Fan’s View 23/24 – No.38: Northampton at home

Article by Paul Beasley Thursday, February 22nd, 2024  


Oxford United 2 Northampton Town 2

None of this mitigating circumstances blah blah blah for me even though I can see why some would claim they exist.

None of this but we’re unbeaten in six and are now fifth in the league so everything is just about okay for me. We’ve gained eight points in those games and dropped 10.

The saving grace, if play-offs are the goal, is that yes, still yes, given the crappiness of L1 this season at least one quite crappy team will get into the top six. Once you’ve made that then who knows? (Although we probably do know don’t we. Reference Wycombe and Blackpool. Which teams had the hardest underbelly on the day?)

Regular Radio Oxford caller Tim keeps insisting we’ll make the play-offs but won’t get promoted. The way this league is I can see that happening. That’s a sad indictment on the quality of fare we’ve shelled out to view this season.

Back to the underbellies. Boy is ours soft. We cocked up here big time. Teams make mistakes which cost them goals, of course they do but not to this scale if they have any claim to being a good side. None of this “we deserved to win that” bollox when a team does as we did here.

We’ve thrown two points away to a mid-table mediocre outfit. They didn’t have to work for their second equaliser. We gave it to them for ****s sake. Gift wrapped – here you are, take it.

Taking the lead in the sixth minute should have been the platform for a perfect evening points wise. But no, of course that wasn’t what transpired.

The opener demonstrated the value in trying to play further up the field, getting the ball forward when the opportunity arises and not looking for the perfect goal with pass after pass after pass in the build-up. Most goals, particularly at this level, come from mistakes by the opposition. It is L1 after all.

A long ball forward was headed away by a defender but when a white shirt attempted to clear it further up the pitch Greg Leigh got a block in, directing it unintentionally to Billy Bodin who had been hiding behind referee Charles Breakspear. BB fed Josh Murphy to his right and our no.23 impressively fired home from the edge of the area. Murphy impressed me not only for this but other aspects to his game that may have gone unnoticed by some. When Sam Long went forward at one stage and we lost the ball Murphy quickly got back to cover. Work like that is so important.

At a goal in front our tactic seemed to be to slowly keep the ball at the back presumably hoping to bring the Northampton players on to us so that our sublime skills could see us play through them and away we would go to slot home a second. Surely it can’t just have been to keep the ball for the remainder of the game.

Some of our fans weren’t happy with this very early on. “Get it forward” they yelled. I retorted “Don’t you know who’s winning?” I did acknowledge though that as the seconds and minutes passed by we needed to do something a bit more inspiring. What had the fans paid for? Entertainment? To see three points won? Both? I too gradually became unhappy with what I was seeing. There were a couple of occasions where men up front, Murphy in particular I recall, had made runs but were not spotted. Not spotted because the man on the ball wasn’t looking forward for movement but was focussing on the sideways backwards gig. Eventually you’ll get caught out doing that, especially if that’s 95% of what you’re doing. Cameron Brannagan had one slight lapse of control where we could have been caught out but Bran being Bran managed to nip in and keep the yellow possession trail to nowhere intact.

As sure as the Sun rises in the east playing this way we lost our lead. Jamie Cumming had the ball at his feet. He passed left to Ciaron Brown. Brown back to Cumming. Cumming to his right to Stephan Negru. Negru a forward pass, but still well in our own half, to Bodin who had a Northampton man just to his rear. Facing his own goal BB plays it that way not to a colleague but to Marc Leonard. The iFollow commentator nailed it, only much more politely than we in the stands saw it “Not very clever at all from Oxford United, who might be punished here”. Leonard turned and played in Kieron Bowie who had no home defender to prevent him getting forward. He laid it back again to Leonard who swung in a first time centre and William Hondermarck got his head on it jumping between Negru and Long.

Having done what we did we got exactly what we deserved. Even having given it away in midfield we should have defended the ball in better.

Those who thought we shouldn’t have pissed about at the back at all after we’d scored but gone forward again immediately as soon as we had possession because the Cobblers were there for the taking, now had more of a case than ever.

At half time I think it would be fair to say that the fans in the concourse were a little disgruntled but also perhaps resigned to the fact that this is the way it is at Oxford United.

You only have to look around the ground. From the SSU the home section in the North stand and the East stand were far from packed. What atmosphere there was emanated from the away followers. Away games and home games from a fan perspective are like chalk and cheese.

The stats say we had 18 shots with six on target but I can’t remember us looking much like scoring again until we did. Perhaps the grumpiness that had set in after we’d thrown our lead away was clouding my judgement as to how we were playing, but I don’t think so.

Tyler Goodrham came on for Joe Bennett in the 66th minute. TG usually supplies a spark but I didn’t notice much difference this time.

The next substitution came four minutes later. I’ve long been saying the way Brannagan plays he’s one day going to injure himself. Eight minutes earlier, after he’d slid in to win a ball, he required lengthy treatment. He tried to carry on but couldn’t.  Josh McEachran came on in his stead.

In the 72nd minute there were two more changes. Murphy and Mark Harris departed. Given the way the former had been playing there were murmurings. The latter had been more the player of earlier in the season, a putter in of shifts but not a goal scorer.

Their replacements were Owen Dale and Will Goodwin. Dale looked way better than what we’d seen previously and the same could easily be said about Goodwin too as the pair of them fashioned a second goal for us within ten minutes of arriving on the scene.

Having given the ball away, Bodin picked up the clearance and immediately fed Dale, who demonstrated quick, simple wing play with a delightful low cross into the penalty area. The stooping angled header from Goodwin to find the back of the net was proper centre-forward play. An excellent finish.

