Northampton Town 0-2 Plymouth Argyle
This wasn’t the Cobblers that everyone was raving about seven days ago. This wasn’t the free flowing, dangerous side that had started the season so brightly. And this definitely wasn’t the Cobblers that we hoped would turn up against one of the better sides in League Two this season. It was the Cobblers who we’ve seen far too often before – a team who, when all else failed, resulted to long ball tactics to absolutely no effect and handed the game to the visitors with terrifying ease.
I was intrigued by a fresh Town line up and looking forward to seeing how we would match up at home to another attack minded outfit. But after a decent enough start where the Cobblers were tidy but ultimately ineffective, a silly goal was given away before the Pilgrims happily scrambled in a second to seal a fully deserved three points.
With Marc Richards, Nicky Adams, Alfie Potter, the recovered Zander Diamond and, in his re-debut, Ryan Watson all coming in after the dismal defeat at Barnet on Tuesday night, hope was that it was just a blip and we started reasonably well. Reuben Reid, one of a few attacking danger men for Argyle, was taken off early on to be replaced by Ryan Brunt and we were playing some decent stuff without ever producing the penetration needed to break down a stubborn Plymouth rear guard.
Adams had our first effort on goal before Lawson D’Ath shot over from long range but there was never a sense that the killer pass or cross was coming. Still, getting to the break at 0-0 wouldn’t have been a bad return but the killer turning point came just second before the whistle.
It was a nightmare moment for Watson, who was looking to prove himself for a second time in place of the suspended (and missed) Jason Taylor. With no danger, the Leicester loan man slipped in the middle of the park and Graham Carey snapped the ball up, raced through and cooly slotted in the opening goal into the corner of a helpless Adam Smith’s net.
The goal led Wilder into panic mode and Dominic Calvert-Lewin was brought on to necessitate a change to a more open 4-4-2 formation. It was too soon and rather than form a route back into the game, it led only to Plymouth having access to a whole new plethora of space in the middle of the park. While they made use of it and kept their steely nerve in place, passing the ball with ease, the Cobblers reverted to lumping the ball up towards targets that were never going to make the ball stick.
Had we stuck to the original game plan we would have at least had some cohesion to the play. As it was, there was no direction and a complete lack of a game plan. Whether that’s down to the players on the pitch or the manager is up for debate but Wilder is experienced enough to spot when something isn’t working and get the message across to his charges.
Plymouth, inevitably, took advantage and were, to be fair, very good themselves and earnt the second goal, given to them by a scrambled Jake Jervis effort from a corner with twenty minutes to go. Sam Hoskins and Paul Corry were the other subs to be used by Town but if we’d been playing all night we wouldn’t have found a way back in. Josh Lelan’s late red card summed up a dire second half.
The plus point in all of this is that this type of performance highlighted some huge flaws in our plan b before the transfer window closes in just over a weeks’ time. It’s glaringly obvious that we need back up in central defence and a different option up front who will make the ball stick if we’re to change tack at times to go long ball. There’s no point in going direct with no target man. Rico can try all he might but he needs to be eating off scraps rather than trying to be something he’s not.
The only other positive is the goalkeeper Adam Smith, who was commanding as well as being a fine shot stopper. He’ll win and keep us points by himself this season, I’ve no doubt about it.
Other than that, reality has well and truly hit the dream start to the 2015/16 season.
Individual thoughts on the new look Cobblers…
Adam Smith: Already looking an outstanding acquisition and is doing all his talking on the pitch since his acrimonious departure from Leicester.
Josh Lelan: Still extremely raw and the red card was a product of getting caught out of position too often. Brendon Maloney won’t be too worried about getting his place back once he returns from injury on this viewing.
Ryan Cresswell: As dominating as ever in the air but will be challenged pace-wise by many forwards this season.
Zander Diamond: Glad he’s back but as with Cresswell could be beaten too easily in ground races. I worry about options here.
David Buchanen: Touches of class but not the attacking force he’s been early season.
Ryan Watson: A second debut to forget and not just for the slip for the goal. Hopefully just early nerves.
Joel Byrom: Went missing at times when we needed a calming influence at 1-0 down.
Nicky Adams: Signs are there of a terrier like striker but needed to grab the game by the throat more often and drive us forward.
Alfie Potter: Was performing well in the number ten role before his half-time substitution.
Lawson D’Ath: Moments of class but again not enough drive and creativity on this occasion.
Marc Richards: Not showing his usual presence so far but needs to be the poacher rather than the target man.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Sub): Ineffectual and not the option we needed from the bench. Would work better if we’re defending a lead and need energy.
Sam Hoskins (Sub): Not enough time to play to his strengths and seemed a desperation sub rather than anything else.
Paul Corry (Sub): Played for the last fifteen minutes. Apparently.