How can Northampton Town resolve their recent defensive issues?
For a team that was a week away from complete extinction just twelve months ago, Northampton Town are, by no means, struggling to adjust to League One life by sitting in mid-table.
Perhaps, after a run of four matches without victory – prior to yesterday’s win over Shrewsbury – the Cobblers have done themselves an injustice after their 32 match unbeaten run this year as a slight dip in form is something that Northampton supporters are not particularly accustomed to.
After an impressive start to their League One campaign saw them rise to as high as fifth in the table, a reality check has well and truly hit Rob Page’s side after three defeats in four have saw them drop down to the bottom half of the table ahead of Saturday’s meeting with lowly Shrewsbury Town.
Instead of last season, where the players at Sixfields were able to play without any pressure on their shoulders due to the ongoing financial circumstances at the club, there are far more expectations facing the Cobblers this year.
Whereas League One survival is ultimately the aim, Northampton may have to get used to the losing feeling that has very rarely been felt over the last twelve months.
Despite all of this, however, the Cobblers’ recent dip in form is largely down to their defensive frailties and lack of composure in the back four, a problem that Page needs to rectify fairly quickly.
21 goals conceded in 15 league games doesn’t initially seem like a bad return, especially for a newly-promoted side, but in their four defeats this season the Cobblers have shipped three goals in each, as well as only keeping four clean sheets so far. They also conceded twice on Saturday’s against a struggling Shrewsbury side.
These defensive frailties were horribly exposed during the week in the first Nene Derby for seven years – in arguably the most important game of the season for the fans, the Cobblers were dismantled at the back and Peterborough made sure of the local bragging rights with a 3-0 win.
One of the main issues is their vulnerability at defending set-pieces, with two of Peterborough’s goals coming from simple headers from corners, and Rob Page will be hoping that the return of Congo DR international Gabriel Zakuani will consolidate the back line.
After the defeat in mid-week, Page also cited the “lack of concentration” at pivotal moments which led to conceding soft goals, but believes that the Cobblers defence can bounce back on Saturday. Of course, they claimed three points, but still lacked resilience in defence.
With Zakuani, the on-loan Lewin Nyatanga, Zander Diamond and Rod McDonald all solid, experienced options in the heart of the defence, Northampton do have useful players at their disposal.
In Lewin Nyatanga, on-loan from Barnsley for the season, the Cobblers have a player that has been playing Championship football regularly for the best part of ten years, and although Diamond and Zakuani are Page’s main centre-backs it can’t be long before the Welshman gets a look in to the side.
Making over 100 appearances in his four-year spell at Bristol City, Nyatanga is a clever-minded defender, able to anticipate the game and intercept the ball well in front of the back four, as well as being more than capable of winning an aerial battle with his physical presence.
Northampton had the perfect chance to bounce-back from their form of late with a trip to bottom of the table and manager-less Shrewsbury, and the took it. The Cobblers may have failed to keep a fifth clean sheet of the campaign in this clash, but at least they are back winning ways.
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