Cobblers boss Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink probably spoke for most Football League fans by declaring ‘this was a game we could have done without’.
The Checkatrade Trophy has that effect on supporters. A confusing, muddled competition desperate to become relevant by introducing silly gimmicks and hype that fools no-one. It has a Wembley final, but the route to the National stadium is so tortuous there is very litle excitement to be had during five months of apathy, low attendances and matches against Premier League kids, the vast majority of whom will never wear a first-team shirt in a match with importance attached.
This tie ended in a penalty shootout. A rather pointless finale which lacked any sort of tension because the losers weren’t getting knocked out. Instead Cobblers won a drawn game to go joint top of the group without winning either of their matches in 90 minutes. They share top spot with Posh (one win, one draw) and both are ahead of Southampton Under 21s (one win, one defeat), while Cambridge United, who played in front of a club record low crowd of 480 last night (October 3), have a point from two games and could still qualify for the lengthy knockout stages by beating Posh in their next game, next month by which time the suspense will be unbearable, or so competition organisers will try and suggest once they’ve worked out the various possible permutations.
Hasselbaink’s post-match comment referred to his club’s lengthy injury list, He would doubtless have preferred to spend the time working on ways to score a goal as Cobblers started this match without one for 410 minutes and that drought stretched to 490 minutes before it ended, and it took an opponent to oblige as Posh skipper Jack Baldwin managed to continue his run of personal misfortune with an own goal from a poorly defended corner.
That cancelled out Danny Lloyd’s Posh goal two minutes before the break and sent the game into penalties which Cobblers won 4-2 using the new ABBA system of a team taking two spot kicks in a row after an initial opening spot-kick from one of the teams. Confusion reigns in the Checkatrade, but Cobblers were deadly and perfect from the spot, while Jack Marriott and Andrew Hughes saw their efforts saved by visiting ‘keeper David Cornell.
From 12 yards with only a goalkeeper to beat Cobblers delivered accuracy and precision that was missing for the rest of the game, particularly in a woeful second period which featured numerous Posh offsides and general incompetence in possession from both teams. Posh manager Grant McCann’s initial observation afterwards that his side ‘were good from start to finish’ was surely an attempt at boosting the morale of players reeling from a couple of poor performances.
Not until impressive new Posh goalkeeper Conor O’Malley diverted a Marc Richards shot onto the crossbar and into the empty Motorpoint Stand was their any post-interval excitement. And from the corner Cobblers scored much to the delight of 151 visiting fans who had probably begun to despair of seeing their side hit the most important of targets.
Posh were comfortably the better side before the break when Lloyd capped a busy display to finish from close range after Cornell had spilled a Ricky Miller shot into his path. Credit too, to O’Malley who caught a corner and fizzed a superb long clearance straight into Miller’s side. The best pass of the night was played by a goalkeeper which is rather telling.
Lloyd is one man who won’t dismiss this competition as an irrelevance. For him, O’Malley and Idris Kanu it was a chance to show off in front of McCann and only the latter failed. Kanu’s big chance came early after a fine pass by Lloyd, but hesitation and the recovery powers of Cobblers defender Ash Taylor meant the chance was gone.
Ricky Miller started up front with Kanu - Posh left their best player, steadiest defender and their number one goalkeeper out of their matchday squad altogether and their top scorer was on the substitutes’ bench - but he blotted his performance with a rather unnecessary tumble over a goalkeeper which earned him his second yellow card for simulation this season. It didn’t stop the London Road terrace serenading him at every opportunity, but McCann was less enthusiastic.
“I don’t know why Ricky didn’t just run round the goalkeeper and score,” McCann moaned. “It’s what he’s good at after all. I’d have to see it again, but no-one on the benches and a very experienced referee thought it was a penalty so it’s something that concerns me.”
It should concern competition organisers that such a fierce traditional derby was devalued by a small crowd (over 6,000 fewer than for last season’s Football League clash between the clubs at this venue on a Tuesday night) who generated very little atmosphere.
Even Hasselbaink drifted into a state of confusion by claiming he’d watched ‘two good sides who tried to play good football’. Jobs in the Checkatrade PR department could await both managers in the future.
Posh: Conor O’Malley, Liam Shephard, Andrew Hughes, Ryan Tafazolli, Jack Baldwin, Anthony Grant, Leo Da Silva Lopes, Michael Doughty, Danny Lloyd, Ricky Miller (sub Jack Marriott, 67 mins), Idris Kanu.
Unused substitutes: Mark Tyler, Chris Forrester, Alex Penny, Jermaine Anderson, Sam Cartwright, Morgan Penfold.
Northampton: David Cornell, Brendan Moloney (sub Alex Revell, 90 mins), Ash Taylor, Aaron Pierre, George Smith, Sam Foley (sub Matt Grimes, 75 mins), Yaser Kasim, Lewis McGugan (sub Dean Bowditch, 70 mins), Daniel Powell, Marc Richards, Billy Waters.
Unused substitutes: Matt Ingram, Raheem Hanley, James Gillard, Cameron McWilliams.
Goals: Posh - Lloyd (43 mins).
Cobblers - Baldwin (og, 80 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Grant (foul), Miller (simulation).
Cobblers - Waters (foul), Grimes (foul).
Referee: Gavin Ward 6
Attendance: 2,745 (151 Cobblers).