Northampton Town 1
Bradford City 1
Saturday 3 November, 2012
By David Lawrence
Those that went to ‘that match’ on Tuesday night will be familiar with the type of location where Northampton Town have relocated themselves. Yes it’s another ‘football stadium solution’ built on spare land next to a retail-entertainment estate. What these planning ‘masterstrokes’ offer the football fan is no decent pubs to congregate beforehand, no parking except for the exorbitant £4 club car parking and a ‘tidy’ seven-and a-half thousand seater ground with absolutely no atmosphere. Especially when only two-and-a-half thousand fans thought the game as interesting enough to turn up.
To give them some credit, the Cobblers’ supporters club have tried to address the sterility of the place by refurbishing the stadium bar and renaming it Carr’s. No not Alan –that’s his ‘famous’ son. This renaming is in homage to Graham Carr, who is just as famous around these parts having played for the Cobblers in the mid-sixties and managed them to the old fourth division title in the 1986/87 season. Interestingly, he also played for Bradford Park Avenue in their last season in the football league. The bar was friendly enough and it beat the option of sitting bored in the car before kick off like so many of the non-plussed City faithful appeared to be doing.
Soon enough it was time to get into the ground where conversations about ‘that match’ on Tuesday night were being had by some, whilst others discussed the team selection. The City team had an ‘unusual’ if not ‘experimental’ feel to it with many regulars being ‘rested’ and Young Scot Brown getting a start. This seemed to fly in the face of the quotes in the press by Steve Parkin and then Julian Rhodes about taking the FA cup seriously. Perhaps they were attempting to test the logic of Mark Lawn who had earlier in the week encouraged the use of the squad’s depth to cover for injuries. Perhaps.
Matt Duke was one of those that kept his place, along with the fullbacks Stephen Darby and James Meredith. The rising star Carl McHugh also remained in the team but was surprisingly joined in central defence by Nathan Doyle; such is the value of Roy McArdle who was outstanding in ‘that match’ he was rested to the bench. The midfield set-up in a diamond formation with Will Atkinson on the left and the returning Ritchie Jones on the right. Gary Jones played as far forward as he’s ever played this season whilst Brown did the converse and played as far back as any midfielder has ever played this season. Alongside Alan Connell up front, Garry Thompson got the start in the striking position he apparently yearns for.
For their part the Cobblers also had to change things around having lost two Nicholls. Higgs came in to keep goal as Lee Nicholls’ loan from Wigan had expired and ex-City player Louis Moult got a start up front for the unlucky Alex Nicholls. Losing their striker to a broken leg being a big blow to the Cobblers as he was seen by their manager as their 20 goal a season man. All this underlined that City weren’t the only team to lose key players and it would be the team that managed the difficulties well that would likely come out on top.
After an impeccably kept minute’s silence in remembrance of the fallen, the game started in a somewhat ‘bitty’ fashion with both teams struggling for any fluency. City had an early chance to score but the powder-puff effort by Connell was easily saved by Higgs. At the other end the mammoth Adebayo Akinfenwa brought Duke into action doing his best with a header whilst under pressure from McHugh.
Gradually, City came to terms with their new formation and changed personnel and their quality began to show. The dazzling Doyle in particular was looking solid and assured at the back. At one point he unleashed a 40 yard pass out to the wing the like of which has not been seen since Marco Sas sprayed balls out wide for an unsure Jamie Lawrence to attempt to deal with. Today’s winger was the on-form ‘Attila’ Atkinson, who had no such problems as he time and again slaughtered his opposing player. He and Ritchie Jones were cutting infield and linking with the smart play from the front two, carving openings for Gary Jones then Connell to come close.
City looked classy, but nearly fell to a couple of sucker punches. The impressive Danny East, who gave Meredith a tough game, crossed for Moult to run into the gap left by Akinfenwa’s movement and head the ball goalwards. It was going in all the way, but for the fine reactions of Duke who dived down to his right to make a magnificent save. Minutes later ‘cool hand’ Duke was at it again saving well after a mix-up in defensive cover let Chris Hackett have a free shot at goal. Despite him showing a frustratingly continued reluctance to come off his line for crosses, even when he doesn’t have the security of the beanpole Luke Oliver, he’s a brilliant shot-stopper. In fact, he was the difference between City still being in the cup at the end of the day.
Thankfully, City survived these scares and went on to get the goal that they deserved. Connell who had been working hard to break the defensive line received the ball from the energetic Gary Jones and played a neat pass across the box to Atkinson. He cleverly cut back inside and shot low into the far corner. It was a peach of a goal that was just reward for the team’s effort to pass the ball around and Atkinson’s outstanding play. The unusually quiet City Faithful woke up to sing his praises “he plays on the left, he plays on the right. That lad Atkinson makes Messi look Sh**e”.
It was “ole” time as City put pass after pass together. It was at times lovely to watch. As illustration McHugh at one point dealt with a speculative high ball from a stretched Cobbler’s defence by calmly killing the ball with his knee and then passing the ball back to the midfield to start another attack. The team that ended the half were not the experimental one that began it.
Half-time and the more than usual family mix of City Faithful were more than usually happy. The feel good factor is back at City.
Unfortunately, nobody had told Aidy Boothroyd who had clearly got into his side at the interval. The Cobblers responded by playing with more purpose by trying to utilise Akinfenwa’s strength more and target City’s back line weakness –their lack of height. The journey-man centre forward gave McHugh a rough ride and whilst Brown did okay on his debut he failed in his duty to get in front of the balls played into the big striker or offer him worthwhile covering support. At least twice in the first ten minutes of the half Akinfenwa caused enough problems to enable Moult to have a chance on goal and had a shot of his own curl over the bar. City were bravely still trying to pass the ball about but were increasingly looking vulnerable to the rejuvenated Cobblers.
So it was no real surprise when the scores were levelled. Another cross from East and Moult got the better of McHugh in the air to head in at the near post. It was what they deserved, but not what City needed. Hopefully, John Egan’s arrival from Sunderland will be of assistance with this ‘shortage’ in the future.
The goal livened up the City team. With the front two in particular trying their hardest to make amends. Connell was making some intelligent passes and almost scored when his drive was deflected by Longmead, leaving the keeper stranded, but unfortunately the ball bounced the wrong side of the post. Thompson was having the best game he has had for City so far, linking well with Connell and keeping up with the Jones’s. It still looked like either team could win it.
And then the substitutions came. First, the Cobblers made a change then City brought on Nahki Wells and James Hanson for Connell and Thompson, who both received standing ovations from the ‘Faithful’ for their efforts. The game as a footballing feast, if it ever was, was over. City resorted to the long ball game looking for the head of Hanson. It was predictable. It was boring. It nearly brought a penalty. Wells ran onto one of Hanson’s ‘lottery’ headers and was sandwiched in between two defenders just inside the box. However, the excellently anonymous referee Geoff Eltrigham rightly judged one of the defenders had got the ball first.
One more half chance to Wells and the game was over. Or was that game up? City had survived a tricky follow-up game to ‘that game’ on Tuesday night, managed to rest several key players, shown strength in depth and taken the cup seriously. Perhaps.
City: Duke, Darby, McHugh, Doyle, Meredith, Brown, Ritchie Jones, Atkinson, Gary Jones (McArdle), Thompson (Hanson 76), Connell (Wells 76)
Not used: McLaughlin, Bass, Baker, Hines
Categories: Match Reviews