Fleetwood Town 2 Northampton Town 0 '“ match review, player ratings and highlights
It might not yet be the knockout punch in Northampton's quest for survival this season but Saturday's defeat to Fleetwood, suffered in all too familiar fashion, has left them on the ropes and with very little margin for error.
Even for the most ardent fan, making a case for the Cobblers to stay up is now extremely difficult. Yes, there are still 21 points up for grabs and yes, most of their remaining fixtures can be described as winnable, but games being winnable and actually winning them are two very different things.
And given that this is a team who have managed just eight points and a solitary victory from their past 10 outings, it would take quite some turnaround, not to mention improvement in both performances and consistency, for them to almost double that tally over three fewer fixtures. Because that is what they will likely need to avoid relegation.
As predictable as Saturday’s defeat was, it still came as a crushing disappointment and a huge let down as the promise and optimism from their efforts in midweek were emphatically doused by 90 feeble minutes.
As it turns out, Tuesday’s admirable draw against league leaders Shrewsbury Town was just another false dawn in a season that has had too many to remember.
In truth, Fleetwood’s first home win for five whole months seldom looked in doubt once Kyle Dempsey slotted them into an 18th minute lead. It was a nice finish to a nice move and from then on, the home side were comfortable and saw the game out with relative ease.
In general play, this encounter was quite even. In fact, for most of the first-half and the start of the second, Town edged it. They picked up good positions and found gaps in encouraging areas of the pitch, however it was their decision-making and lack of cohesion in the final third that let them down.
It doesn’t seem to matter what formation they play or which personnel the manager selects, the same problems continue to exist. Chief among which was on full display on Saturday: a startling lack of creativity.
At various stages of this match, Northampton had the likes of Chris Long, Matt Grimes, Boris Mathis, Kevin van Veen, Gboly Ariyibi and Hildeberto Pereira on the pitch. They are all good players who should, in theory, be capable of doing the business at this level. Mathis, Grimes and Long are at Premier League club, Ariyibi plays in the Championship and van Veen was banging in the goals at Scunthorpe prior to his transfer, and yet the team as a collective continues to flatter to deceive.
There is just no pattern or identity to Town’s play all over the pitch but especially in attack. Fleetwood did not come under undue strain when protecting their slender advantage prior to Cian Bolger’s late second, and even when the visitors did create chances, they were squandered.
Teed up by good work by Pereira both times, Van Veen skied over from 12 yards and then sent a cross-cum-shot whistling across the six-yard box, just beyond the reach of Kevin Luckassen. Given their desperate situation, the Cobblers need him to take those opportunities.
And if you take those two moments away, there was little else to to worry home goalkeeper Alex Cairns who was not once called upon to make a serious save which is a damning incitement of this Cobblers team.
The loss of John-Joe O’Toole was, predictably, keenly felt. He is not an exceptionally talented player but his importance to Northampton is staggering and unsustainable, and what he offers is something not many others in this squad do: simple hard graft and a willingness to ruffle a few feathers.
Sometimes it goes too far - Tuesday’s red card being a prime example - but that can be a consequence of his style of play and it is a price worth paying over the course of a season. Unfortunately, O’Toole’s injury problems earlier in the campaign put his team behind the eight ball before he got back fit again, and when he does not play, it puts the limitations of his team-mates into sharp focus.
Shaun McWilliams, recalled to the team, did an admirable job in his absence on Tuesday and was arguably Town’s outstanding player, but otherwise there is a lot of style and not much substance to this side. Couple that with their creative void and you have your answer as to why they are hurtling towards League Two.
You can only sympathise with the 500 Northampton fans who made the 360-mile round trip to the Fylde coast on Saturday. They deserved so much better than this, and one fears they also deserves so much more than how this season will ultimately end.
How they rated...
Richard O’Donnell - His three central defenders protected him for the most part bar Fleetwood’s two goals, both of which gave him little chance. Pulled off a spectacular reaction stop from Hiwula moments before the second... 7
Brendan Moloney - Was a very busy man in the first-half when high balls galore were sent his way. Was strong in the air in another competent 90 minutes at centre-back... 6
Ash Taylor - Pulled apart by Fleetwood for their well-crafted opener but formed part of a defence that otherwise coughed up few chances and was pretty untroubled. Also came close to bringing Town level when seeing his header blocked... 6
Jordan Turnbull - Did the simple stuff well and another one who seems to enjoy the extra security of playing in a back three. Was not put under a great deal of pressure from Fleetwood’s forwards... 6
Shay Facey - Full of energy and power on the right flank for periods but that failed to materialise into anything of note, at least in the final third where there was little sign of him as an attacking force. Good defensively again... 6
Shaun McWilliams - Was his typical feisty, tenacious self on his first start in nearly three months as he won tackles and bounded around the pitch with good energy, often being the one to initiate Town’s best moves. Unfortunate to be withdrawn, though the logic of bringing on another attacker made sense... 7 CHRON STAR MAN
Matt Grimes - Cobblers need a player of his quality to take games by the scruff of the neck and dictate the play, instead of letting things drift along. Did too much of the latter here, passing was iffy and set-pieces were, again, disappointing. Given the team’s creative void, playing him in a more advanced role might suit both parties... 5
Joe Bunney - Neither here nor there in the wing-back role after Tuesday’s excellent outing. Fleetwood did a good job of keeping him on the back foot and therefore restricting his crossing opportunity.... 5
Hildeberto Pereira - Architect of his side’s best (and only) two chances either side of half-time as his quick feet and forward drive teed up van Veen in both instances. Was otherwise kept under wraps... 6
Boris Mathis - His half-time withdrawal was no surprise after an ineffective first 45 minutes during which he lived off scraps... 5
Kevin van Veen - Clearest two chances fell at his feet. Cleared the crossbar and then neither shot nor cross when slipped in by Pereira. Town desperately need him to take those opportunities in their current predicament... 5
Kevin Luckassen - 6
Gboly Ariyibi - 6
Chris Long - 6