D3D4 Northampton Town Correspondent Toby Foster laments his sides poor start to the season and lays the blame squarely at Justin Edinburgh’s door…
As Northampton’s dejected players trudged off the field to a chorus of boos once again at Sixfields last Saturday afternoon, their manager retreating down the tunnel away from chants of “sacked in the morning”, it was for many Cobblers fans not the remorseless trouncing which had been inflicted upon their team by Peterborough United that hurt the most, but the sheer inevitability of it. Northampton have now played four league games in this new season, and each time they have been beaten. So soon into the 2017/18 term, they already look like a team with no ideas, no desire and no hope. From the first whistle to the last against Peterborough, the Cobblers were toothless in attack, lacklustre in midfield, and clueless in defence, repeating a pattern seen in all of their recent defeats.
Peterborough on the other hand looked the antithesis of the Cobblers- exciting, energetic, dynamic and creative. They had quality all over the pitch, with pace in every position. They were also well-drilled, and took their chances when they came. A 1-4 final scoreline did not do the gaping disparity between the performances of the two sides any justice. Though it is still early days in this season, current form would indicate that neither Posh nor Northampton will be staying in League One come May, albeit for differing reasons.
So, where has it all gone wrong? Just one month ago, there was a great deal of optimism among Northampton’s support, not least because of a solid preseason campaign which included wins over Derby and Newport, and a transfer window in which underperformers were released en masse and 15 new players were signed.
But worrying problems with the new-look Cobblers side were first evident as early as the opening day of the season as Northampton began their campaign away at Shrewsbury Town. The Cobblers began the game playing a 3-4-1-2 formation, a strategy never before used in a competitive fixture by manager Justin Edinburgh with Northampton. Although it seemed a gamble to adopt such a previously untested formation away from home on opening day, fans were assured that the team had been training to play 3-4-1-2 throughout preseason. The resulting spectacle made a mockery of that suggestion, as a Shrewsbury side tipped by many bookmakers for relegation dismantled Northampton’s confused midfield and uncoordinated defence with ease. The closeness of the 1-0 final scoreline was simply down to Shrewsbury’s inability to convert the multitude of chances they created, until they finally found the net in injury time. As any football fan will know, opening day performances can be extremely deceptive, but in this case Northampton’s loss to Shrewsbury was a sign of worse to come.
The persistence of Edinburgh in continuing to play 3-4-2-1 despite glaringly obvious issues with the formation subsequently resulted in 1-0 losses to QPR (in the League Cup) and Fleetwood before the season was a fortnight old. Although the players signed by Edinburgh in the summer are all of a good standard and have added further quality to a team which already had a core of decent performers, none of this seasons’ Cobblers squad are really of the calibre or natural inclination to be suited to a 3-4-2-1. For instance, David Buchanan has been a fine footballer for Northampton for the last three seasons, but always as a left-back, not in the wing-back position he is deployed as in Edinburgh’s 3-4-1-2. As a left-back, Buchanan is one of the best in League One for defensive consistency and solidness. As a wing-back, he is repeatedly caught out too far forward, his inaccurate crossing relied upon too much, and his lack of pace exploited by the opposition. Billy Waters, of whom any Cheltenham Town fan will only speak praise, and whose services Northampton beat several other clubs to obtain, has also been repeatedly played out of position. An out-and-out pacey striker through and through, Waters is currently playing as a midfielder in behind two much slower target men in the new formation, rendering the threat he would so dangerously pose in a striking role unused.
But despite the myriad of tactical problems the deployment of the 3-4-1-2 has thus far produced and the terrible run of results it has yielded, Edinburgh seems determined to stick with the formation until the bitter end. Given that the local rivalry with Peterborough is the Cobblers’ biggest, the home defeat to the Posh felt like much more of an affront to Northampton fans than the other beatings this new season has brought, even topping the miserable 4-1 away loss to an imperious Charlton Athletic. But as dissent grows within the Northampton squad (on-field arguments between players and coaches have become the norm), it can no longer be denied that Justin Edinburgh’s controversial new footballing philosophy is losing the respect and commitment of the players.
Barring a quick and significant improvement in results, Edinburgh will no longer be manager come winter. There may be other reasons behind Northampton’s failure to win (a long-term injury to key midfielder John-Joe O’Toole and the late departure of veteran set-piece maestro Matt Taylor to Swindon Town have not helped matters) but the overriding feeling among the Cobblers faithful is that the blame lies with Justin Edinburgh’s stubborn and hare-brained tactics for this appalling run of results. On opening day, bookmakers offered odds of 16/1 on Northampton to win League One. The chances of such an event have now drifted to 500/1. If Northampton’s performances do not improve very soon, you may well get a similar price on Edinburgh’s tenure as manager lasting beyond Christmas.
words Toby Foster, D3D4 Northampton Town Correspondent