New full-backs proving key to Hasselbaink's resurgent Cobblers
After all the clamour for Northampton to sign wingers and strikers in the January transfer window, there's another position which has also been key to manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's revolution and that was no better demonstrated than during Saturday's 2-1 win over MK Dons.
It was assumed Hasselbaink’s immediate priority would be to add pace, width and goals to his squad when the window opened on New Year’s Day but while he has snapped up two genuine wingers in Hildeberto Pereira and Gboly Ariyibi, the biggest and most notable difference so far has come at full-back.
Shay Facey, brought in five days into the window, has been particularly impressive. You could make legitimate case for him being man of the match in all of his first three games for the club, while newly-signed left-back Joe Bunney required only 16 minutes of his debut to illustrate the attributes he’ll bring to the team: marauding runs forward and dangerous crosses.
His run and cross set up John-Joe O’Toole’s opener against MK and, over on the other flank, Facey also found acres of space at times and might have had an assist or two himself on another day.
The downside to the attacking exploits of Bunney and Facey at one end is the space they leave at the other – the former was caught out a couple of times on Saturday - but that’s a risk worth taking in Hasselbaink’s view.
“Yes but that’s what he gives you - he gives you extra going forward and there’s always a negative, whatever you do,” said the Town boss after his side’s third straight league victory.
“If he stays back, you don’t have as much going forward. If he goes, yes it leaves a gap but the other players need to compensate for that.
“What we need to understand is what the negatives are because you need to know your weaknesses and that’s what we need to prepare for.
“I wouldn’t want him not to go forward because that’s not the player he is. We want to play to his strengths and it gives us an extra dimension and helps us to score goals and we need to score goals.
“I will look at the positives and of course we’ll work on the negatives, but he gives us so many positives going forward.
“Roberto Carlos was the same! He went up that flank and defensively, he left space behind but the thing was, the centre-half behind him could absorb the pressure and that’s where we have to work on.”
Bunney was not the only new face on show for the visit of MK Dons as Gboly Ariyibi came off the bench for a 20-minute cameo just 24 hours after signing for the club on loan from Nottingham Forest.
The 23-year-old provided flashes of the type of pace and powerful running he will add to the Cobblers but he was mostly restricted to defending during his time on the pitch, with Hasselbaink expecting to see much more from him once he’s up to full speed.
“I expect a lot more from him,” he said. “It’s not easy because he only signed on Friday and he’s only trained once. He’s new to the group but I chucked him in straightaway because I just wanted to get the cobwebs off him.
“I want a lot from him because we don’t have a player like that – someone who can open defences up and who can play one v one. We needed that and we’re delighted to have him.
“But we want more from him. We are not satisfied with what he produced on Saturday and I think we’ll get much more because he needs to settle in and know what his job is and what we expect.
“He’s got tons of ability. If we can get that right, we’ll have a big weapon.”