MATCH REPORT: An unlikely, but deserved, point
Before the game I would honestly have settled for a point given that Northampton hadn’t lost a game since December and though my heart was going for a win by the odd goal my head was telling me that generally we have not been good enough against the top teams and a lost by the odd goal or two was far more likely. I was surprised at the unchanged team for the main reason being it is an unusual event and also thought DC might have gone with wing backs. My main worry was the midfield area where I felt we lacked the attacking creativity but mainly the defensive strength of the players in there. I almost feel that we may as well go with an attacking midfield of Bodin, Lawrence,Lines and Monty. Anyway I will look at yesterday’s game and team performance through the individual players performances.
Mildenhall 6 Badly at fault for the first goal, for his height he should have confidently taken the cross especially considering there was not a big man in sight but that aside did very well and made one excellent save in the second half that had it gone in there would have been no fight back. His lack of command of his six yard box makes me think that whatever the outcome of this season we should be looking for a more commanding keeper but being honest it is not going to be that easy replacing a keeper who, taking away the command aspect has been excellent in all other parts of his game since his return.
Leadbitter 7 Very strong defensive performance although he went to sleep on the second goal allowing his player to drift away from him and score unchallenged. His pace is a great asset and for me the majority of the game he did a very good job at defending and also managed to get forward on a number of occasions. His crossing was not always good but the cross for Matty’s goal was brilliant and overall I feel a lot safer with him at right back than James Clarke. I can see why DC plumps for Clarke on many occasions because he is physically stronger and probably would not have allowed his man to get away from him so easily on the second goal but there again would James have played as well as Leadbitter on other aspects of yesterdays game- I think not.
Lockyer 7.5 For me it was between the ever reliable Tom and Mark for overall Man of the Match yesterday although for the second goal they both seemed to be absent without leave. In truth if you watch goals conceded it is very easy to forget the good parts of a players game and mark them down. For the majority of the game Tom was his usual self, in control of situations and taking into account the terrible battering he got from their centre forward in the first half hour without much in the way of protection from the referee I felt he stood up to the physical challenge and came out on top of most challenges and battles.
McChrystal 8 MOM Back to his best yesterday and just sneaked Man of the Match for me because he stuck to his task and made very few mistakes but also because I thought it would be unfair to give it to Ellis for the short time he was on the pitch. Although Ellis was on in our best period of the game this was very much about the complete 90 minutes where it would have been easy to forget the fact that we were the better team in the first half and probably unlucky to be a goal down. Whilst Marks distribution is never going to be good yesterday he made sure that his clearances generally at least gave our players a chance of chasing the ball and where necessary the ball went into row Z out of harms way.
Brown 6 I am very much one who rates a defender primarily on his defending and I really think this is the key to these top of the table matches where it is easy to allow a defenders part in our attacking moves to overlook how they have done their defensive work. The first goal Lee should have been making an aerial challenge on the player who scored as it was clear Mildenhall was never going to come for the ball and in my view in these tight matches he should be concentrating on his defensive duties far more with Lawrence in front of him and I would blame him as the main cause of the second goal getting caught up field and failing to be back to mark the player who crossed then ball in. People have to remember that for every attacking run that Lee does there is another more attacking player who has to do a defensive job to cover- IMO Monty is far more able at doing this job and then if you have a winger on the pitch you have to question whether Lees runs down the wing are really necessary. The equaliser though probably answers that question as he kept his head and put an inviting ball across which Ellis finished perfectly.
Bodin 6 Started off the game like he was going to be a key influence on the game with his clever movement and ability to beat a man be it more inside than on the outside and then faded badly. He was very much involved in the good opening spell we had when we looked much the better team until the Cobblers scored against the run of play and in all honesty Northampton didn’t really create much in the entire first half and I would have put us down as the slightly better team in that period. It was clear that the final ball was our main downfall and far too often it was us creating our own problems with a poor pass rather than Northampton being good and very often the poor pass was down to our entire midfield where Lines and Ollie Clarke were particularly wasteful.
O. Clarke 5 Ollie had an average game and got in some good challenges but for me he is in the team because DC failed to make a signing before the deadline despite what are proving to really be long term injuries to Mansell and Sinclair and without these two our defensive qualities in the midfield are severelly handicapped and I would say to the extent that we might be better off playing one of our better footballing players in there ie playing Lawrence or Easter centrally either together or one or the other with Lines and bringing Monty in on the left . Far too often Ollie ruins his good play with an awful pass when a straight forward pass is on and the opponents seem to be able to get past the Ollie/Lines combination far too easily.
Lines 5.5 Quite a disappointing performance from Chris overall and was summed up when he went on a brilliant run from deep at the Cobblers defence in the second half and at the vital moment where one thought he might go on to shoot himself he spotted Ellis in a better position but then proceeded to give the ball straight to a defender. There were far too many of these wayward passes or nonchalant flicks straight to opponents which stood out. I am not sure in my own mind whether it is him performing badly or his partnership in the central midfield just not working. Age wise he should be in his prime and his experience at playing above this level should really be shining through but yesterday he just didn’t seem to be at the races and yet there were still moments where he picked up the ball and you thought what a good player he was or could be.
