Northampton Town 0 Wigan Athletic 1 '“ match review, player ratings and highlights
No points and no goals, on the face of it Northampton started 2018 the way they ended 2017 but delve beyond the scoreline of this 1-0 defeat to Wigan Athletic and there's encouragement to be found.
Admittedly, performances such as this one will mean very little if the Cobblers still find themselves occupying a bottom four spot in May because the only currency that matters is points – something which they need to start collecting sooner rather than later.
But while the same problems still exist – chief among which is the creative void in attack – the fact they went toe-to-toe with Wigan, a team now unbeaten in 10 and well on course for promotion straight back to the Championship, is proof they can mix it with the finest this level has to offer.
It would be a little premature to suggest they’ve turned a corner for the new year but if Town can match and repeat the level of performance they reached here on a consistent basis, and if they can add a sprinkling of stardust in the final third in January, they will give themselves a fighting chance of staying up.
Consistency is the key word. One thing they must do is ensure this is not another false dawn like Blackburn was 10 days earlier and that is the headache Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has to solve: how can his side hold their own against two big clubs and in-form sides like Wigan and Blackburn but then be so flaky in defeat against two supposedly weaker teams in-between?
Performances, more often than not, are a better gauge of a team’s long-term future because a team which is consistently performing well will eventually be rewarded, but though the Cobblers have produced a number of decent displays this season, it’s that lack of consistency which remains the main reason for their current predicament.
Over the past 10 days, they’ve been more than a match for two of the top three and could have taken a point off both but, in the intervening time, they’ve fallen well short of the required standard in being outplayed by two sides further down. Therein lies the problem for Hasselbaink.
Against the division’s meanest defence, one which had kept four clean sheets in a row, Northampton could ill-afford to go a goal behind but it required only five minutes for Wigan to unlock the home side; Gavin Massey afforded to much room to cross and Nick Powell, his run untracked by any home defender, thumped in the header.
At this point, Town could have crumbled as Oxford did when conceding seven in Wigan’s last away game but, to their credit, they did not.
While the Latics did threaten more goals, Chey Dunkley hit the bar and Brendan Moloney brilliantly nicked the ball off Will Grigg’s toes just as he was poised to pounce, the Cobblers were not without their moments.
They were able to manufacture three or four breakaway opportunities that began with them winning the ball deep and then drive through midfield. One led to a chance for Shaun McWilliams, saved by Christian Walton just prior to Powell’s opener, while another saw Daniel Powell flash a cross-cum-shot across the six-yard box.
The second-half was a ding-dong battle but, unable to conjure up more quality in the final third, Northampton’s undoing all season, clear chances were at a premium and you always felt Wigan had another gear if required.
McWilliams and Powell both brought something different. McWilliams had the energy and Powell had the power but that was still not enough to give Chris Long the service he needs to thrive.
Further back, neither Matt Grimes, in one of his worst games of the club, nor Matt Crooks grabbed the game by the scruff off the neck but there was promise in defence where Town gave up few chances and George Smith, on a rare outing at left-back, grew into the game.
So there were reasons to be encouraged but until Hasselbaink finds the solution to Town’s ultimate nemesis this season – creating chances, scoring goals and inconsistency – relegation will continue to loom large.
How they rated...
Matt Ingram - Surprisingly quiet afternoon once Powell’s header flew past him. Flapped at one corner but was otherwise commanding as he encountered little trouble in coming out to collect and punch crosses... 6
Brendan Moloney - His forays into Wigan territory had mixed results, producing both good and bad crosses. Passing was iffy but didn’t let much past him at the other end, pulling off one goal-saving tackle on Grigg... 7
Regan Poole - More composed than he was at Portsmouth, stepping out to see off the danger and also doing well to nullify Grigg. Still seems better suited to a midfield role... 6
Ash Taylor - Type of performance we’ve become accustomed to this season, though will perhaps be disappointed that the winner came from another cross. Showed his quality on the ball with a wonderful raking pass which nearly got Foley in... 7
George Smith - Has seldom featured in his natural left-back position since signing but did so here. Needed a helping hand at times, not least for Massey’s cross that led to Powell’s goal, but was decent going forward... 6
Matt Grimes - Moved further back to defensive midfield and had a troubling afternoon. Didn’t do enough with the ball when he got it, too often sloppy in possession, and his set-pieces were disappointing throughout as he rarely beat the first man... 5
Matt Crooks - Involved in one fine move through the middle of the pitch but contributed little else. Having now played in central midfield, further forward and on the left this season, he needs to nail down a settled position... 6
Shaun McWilliams - His energy and athleticism were a real feature of the game, putting him at the heart of Town’s two best moments . Early break into the box brought a decent stop from Walton and slipped in Powell for another chance later in the half... 7 CHRON STAR MAN
Sam Foley - Lacked the quality to really hurt Wigan when it came to the final third but can’t fault his work-rate or endeavour. Might be one player who misses out once Hasselbaink makes his move in the transfer market... 6
Daniel Powell - Adds a whole new dimension to the team because he has three attributes which his team-mates lack: power, pace and directness. Little rusty and decision-making was off but Town are, for now, a better team with him in it... 7
Chris Long - Didn’t let the lack of quality service or clear chances affect his work ethic. Supply him with quality and he’ll bag goals, however he was restricted to just the one long-range attempt here... 6
John-Joe O’Toole - 6
Sam Hoskins - 6
Marc Richards - 6