Northampton Town 2-2 Cambridge United
Saturday 18 August 2018
There are two ways you can look at this latest frustrating stumbling block to the start of the Cobblers’ season – either it was a swashbuckling adventure capped by a rejuvenated striker or evidence that our back line is still not 100% recovered from some of the trauma of the last campaign.
Cambridge United came to Sixfields having had a mixed bag of results so far with the one constant being a leaky defence that would have given Dean Austin hope of seeing Kevin van Veen and Andy Williams fill their boots. The Dutchman, who gave a frank and honest interview this week about his personal struggles since joining in January, did just that in a second half display that worked to give us hope that we finally have that twenty goal striker in our midst and to signal the start of his own redemption story.
This was, though, to be a tale of both ends of the pitch cancelling each other out and leaving Austin and the 5,000 or so Cobblers fans in attendance rueing missed opportunities and the inability to close the game out.
It was a fairly subdued Sixfields that welcomed the teams with the novelty of the start of the season giving way to the realisation that this is going to be a real work in progress. With John-Joe O’Toole not ready to start and Shaun McWilliams still missing it was down to Sam Foley to plug the hole in midfield in a 4-4-2 starting line-up.
Town began by using the width well, particularly on the right as Sam Hoskins saw more of the ball than Dan Powell on the opposite flank but the final ball or shot just wasn’t coming off. Frustration was growing in the stands as chances came and went through van Veen, Williams and Matt Crooks, who had the clearest cut of the chances but side footed wide.
There was always the worry that Cambridge could catch us with a sucker punch in the manner in which Lincoln did on the opening day and Jabo Ibehre had a header cleared off the line by David Buchanan late in the half.
Then came a moment in front of the home fans that van Veen had been waiting for. After shooting just wide at the start of the second half, van Veen was found in the area by Powell and he hammered a shot into the net and in one moment may well have started a wave of positivity towards him from the stands. Seconds later and the Dutchman was chasing down his man and crunching into a challenge. He looked like a man reborn.
There was to be a bittersweet feeling hanging over proceedings, though, as the Cobblers didn’t clear their lines well enough from a United attack and George Maris side footed in for the first of two frustrating equalisers.
As the match stretched, van Veen announced that he wasn’t finished as he chased a ball down, controlled well and hammered in yet another beauty for 2-1. The emotion again came pouring out of the big man in his celebrations and the perfect story would have seen him take home all of the match day glory.
But it was a Cobbler of the past and not the future who had the last laugh of a pulsating second half. Gary Deegan never once looked like firing a shot into the top corner during his time at Sixfields but he did just that with three minutes to go to earn his U’s side a point.
It was another lesson in what happens when you don’t close out a game or concentrate for the full ninety minutes and there still seems to be a few issues about sealing a win hanging over from last season. Patches of the game were lost to long, lost passes and we gave the ball away too cheaply on far too many occasions.
The attacking intent should mean that we score a lot of goals this season and if we can take more of the chances we create this could be a very exciting Cobblers team to watch. I’m convinced that it will come with a couple of wins that boost the confidence and maybe even a scrappy success that gives belief to us defensively.
In van Veen, it’s clear that if we keep him motivated we have one heck of a player on our hands for this level. His size can sometime deceive how good he can be with the ball at his feet and his two goals today and header at Carlisle are evidence that he can score all sorts of goals. I’ve been the most guilty of slating the big man for not appearing up for the fight and will be the happiest to admit my mistake at the end of the season if this form continues. Now is the time to give van Veen the fresh start he needs to rewrite his Sixfields history.
Matt Crooks is another who again showed his ability to take control of games at this level. He was immense once again and has the potential to run everything in midfield.
We clearly need work on building the confidence at the back and trusting our ability to play on the floor and this will hopefully come in the next few weeks. Don’t forget previous promotion campaigns (and even the championship winning season) started slowly.
There’s a quick turnaround to the trip to Morecambe on Tuesday night with the Shrimps without a point from their three games so far. That kind of fact usually sends shivers down a Cobblers fans’ spine but it’s a massive chance to get off the mark in the wins column.
With a rejuvenated striker, the return to fitness of Junior Morias (the summer signing played the final twenty minutes today) and chances being created by the bucket load it surely can’t be long…