and also failed to provide much of a presence going forward, meaning the Cobblers were too narrow in attack and became one-dimensional.
Powell and Buchanan are both relatively new to the role, of course, and it will naturally take time to for them to settle but while they struggle to adapt so will the team, as it did on Saturday.
In fairness, the same could be said of many players across the pitch on a day when positives were hard to come by.
The back three provided one plus point. Aaron Pierre, Leon Barnett and Ash Taylor showed promise and hinted at better things as they restricted David Cornell’s workload to a minimum, while there is surely more to come from Matt Crooks who brought the odd touch of class to midfield.
Billy Waters was a nuisance for Shrewsbury’s defence before Chris Long produced an equally lively 30-minute cameo, as did Yaser Kasim whose introduction coincided with a more controlled team performance, but those were the only shining lights on an otherwise poor day at the office.
One of Edinburgh’s biggest challenges is to rid Northampton of the bad habits they got into last season.
Lumping long balls up to the front men at the first opportunity was one such issue that caused major frustrations, as was lacking variety in attack.
Conceding late goals was another, and unfortunately Lenell John-Lewis’ scuffed finish ensured this season started in agonising fashion, although Town should have had en even later penalty when Long was clearly tripped inside the box only for a free-kick to be award.
Given time and patience, the Cobblers have the makings of a very good side. The key is putting all the pieces together so they equal the sum of their parts. On Saturday, they fell way below that.
How they rated...
David Cornell - Bailed his side out on several occasions when coming out to deal with crosses from countless soft free-kicks that were conceded. Bit hesitant at times but wasn’t overly tested by Shrewsbury... 6
Leon Barnett - Was as guilty as anyone of conceding cheap free-kicks in dangerous positions as Shrews exploited the space between him and Powell down Town’s right. His aerial presence was a feature of the game at both ends... 6
Ash Taylor - Not afraid of putting his head in where it hurts, winning headers and making important blocks throughout, but will take time for the back three to settle as a unit... 7 CHRON STAR MAN
Aaron Pierre - Could so easily have given away a penalty when Ogogo went flying, only for the referee to deem it a dive. Went as close as anyone at the other end when his volley was headed off the line... 6
Daniel Powell - Wing-back is not a role he’s overly familiar with and that showed at times here, occasionally caught out of position as he seemed unsure when to defend and when to attack. Also got away with a couple of misunderstandings with his team-mates... 5
Matt Crooks - Was the best of an average bunch in the first-half, produced glimpses of his quality but it was lost within a disjointed overall team performance... 6
Matt Taylor - Game passed him by in a laboured 60-minute showing. Was off the pace and even misplaced the simplest of passes, uncharacteristically for him, before being withdrawn... 5
David Buchanan - Found wanting in the wing-back role, much like Powell. Caught out of position when defending and was never able to provide an attacking threat... 5
Dean Bowditch - Another who found himself a little lost in the formation, unsure whether to drop deep or support the front two. Spurned Town’s best chance, and was replaced on the hour-mark... 5
Billy Waters - Despite his best efforts he was kept on a leash by Shrewsbury’s defence, and his touch let him down on the rare occasion he did get a sniff of goal... 6
Marc Richards - A very frustrating afternoon for the skipper who spent most of his time chasing lost causes and being well-marshalled by the home defence. Barely had scraps to feed off... 6
Yaser Kasim - Brought an element of control to midfield that had previously been absent, though his set-pieces were disappointing... 6
Chris Long - Was as much of a nuisance in his 30 minutes than anyone else, and should have had a last-gasp penalty... 6
Alex Revell - 6