I stupidly started to believe. Teams not playing well finding a way to win equals success, apparently. We twice nearly got a third. Greg Leigh and then Goodwin nearly got on the end of a Ruben Rodrigues cross. The alert Goodrham robbed captain Jon Guthrie and tried an innovative chip but kneeling keeper Louie Moulden stuck up an arm to stop it. A simple square pass to Dale would have massively increased our chances of putting the game to bed.

But we found a way to drop those two extra points, in fact we insisted on doing so.

Long had the ball midway in the Northampton half of the pitch and decided to boot it all the way back Cummings. We were no longer in control. It wasn’t the best of back passes and our keeper just had to launch it. A Northampton defender then just belted it back into our half. A visiting attacker who was way offside was just walking back but whatever anyone might claim I can’t see that he impeded Negru who seemed very slow to react. Perhaps the bouncing ball was to blame for him getting into a tangle but he appeared to mistime whatever it was he was trying to do. Leonard was able to gain possession and try and get the ball to Tony Springett. He though was unable to collect it. MacEachran was able to nick it away but Matete didn’t look quite 100% alert. Alert to taking one for the team perhaps? Northampton were then able to play a couple of passes with the resultant square ball into the box finding Springett who controlled well and finished from close range. As the ball entered the net we had seven players in the area while they had three. Should MacEachran have done better to have stopped the ball in? Should Brown have done better to have stopped the scorer shooting?

Whatever it was or wasn’t there were errors involved. Errors that should not happen regularly. I’m writing this a couple of days later and am still fuming.

On goals scored per game we rank sixth. The teams that better this are Peterborough, Bolton, Barnsley, Derby and Portsmouth in that order. They’re all above us in the table except the Posh who are now a point behind but have two games in hand. So just about there on that front. Whatever we say about not scoring enough goals and missing too many chances we’re at play-off level.

Defensively it is a different story although not by that much of a margin. On goals conceded per game we’re eighth best. Put those two together and we’re not quite play-off material.

The seven that are better than us defensively are in order Derby, Portsmouth, Lincoln, Bolton Stevenage, Barnsley and Blackpool. That’s the top four and two teams that with their games in hand could get close to us or in one case go past us.

Although league position is obviously a fairly accurate indication of how good a team is at attacking and defending, freefalling Peterborough only rank 10th having conceded 12 goals in their last four games.

Lincoln though are the exception to the rule. They have the third best defence but only the 16th best attack. So 10th in the table is about right.

Another “no shit Sherlock” comment then – to be successful, to get top six (if that’s what success is) both defensive play and attacking play needs to be of a certain standard, a standard that is set by the quality of the entirety of the league. At the moment we’re not achieving one of those standards. It’s that area that lets us down more than the other most seasons. Why?  

Northampton Town Financial Analysis by Colin Barson

This will probably be one of my shorter financial reviews, as contrary to the financial soap operas that we’ve seen recently at Reading and Wigan, there isn’t a lot to get excited about with Northampton’s finances.

If we start with the normal financial bench marking, we can see that they feature two or three places from the bottom of most categories. The season being analysed is, as always, year ended 30 June 2022. Northampton spent that season in League Two, where they were chasing promotion all season and missed out on the last automatic place in the last few minutes of the last game of the season. Bristol Rovers pipped them to the post on goals scored, by scoring seven goals past already relegated Scunthorpe, who fielded a team of teenagers. Northampton then lost in the play-off semi-final to Mansfield. As we know, they then got the job done last season.

So, we are looking at League Two finances, and it is therefore no surprise that they feature so low in most categories, against League One figures from most clubs. What is of interest is that going back a few years, to when they were in League One, their numbers are not much different. Northampton’s income and expenditure doesn’t seem to vary much, whether they’re in League One or League Two, and neither do their attendances. They are very much a run of the mill lower league club. They have spent 96 seasons in the EFL/Football League, all of them bar four in the bottom two divisions. They’ve spent 14 of the last 50 seasons in League One and the rest in League Two. During that time their attendances have mostly been 4,000/5,000 and only went above 6,000 five times. In the same period, they have attracted an average attendance of 3,000 seven times, of 2,000 seven times, and below 2,000 once.

I’m maybe labouring the point a bit about attendances, but the reason is that I’m trying to paint a picture of Northampton as a club. Northampton is a bigger place than Oxford, and some might suggest they’re a similar sized club to us, but I’d disagree. They may (or may not?) have the potential to be “bigger” than they are, or have been, but they seem to have settled for stability, which is all well and good, but I think it can turn into mediocrity, and I feel that is the case with Northampton. I know they’ve had their brush with football’s wrong’uns, with the development of their East Stand ending up with £10.5m of public money going missing, while they were under the ownership of David Cardoza, but they’ve generally been under stable ownership.

Their income has been around the £4.5m to £6m level for the past few seasons (after player trading, which they’re not bad at) and their wages have hovered around the £3.5m to £4m point during that time. Those are figures that will always be around the lower end of the League One and that level of expenditure on wages is less than half of the League One average. In football, as in life, you usually get what you pay for, and I see Northampton as a club with very limited ambition, for a club with their potential catchment area. Some people might say that Oxford United should run in this “sustainable” way, but I’m not sure I’d want us to be quite so frugal. Quite frankly, I’d find it boring if we shuttled between Leagues Two and One, while showing no ambition to be anything more than a mid-table League One club. I think that’s why Northampton have struggled to attract crowds above 5,000 for all this time.

I wouldn’t want a Northampton style mundane existence for Oxford United, I’d find it incredibly boring, as I said earlier. I don’t expect everybody to agree, but I’m not getting any younger, and I want a ride on the rollercoaster with my football club. I want some ups and downs. I want some excitement and elation to go with the misery. Isn’t that why we all fell in love with game? Isn’t that what it’s all about?

This entry was posted on Thursday, February 22nd, 2024 at 8:37 pm and appears under News Items. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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