SPORTS COMMENT: Lack of progress after January investment the root of Hasselbaink departure
So, after just seven months and 42 games in charge, the Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink era is over at Sixfields.
The Cobblers are once again on the lookout for a new manager, with the Dutchman becoming the third man to be hired and then fired by Town chairman Kelvin Thomas in the space of just 22 months.
Yep, since Chris Wilder upped sticks and headed for home to take the Sheffield United job in May, 2016, a matter of days after securing the Sky Bet League Two title, it has been a tale of woe as far as the appointment of Cobblers managers goes.
Rob Page, Justin Edinburgh and now Hasselbaink have all been handed the chance to make their mark at Sixfields, only for all of them to be sent packing in a matter of months.
Indeed, they have all had just seven or eight months in charge, with Page heading for the exits in January, 2017, Edinburgh being bombed out in August, 2017, and now Hasselbaink being sacked two days into April, 2018.
Those stats will hardly be a comfort to whoever it is gets the job next time around, but that concern is for another day.
Hasselbaink’s assistant Dean Austin has been handed the caretaker manager reins until the end of this season, and has the task of trying to steer the Cobblers to the four wins they will most likely need in their final five games to secure their league one survival.
And he will have to do it with a group of players who have failed to muster a win in any of their past nine games, and haven’t won at home since beating Milton Keynes Dons 2-1 on January 20.
That was a time when things looked pretty rosy for Hasselbaink and the Cobblers following that hard-fought victory.
In the middle of a January transfer window of investment in new players, the victory over MK was part of an encouraging run of four wins in six matches, with Town going on to pull clear of the bottom four with a 3-1 win at AFC Wimbledon on February 10.
There was even talk of the team making a push for the top 10 - but they haven’t won since.
So, what has gone so horribly wrong?
The biggest issue was of course results, with the Cobblers simply not winning enough games, especially at Sixfields.
Town have the worst home record in terms of losses in Sky Bet League One, and although their form on the road papered over the cracks since the turn of the year, that too has now gone by the wayside with the recent back-to-back losses to Fleetwood and Peterborough.
A key reason for the lack of wins - Town have mustered just 10 in all competitons this season and have only won six of 21 league one games at home - was the lack of goals.
And there is little doubt there was negativity about Hasselbaink’s approach to matches.
Supporters complained he was more concerned about what the opposition could throw at his team, rather than what his team could chuck at them, and the problems they could cause.
It was a particular frustration after the January transfer window when Hasselbaink, who had done a reasonable job in keeping the team afloat with Edinburgh’s players before the turn of the year, was handsomely backed by Thomas and the Cobblers board, bringing in nine new players, with four of them attackers.
Those signings of Kevin van Veen, Hildeberto Pereira, Gboly Ariyibi and Boris Mathis were supposed to give the team the attacking spark that had been sorely lacking in the first half of the season, and then Kevin Luckassen was added to the mix - but the spark never lit the flame.
The constant changing of line-up and tinkering with the system under Hasselbaink meant the team was never allowed to get into any rhythm.
Players were starting one weekend, and then jettisoned for weeks on end, before suddenly being brought back into the frame to start again, having not kicked a ball in anger for weeks, or in some cases, months.
It seemed something of a scattergun approach to selection and management.
One major reason for that may be the size of the Cobblers squad, which is pretty close to unmanageable.
Thanks to Edinburgh’s huge recruitment drive last summer, and then Hasselbaink’s signing work in January, the Town squad is close to 30-strong, and it could be the case the manager simply had too many options.
Sometimes less is more.
Going back to the negativity, it was galling for supporters to see the team playing for most of the season with just one striker.
Hasselbaink would argue that wasn’t the case, that other players were supposed to support whoever the targetman was from wide and central areas, but it was all too often the situation the striker, whether it be Marc Richards, Alex Revell. Chris Long or van Veen, would be left in 40 yards of space to fight it out himself with three or four defenders.
This is an area where the stats don’t lie, and the fact is the Cobblers have scored just 16 home goals in 21 league games this season, and only 36 in total.
Defensively, the team has also been found wanting, with the number of heavy defeats suffered this season alarming.
But the bottom line is, if you don’t score goals, you don’t win football matches, and with Town supposedly fighting for their survival, they have mustered a limp two goals in their past seven league matches.
Another irritation for observers was Hasselbaink’s insistence on every player being called back to defend corners - even when the team were trailing in matches, which was often.
The manager’s reasoning was having everybody back in the box restricted the space for opposition players to score..
But it also meant that whenever Town cleared the ball, it quickly came straight back.
This, and the lack of attacking intent and numbers, led to regular dissent from a Sixfields crowd tired of what they perceived to be dull football since the departure of Wilder, and that was something Hasselbaink simply didn’t understand, or readily accept.
On more than one occasion he complained about the supporters booing during and after matches.
He would regularly turn round and glare at fans in the west stand for giving him and his players stick, and it led to a fractious relationship between him and the club’s support, that in recent weeks got steadily worse.
Hasselbaink had total belief that he was the right man to take the Cobblers forward.
He said as recently as last week that he was in it for the long haul, but sadly the results, the team’s form, and the players’ performances and demeanour in recent weeks didn’t back that up.
Chairman Thomas and the Town board have taken the decision that enough is enough, and the search is once again on to find a new manager, and they have to get it right this time.
It is of course always easy to speak in hindsight, and there is no doubt an argument can be made for all of the managerial appointments since Wilder left the club making sense at the time.
But they have all ultimately proved to be mistakes, and the club simply can’t afford for that to happen again.