Following last season’s Wembley calamity, Northampton Town boss Aidy Boothroyd was slow to get off the mark in terms of summer recruitment. This failure to make quick additions was heavily scrutinised by Cobblers fans, particularly after the release of the club’s talisman Adebayo Akinfenwa. Key central midfielders, Ben Harding and Luke Guttridge turned down new contracts, central defender Clarke Carlisle retired and goalkeeper Lee Nicholls returned to Wigan after his successful loan spell leaving Boothroyd with the task of building a whole new midfield, rejuvenating the defence and acquiring a new goalkeeper.
After captain Kelvin Langmead, defenders Lee Collins and Ben Tozer and striker Roy O’Donovan signed their respective contracts, Boothroyd snapped up Bradford City’s Capital One Cup hero Matt Duke, Torquay United’s Ian Morris and Cheltenham Town’s Darren Carter to help send out a real statement of intent. Throughout a very good pre-season, which culminated in an impressive win over Leicester City, Boothroyd slowly but surely bulked out his squad by adding quality players such as Gary Deegan, Matt Heath and Kevin Amankwaah but also youngsters such as JJ Hooper and Danny Emerton to add to the already extremely exciting array of youth which Boothroyd has at his disposal.
Despite many key players being kept on, a completely new midfield started the first game of the season, away to York City, and it showed with very little cohesion and understanding between the four summer additions of Emerton, Deegan, Carter and Morris. O’Donovan fed off of scraps throughout, Carter was sent off and York snatched a late winner to send The Cobblers back to the drawing board. Two weeks later an improved opening twenty minutes, away to Southend United, was undone after two rash challenges from winger Chris Hackett which earned him an early bath and the depleted Town side crashed to a 2-0 defeat.
Nestled in between those two away defeats was a 3-1 home victory against Newport, which helps to continue adding fuel to the fire over the debate between Cobblers fans, players, staff and journalists alike – why is it that the home form is so good but the away form is so poor?
The answer to that question last season would have been simple – negative tactics away from home. Boothroyd, too often, elected to play a 4-5-1 formation with either Akinfenwa or Clive Platt on as a lone striker. Whilst the two have many strengths, mobility is not one for either of them and away from home we lacked speed and sharpness going forward for much of the season. A 4-4-2 formation would have been a more sensible idea but against Southend, this season, Boothroyd employed this system and, despite early promise, it fell short of success. Naturally, the key is to keep eleven men on the pitch and until this is achieved it is difficult to say how successful a 4-4-2 formation will be. Despite this, there appears to be a deeper problem. The players let their heads drop after conceding away from home and this is not something which happens at Sixfields. This happened countless times away last season, at Oxford, Bristol Rovers, Gillingham, Exeter, Rotherham, Barnet – the list goes on. This once again happened at Southend and after two away defeats in two away matches so far this season, the worrying away form looks set to continue.