As I Seen It - Northampton (a)

Match report by ALREET at Sixfields 

Northampton Town 2, Pools 0 League 2 Saturday February 22nd 2014

Let me say at the outset that, despite Edith's optimistic prediction of a One Nil Pools win, I had bad vibes about this one. We have been playing quite well of late and our steady form has seen us climb to within reach of the play-offs but the bottom team away bore all the hallmarks of us missing the next rung on the ladder and taking two steps back.

Approaching Northampton by rail, it was comforting to see that the old 'lift' tower was still in situ but reaching the station, things changed dramatically. The station is being completely rebuilt and looking for the exit from the platform, I noticed that the other passengers had embarked on a trek to the far end and were climbing up a monster temporary bridge that consisted of three sets of sixteen steps. It looked as if it had been constructed with double- decker trains in mind. Luckily, I don't suffer from vertigo. I have walked to the ground in the past but as it is about two miles away and time was getting tight, I opted for a taxi.

Bill the Biro was also at the match, and provided this picture showing all of Northampton's most well-known places in one shot. In the foreground is the home end of Sixfields with its tubular floodlight pylons. Behind that is the bottom of the famous Northampton Lighthouse (actually the testing tower built by Express Lifts Ltd) which can be seen for miles around. Behind that is the equally famous Franklins Gardens stadium of top rugby club Northampton, showing the club colours on its new stand. And in the far distance you can see the floodlights of the Northants county cricket ground, which the Cobblers used to share before moving to Sixfields, in a quaint arrangement where the two pitches were side-by-side (slightly overlapping) with the stands around the outside.
It was a bright, sunny afternoon as the teams lined up but the first surprise, at least for me, was the omission of Monky as I thought he had been doing well recently. Pools were kicking towards the home end and it wasn't long before James was running down the right wing and winning a corner which was taken by Barmby. Unfortunately, it was a pathetic effort, bouncing halfway before it even reached the first defender. 

A second corner shortly afterwards from the same position was of equally dubious quality. Williams tried his luck from outside the box but his left-footed shot was too high. Duckworth, making his comeback from injury, was suddenly hobbling back towards goal. The ball was switched to the opposite side of the field but when I looked back, he was lying flat out on his back on the edge of the penalty area. I didn't see exactly what happened but it was quickly deemed serious, and the St John Ambulance staff were summoned to bring a stretcher. They appeared to be out for a leisurely stroll as they ambled across the pitch, and Duckworth eventually left the scene after about five minutes of treatment which would ultimately prove decisive. 

Ravenhill collected the ball outside our box but his shot sailed over the bar. Dickenson for the home side put a header wide of the mark while Williams had a shot blocked for us. Town then put a left-footed effort into the crowd while another attempt was saved by Flinders in the centre of his goal. Hackett was put through but was flagged offside while Walton was warned for a trip near the centre circle. Cobblers' imposing No.9 swivelled on a ball in the box but his attempt cleared the bar. Collins dealt well with a ball played through our middle and Walker made a great tackle to avert a dangerous situation on our right. 

"The Cardinal Rule is to try to keep things tight for the first ten minutes or so but Pools don’t always play by the rules"
Their big No.7 ran through our defence but drove his shot straight at Flinders while Burgess and their No.9 decided to “have a discussion”. Entering “Duckworth time”, Holden was booked for an innocuous nudge on McSweeney who staggered backwards as if he had just walked onto a right hook. The subsequent cross cleared our defence but was met by the onrushing Widdowson who returned the ball to the far post with the inside of his left foot where it was nodded home from close range. There was still time for another header to clear our left post before the half-time whistle blew.
The second half started with Walker putting a weak left-footer past the post. The Cardinal Rule is to try to keep things tight for the first ten minutes or so but Pools don’t always play by the rules and a long ball found a Cobblers attacker in acres of space on the right flank where he had time aplenty to deliver a cross into the centre and the resulting header was tucked away for Town’s second. 

Walton, finding space on the edge of their area, unleashed a low left-footed drive which skimmed the surface and avoided the sprawling keeper only to strike the far post. Northampton continued to apply pressure but their efforts were mostly wide of the mark or hit straight at Flinders. Williams cut inside their defence but his shot couldn’t beat their keeper. 

The impressive Hackett had a right-footed drive from outside the box blocked before Williams retaliated with a left-footed shot which was saved in the middle of the box, closely followed by one from his right which met the same fate. 

With twenty five minutes left on the watch, Cooper decided to make two substitutions, bringing on Franks for the ineffective Harewood and Compton for Barmby. Walton received a yellow card on the edge of their box after joining in an attack while at the other end, Dickenson placed his drive just past our left stick. Walker hit a cross well wide but Williams skipped past two defenders before unleashing a blistering drive which was heading for the top corner before their keeper brought off an excellent save and turned it away for a corner. He was then booked for a silly trip, no doubt borne out of frustration, as his opponent was running nowhere. To compound his woe, Williams seemed to turn his ankle after taking on a defender, ironically at the identical spot which had earlier claimed Duckworth. The final whistle brought the curtain down on a day to forget for Pools.

That was a most disappointing result, particularly the manner in which it occurred. Pools never left their coach and ‘played’ with a lack of self-belief, barely able to string two passes together. They were too soft against a team of very tall lads who won headers all over the pitch and who played with energy and strength if not overly blessed in the guile department. Northampton were not a good side, equally capable of scrappy play and misplaced passes, but they deserved their win and put their chances away and kept us out on the few occasions when we threatened and in Hackett, they had the man of the match.

For Pools, Burgess was the shining light and Collins put in a decent shift as well. Walton covered most of the pitch and tried to inject some desire into the side, albeit with a customary misplaced pass or three. I don’t know what effect the injury to Duckworth had on the team but Holden on the opposite flank had a poor afternoon as he was never tight on his opponent, giving them time and space to deliver telling crosses. Barmby, despite some neat footwork, flatters to deceive and Walker was largely anonymous. Williams is a class act but this was not one of his better days which was unfortunate as this was to be the last time he would pull on a Pools shirt. James was isolated up front although he still exuded enthusiasm, making runs and harrying their defence.

A mention for Mr Darren Lord, the referee, who made some strange decisions, not exactly news to Pools fans. He was not averse to stopping play for indiscernible offences while allowing far beefier challenges to go unpunished. Why, he even admonished the relatively diminutive James for three or four fouls on Northampton’s giants in the first half!

Speaking to a Cobblers fan while waiting for the bus back to the station, he said he felt that they would have been relegated had Boothroyd stayed in charge as he was trying unsuccessfully to get them to play football. He thought that Wilder, with his more direct style, had been brought in as he has experience of getting teams out of the Conference, should that be their fate.

Only two trains and a relatively short distance meant that, for once, my journey was uneventful. The railway had the last laugh though as the ticket issued to me for the outward journey wouldn’t let me in while the ticket for my return wouldn’t allow me out through the barrier either.