D3D4 Northampton Town Correspondent Toby Foster explains how a new manager has rejuvenated the Cobblers…
It might be a cliché, but Northampton fans have come to realise that the old paraphrase still rings true- “a week is a long time in football”.
Seven days ago, the Cobblers were bottom of League One, with no points after four games, a run of 14 matches without a win, and a campaign which already seemed doomed to end in relegation. But fast-forward to today, and Northampton are comfortably mid-table, with fans now once again believing that something can still be made of this season.
Crucial to this reversal of fortunes was club chairman Kelvin Thomas’s decision to sack struggling manager Justin Edinburgh, whose stubborn tactics were considered by most Cobblers fans and pundits to be the reason behind statistically Northampton’s worst ever start to a season in their 120-year history.
On the day the news of Edinburgh’s sacking broke, many fans of other teams rushed to judge Northampton as being a “trigger-happy” club who “lacked faith in management”. But the sort of abysmal performances the Cobblers faithful had grown used to witnessing under Edinburgh had begun long before the start of this season, and in truth whilst he had been in charge Northampton never looked hard to beat. Indeed, upon his departure, the team’s win percentage over the entirety of Edinburgh’s 8-month tenure was below 25%. The manager had been given more than enough time and money to turn things around and now it was time for the club to cut its losses and find a new boss.
Enter Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. The former Atletico Madrid and Chelsea striker was always the frontrunner in the brief race for the job, and just five days after Edinburgh’s departure, Hasselbaink was unveiled as the new Cobblers manager on a 3 year contract.
Reaction to the appointment among fans was initially generally positive. Many saw Hasselbaink’s signing as a coup for the club; such was his success in achieving promotion with Burton Albion. Sceptics pointed to his disappointing spell as QPR manager and his relative inexperience as a coach as potential issues. But the dissenting voices were quickly silenced after Hasselbaink’s first game in charge, as the Cobblers produced an inspired performance in front of their home crowd to overcome Doncaster Rovers 1-0.
As so many “rescue mission” managers do, Hasselbaink had gone back to basics, with 4-4-2 replacing Edinburgh’s ineffective 3-4-1-2. This formation change, along with the addition of deadline day signing Matt Ingram in goal, worked wonders. As quickly as Northampton’s impetus had evaporated, it had returned, as the Cobblers played with a verve and sense of direction not seen for many months. After just 21 seconds, they went ahead through a clever finish from Matt Crooks and thwarted a wave of Doncaster attacks to see the game out.
The victory against Doncaster made Hasselbaink the first Cobblers manager to win his first game in charge since 1999, and he wisely named an unchanged side for his second match, a Tuesday night home fixture against Portsmouth. This performance was even more impressive, with Pompey unable to cope with Northampton’s disciplined midfield and clinical counter-attacking play. After the final whistle signalled a 3-1 win, some Cobblers fans even remarked that watching Hasselbaink’s Cobblers side was like watching a different team altogether from the one they had grown used to, such was the difference in both style and substance from the calamitous performances under Edinburgh. Yet Hasselbaink had signed no players, and had had less than a week’s worth of training to impose his regime on the squad. Given this, his quick turnaround of Northampton from a failing team to one capable of defeating two solid League One outfits is all the more miraculous.
Most new managers have a honeymoon period, and whilst the two wins were badly needed, Cobblers fans must remember that two swallows don’t make a summer. It remains too early to judge Hasselbaink as Northampton’s saviour for this season, yet that is not to say he cannot be highly commended for a perfect start to his tenure. There are tougher tests to come for this rejuvenated Cobblers team in the coming games- a tricky Tuesday night away fixture at Wigan Athletic seems to be the biggest potential stumbling block- but for now Northampton fans can feel relieved that the situation looks immeasurably better than it did last week, and confident that their side go into the long winter months safely mid-table rather than deep in the drop zone.
words Toby Foster D3D4 Northampton Town Correspondent