Apologetic Hasselbaink admits: Cobblers fans deserve so much better
For Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, speaking in the aftermath of a dispiriting defeat and below-par performance has become far too much of a regular occurence this season, and he was at it once again on Saturday afternoon for one of the most disappointing of the lot.
Away at Fleetwood Town, just two points and three places better off in the Sky Bet League One relegation battle, this was a prime opportunity for Northampton, unbeaten on the road in 2018 and coming off a fine draw with Shrewsbury Town four days previously, to lay down a marker ahead of the final seven games of the campaign.
Unfortunately, however, the only marker that was laid down came from Fleetwood who, thanks to goals from Kyle Dempsey and Cian Bolger, recorded their first home victory in five whole months, further denting Town’s fading hopes of preserving their League One status for another 12 months.
And for the 500 boisterous fans who made the 360-mile round trip up to the Fylde coast, this was particularly tough one to take. Their side not only lost, they did so without much of a fight, managing just one shot on target and not forcing home goalkeeper Alex Cairns into a single save throughout the entire 90 minutes.
It did not dampen their enthusiasm, at least not until final minutes, but their growing frustrations with their team’s sorry situation were made increasingly clear as another defeat – Town’s 19th of the season – went from likely to inevitable through Bolger’s messy late finish.
“It’s one step forward, two steps back,” conceded Hasselbaink, who again lamented his side’s inability to string results together. “I can’t put my finger on why but it’s a big problem.
“We want to keep making steps forward and Saturday was a good chance to do so but it wasn’t meant to be and I feel sorry for the 500 supporters that have come.
“They deserve more, much more and I thought that, after Tuesday, they’d get much more but we can only say sorry as a group and that we’ll keep going and give it our best shot to start winning matches as soon as possible.
“They travelled in their numbers and I’m really sorry for this performance. The performances away have been really good of late and they deserve better but we won’t give up and it’s about rolling our sleeves up and making sure we are ready for the next game.
“We need to look forward and look at how we can get a win on Friday which is what we’ll work on.”
The problem for Hasselbaink now is that there are only seven fixtures left and with every team around them having at least one game in hand, their chances of staying up are dwindling by the week.
If nothing else, do they still believe? “We’ve done it before,” added Hasselbaink. “We’ve been on runs where we’ve won three in a row and we need a little bit more than that but we’re capable of it and it’s about emphasising that and showing that and starting to believe in it. There is no time to lose.”
If there was a positive to come out of Saturday’s defeat, it was the performance of young Shaun McWilliams. Starting for the first time in nearly three months as a direct replacement for the suspended John-Joe O’Toole in midfield, the teenager was full of energy and tenacity and was many people’s man of the match.
His substitution, withdrawn for Gboly Ariyibi with 20 minutes remaining, was met by a chorus of boos from the away end but Hasselbaink defended his decision at full-time.
“He played really well but we were losing 1-0 and we had to try and force something,” he explained.
“I didn’t want to but we took him off because we know that (Matt) Grimes can sit and you’re trying to get advanced in the midfield area to get more on the ball and be a little bit more creative.
“I didn’t want to take him off but I had to and I was forced to, but we didn’t lose the game because of that.”