On the 18th May 2013 Northampton Town played Bradford City in the League 2 Play-Off Final at Wembley Stadium. Following a 2-1 home defeat to Exeter City on Saturday, they currently sit 22nd in League 2, only outside of the relegation zone on goal difference and their record so far this season reads: played 7, won 1, drew 1, lost 5. Despite poor results, most of the performances (particularly at home) have been very good – at half-time against Exeter it is not an exaggeration to say The Cobblers could have been 4 or 5 nil up – and luck appears to be firmly against Aidy Boothroyd’s side.
However, there are some things which are not working and changes do need to be made.
Leadership – last year’s player of the season and captain fantastic, Kelvin Langmead was an ever-present figure last season but the domineering centre-back has missed the start of the season with a knee injury and looks set to be out until November. The defence has lacked a natural leader so far this season and the captaincy has been bandied around too often. Langmead’s return cannot come soon enough but in the meantime the defence has to step up and take much more responsibility (there has been talk of bringing in an experienced centre-back on loan) and meanwhile, Boothroyd must decide on a captain and stick with him.
Weak midfield – the plan at the end of last season was to only make minor changes to a squad of players who all played their part in the phenomenal achievement of reaching the Play-Off Final but, due to midfielders Ben Harding and Luke Guttridge turning down new contracts and Lewis Hornby out with a long-term back injury, Boothroyd has had to recruit a wealth of new midfielders. Ian Morris, Gary Deegan, Darren Carter, Matty Harriott and Danny Emerton have all been bought in and so far only Emerton has particularly impressed. The experienced central-midfield partnership of Deegan and Carter has so far been poor, Morris has been in and out of the squad with injury and Harriott has not had enough of a chance to prove his worth. Hackett and Emerton have done very well so far, but the other midfield players need start upping their game if they want to be playing week in week out.
Lack of goals – scoring goals has been a problem for The Cobblers so far this season. Despite putting three past Newport County, Northampton have not scored more than one in any other League match this season and have failed to score in all three away matches. The departure of last season’s top scorer, and cult hero, Adebayo Akinfenwa has hit the team hard and despite some fantastic performances from Clive Platt and Jacob Blyth, goals have been at a premium. Alex Nicholls is set to return from his horrific leg injury in January, and this should provide some much needed firepower, but until then it is clear that an experienced goalscorer is needed.
Poor discipline – The Cobblers have received three red cards so far this season in just seven League games. That is a fairly astonishing statistic. On top of that, Boothroyd’s side have picked up 15 yellow cards. In all the away games so far this season Northampton have been disadvantaged due to a sending off; Darren Carter against York City, Chris Hackett against Southend United and Roy O’Donovan against Bristol Rovers. Discipline comes from the top therefore it is down to Aidy Boothroyd to deal with the issue of improving the discipline. Until it is dealt with, it is practically impossible for The Cobblers to tackle their away problems.
Very little is expected from Northampton when they travel away to Mansfield this Saturday. If they do lose, the home match against Morecambe the following Saturday will become a very important match for The Cobblers. With mumblings beginning amongst the locals for change, the goodwill that the team has enjoyed since Gary Johnson’s ill-fated reign may soon begin to disappear.