Northampton Town 2 Fulham U21s 0 '“ match review, player ratings and highlights
While the Cobblers may have more pressing matters to attend to this season, the role the Checkatrade Trophy has played in their rejuvenation under Keith Curle should not be underestimated, especially following another productive and useful workout on Tuesday evening.
The competition is regularly criticised and often mocked but there’s no denying it has been of potentially priceless value for Northampton in recent weeks, and it was so again on Tuesday for various reasons.
The decision to rebrand and revamp the competition’s format two years ago was not necessarily taken with the intention of jolting faltering campaigns into life but if Town’s recent upturn becomes permanent, they will have a lot to thank the Checkatrade Trophy for.
When the Cobblers headed to Oxford United for their second game in South Group F last month, they did so on the back of one win in 14 games this season. Since beating the U’s 2-1 that night, they have won six of seven, including Tuesday’s serene 2-0 victory over Fulham U21s that secured their safe passage through to the knock-out stages.
Efficient and effective, Northampton’s performance was a continuation of what we’ve become accustomed to under Keith Curle’s management. No thrills and spills but no alarms and no sweat either.
Once Aaron Pierre capitalised on Taye Ashby-Hammond’s misjudgement to head in his fourth goal in seven games, the outcome was seldom in doubt, even more so when Sam Hoskins pounced on a second defensive howler just three minutes later.
A thrashing was not beyond the realms of possibility at that point as Town’s superior physicality and experience overwhelmed Fulham’s young guns, but despite further chances, the home side were content with their two goals before the second-half was disrupted by substitutions.
The main reason behind the reformatting of the Checkatrade Trophy was to give youth players a chance to taste senior football, and while Northampton may not have been at the forefront of the EFL’s thinking when that decision was taken, their plan was put into action on Tuesday.
In all, five academy products played some part in the game while another – Morgan Roberts – remained an unused substitute. Shaun McWilliams has become a familiar name on the team sheet these days but for brother Camron as well as Jay Williams, Sean Whaler and Joe Iaciofano, this was a night to remember.
Williams has hovered around the first-team picture for the past few weeks and he played the full 90 on Tuesday. Energetic off the ball and tidy on it, his performance in central midfield was impressive and demonstrated why he’s so highly thought of by those within the club.
At half-time, Camron joined Shaun to create a little bit of history as they became the first set of brothers to play a competitive game for the Cobblers in 85 years. Iaciofano and Whaler also entered the fray in what was an proud night for the club’s youth flourishing youth system.
But it was another youngster that impressed as much as anyone. Hakeem Odoffin, only 20 himself, was immense at both right-back and then centre-back. After a shaky start to the season, he’s been among Town’s best performers in each of his last four appearances, particularly outstanding at MK Dons and on Saturday against Crewe. With injuries to several other defenders, his timely run of form has solved a headache for Curle.
Cobblers’ turnaround over the past month has been nothing short of miraculous. So out-of-sorts for so long, the mere notion of winning six games out of seven would have seemed laughable, let alone realistic, not too long ago and yet that’s exactly what they’ve done.
They face their toughest test yet this weekend but you wouldn’t bet against Curle’s men making it five on the spin.
How they rated...
Lewis Ward - Was a spectator for 70 minutes until Fulham’s strong finish but even then he did not need to overly exert himself, making two routine stops to keep a first clean sheet in Cobblers colours... 7
Hakeem Odoffin - Clearly relishes and enjoys his craft, irrespective of the occasion, the opposition or whether he’s playing right-back or centre-half. Immense in both positions on Tuesday and even registered an assist to his name... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
Jordan Turnbull - Makes defending look easy at times, and in truth it was for the majority of this game as Town easily nullified Fulham’s threat... 7
Aaron Pierre - Has become a potent force in both penalty boxes under Curle, netting his fourth goal in seven games against Fulham as he strolled through the first-half before being replaced at the break. Hopefully no more than a precautionary measure... 7
David Buchanan - His succession of early corners caused panic in the visiting penalty box and created two or three early chances. Was hardly tested in defence... 7
Jay Williams - Often features at centre-back for the youth team but played the full 90 in central midfield on Tuesday. Was full of energy and running, always looking to get involved. Caught on his heels once or twice but will benefit hugely from the experience... 7
Shaun McWIlliams - Ran things from midfield, excelling at both in and out of possession to make sure Fulham never really had a sniff... 7
Daniel Powell - Not one of his most memorable games as he flashed in and out of the action and didn’t do enough when he did get the ball... 6
Billy Waters - Buzzed around in his usual busy fashion, creating chances for team-mates and missing one or two himself... 7
Sam Hoskins - Popped up all over the place during a vibrant first-half showing, pouncing on a defensive mishap to net Town’s second. Will be disappointed not to have added more to his tally having missed three chances after the break... 7
Andy Williams - Waited all night for an opportunity in front of goal but the ball never once fell for him in the penalty box... 6
Camron McWilliams - 6
Joe Iaciofano - 6
Sean Whaler - 6