Lawrence 5 In possession he seems calm and authoritative but the question really is can we afford the luxury of this over a player who can run around and cover ground. My own feeling is that he is definitely wasted playing wide left and should either be the main man in the central midfield alongside Ollie Clarke (or preferably a fit Mansell) or can we afford to play him alongside either Lines or Easter and bring in Monty.
Taylor 6 By his standards yesterday was a poor performance overall but his excellent Vardyish finish for our opening goal showed why we should always keep Matty on the pitch when we are chasing a game. The 30 goal target is now looking a distinct possibility and that would be an absolutely amazing achievement. Many are asking “Can we keep hold of him?” My opinion is that he needs to ply his trade the next step up ie League 1 next season and if we do manage to go up is there a better option for him? I Think Championship might be too big a step up and if there are any truths in the Hearts rumours (I think not) I actually think this would be a step down for any English player as overall it is a Noddy League with maybe 3 good games a season. To be honest at the start of the season I was thinking if he could score 15 at this standard then that would be an achievement but now I am looking at possibly the best striker in this division who I believe is capable of doing the same next season if we go up.
Gaffney 4.5 Worked hard but has not looked the same player since his injury. One excellent run apart where he looked like he would get a shot at goal but was eventually blocked for a corner this was very much a subdued Gaffs. I was hoping before the game that DC would start with Mc Burnie as Gaffney has been struggling recently and this looked another performance where he looked like he needed to have a rest from action and recharge his batteries. Next week for me is one where I think Ellis deserves a chance to show what he can do or maybe McBurnie to do the same.
Harrison 7.5 Came on and gave the complete performance that our play had been missing up until then. Northampton’s defence suddenly looked anything but Top of the League class as Ellis’s first touch was sublime and his pace and movement threatening every time the ball went forward. It was the substitution that I felt should have been made at half time as was Montano’s for either Lawrence,Lines or Ollie Clarke!!
Montano 7.5 Not everything he did when he came on, came off but the mere fact he has a bit of skill and pace about him made us an immediately better side and one which with Ellis added as well suddenly looked so much better. The last fifteen minutes was really a different game with Northampton looking second best and every attack we had started to look dangerous. Monty was doing what he does best which was running at opponents and looking capable of beating two or three and getting crosses or shots in. Surely there is a way to find a place for him in this team every week? He stretches opponents and also has the ability to track back and can be a match winner-something I think we really need in these final five games. I almost feel that we have nothing to lose by really going attacking in the remaining games because whilst unlikely it is not beyond us to win all five.
Easter 6 Another who came on and did little wrong. Possibly didn’t have long enough to actually mark but was on in such an influential part of the game and was involved in a lot of link up play. Surely he is another player who can play a part in the last five games which could in fact turn out to be 8 games!!
Crowd 8 Great atmosphere and I would have given 9 but for the idiot who threw the plastic bottle at the goalkeeper. There is no place for idiots like this. The comeback which looked so unlikely twenty min minutes earlier was the least the support deserved and whilst I am sure if there had been another five minutes we could well have scored a winner I was not disappointed to hear the final whistle as there could also have been another “Carlisle” where we were caught on the break and this point could be far more important in the final reckoning.
Ref 4 Definitely a “homer”. How many nasty challenges does a player have to make before being booked and yet we make one challenge and see an immediate yellow card. The worst decision was for the free kick that hit the underside of the bar – the referee blew before the tackle had even been made in a challenge by Lines that clearly won the ball and was in no way dangerous. To be fair he was not helped by a Linesman who must have been cross eyed to not see several balls that went out!
Northampton 7 What can you say about a team who have absolutely walked the League barring a miracle? A strong unit with good individuals yet for long periods we edged the game if not the score. They are in my opinion worthy Champions and there were times in the second half where I looked at John Jo O’Toole and thought what a great player he could have been in our present team. There was nothing complex about his game just the ability to be in good positions and available to receive a pass and lay the ball off.
DC Did he get his initial team selection right? Who knows but this was a valuable point and his substitutions were what gained that point. Personally I would have made the first two substitutions at half time but as regards initial selection to be fair we were the better team before Northampton scored and questionably edged the first half. Did I expect us to have 72 points at this stage of the season? No. Did I think we would take 25 points out of the last 33? No. This is an incredible achievement and a remarkable season to date with the Play Offs pretty well a nailed on certainty and the Automatics not in our own hands but not beyond possibility and who would back against this remarkable Manager orchestrating five wins out of five and if he did that and we didn’t go up automatically then you would have to say that those who went up would deserve it because it would probably mean they had won all their games too.
For now it is on to next week and the potential banana skin that is Yeovile. It’s a very winnable game but you know it is not going to be easy and although we may today look at some of the other teams fixtures and say they are easier you can imagine quite a few other teams looking at our fixtures and wishing it was theirs. For me personally due to the teams we have left I would go for an attacking team and let the opponents worry about us and I think my starting line up would be:-
Leadbitter Lockyer McCrystal Brown
Bodin Lines Lawrence Montano
Subs Puddy McBurnie Gaffney Easter Parkes O Clarke J Clarke
We must make the Mem an intimidating atmosphere in the remaining 3 home games starting next week. UTG