Wigan Athletic 1 Northampton Town 0 '“ match review, player ratings and highlights
Valiance in defeat often counts for little in sport but given what has gone before this season, Tuesday's hard-fought 1-0 loss at high-flying Wigan Athletic should give reason for encouragement rather than concern, even if Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's unbeaten start as Cobblers boss came to an end.
Football and logic rarely go hand in hand but this low-key and low-quality encounter played out in the way many would have expected prior to kick-off.
Wigan, being the more confident, the more in-form and the more fancied team, did most of the pressing while Town, still recovering from their dismal start, played with spirit and determination but lacked the quality to seriously trouble their hosts.
In truth, this game failed to tell us anything we didn’t already know. Hasselbaink has brought structure, organisation and discipline to the Cobblers but it remains blindingly obvious that they are still short in the attacking department and especially as a creative force.
Even so, for 55 minutes on Tuesday they achieved what they set out to do: nullify Wigan’s threat. In patches, the Latics impressed and looked every inch a team who will ease to promotion this season. Equally, though, they were blunted by the stubborn visitors whose goalkeeper barely had a save to make.
In the end, it took a rasping 30-yard drive from a ex-Cobbler to settle the contest. Michael Jacobs, a former Player of the Year at Sixfields, clinically accepted the invitation when he failed to be closed down from 30 yards, fizzing a crisp low drive beyond Matt Ingram.
That ultimately did for Town although not before Leon Barnett missed a glaring chance to nick a point, denied by Jamie Jones’ fast reactions, while the Latics also survived a spot of controversy.
It was painfully obvious, even from the press box, that the Cobblers should have had a late penalty when the ball struck an arm of a Wigan defender, but when referee Anthony Backhouse blew his whistle, it was to award a free-kick the other way, much to the fury and disbelief of Town’s players.
A late flurry from Wigan almost saw them add a second – and perhaps they should have had it with Samy Morsy’s shot seemingly crossing the line on the replays – but Jacobs’ strike was sufficient.
Going into Tuesday, an already difficult task for Town was made harder by the fact that Hasselbaink had limited options available to him, so much so that Raheem Hanley was recalled from the wilderness to take up a wide left role and Regan Poole occupied a midfield place.
As it turned out, Poole’s performance was arguably the biggest positive to come out of the evening for Town. His energy, anticipation and composure caught the eye and he should have done enough to put himself in the frame for more regular starts.
Hanley, meanwhile, was making a belated first Cobblers start having waited 15 months since signing from Swansea. He grafted hard up and down the left in a workmanlike display, often forced to defend and not attack.
Ash Taylor was a rock at the heart of the defence and most of what Northampton did create came through the classy Matt Grimes, who has made the transition from Premier League to League One impressively quickly.
All in all, there were enough positives on Tuesday to remain upbeat that Hasselbaink is leading the Cobblers in the right direction.
Bradford City will be another tough test but if Town continue their upward trend, there’s no reason why they can’t make it three successive Sixfields wins.
How they rated...
Matt Ingram - Assured and confident on a night where he was rarely brought into strenuous action despite plenty of Wigan pressure. Given no chance by Jacobs’ pile-driver... 6
Brendan Moloney - Regularly pinned back by the often dominant hosts, this was not a night for his typical lung-busting runs forward, nevertheless was solid and steady as he and the defence dug their heels in... 7
Ash Taylor - Vital early intervention prevented a certain goal and was a commanding presence all evening, spearheading his side’s stern resistance in the face of sustained Latics pressure... 7 CHRON STAR MAN
Leon Barnett - Mixed evening for the centre-back who got away with a misdirected clearance early on and then missed his side’s best chance to nick a late equaliser, but on the flip side he produce two goal-saving blocks in-between... 6
David Buchanan - Much like his fellow full-back, it was all about defending and keeping Wigan at bay. Was successful on his side, not allowing many chances to come from his side... 7
Regan Poole - Handed a midfield role in his first start under Hasselbaink and impressed with a mature, composed display. Showed good anticipation to sniff out the danger and didn’t stopped running until the very end, though decision-making on the ball was indifferent... 7
Yaser Kasim - Sported a head bandage for most of the evening after an early clattering and that typified the type of dogged determination both he and his team-mates showed on the evening. Did the dirty stuff well in a workmanlike display, was never really allowed to express himself in an attacking sense... 6
Matt Grimes - A classy presence in the Town midfield, always seeking the ball and looking to play a positive, forward pass despite having so little options in attack. Set-pieces caused a few issues too... 7
Daniel Powell - Got himself into a couple of promising positions first-half but failed to make the most of those opportunities, sometimes too easily muscled off the ball. Was closest to Jacobs when the Wigan man let fly from distance ... 6
Raheem Hanley - His inclusion raised more than a few eyebrows given this was his very first start for the club, 15 months after signing. Has worked hard to get himself back into contention and put in a real shift here, though never threatened in an attacking sense... 6
Marc Richards - Led the line with Revell and Long rested and had a thankless task, often lacking support and numbers to cause much trouble despite putting himself about... 6
Chris Long - 6
Alex Revell - 6
Dean Bowditch - 5