Cobblers 0 Cambridge United 1: Tom Vickers’ review and player ratings

Ivan Toney's impressive performance was a positive for Cobblers (picture:Kirsty Edmonds)
Ivan Toney's impressive performance was a positive for Cobblers (picture:Kirsty Edmonds)
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Just when the Cobblers wanted to put the propellers on, they have found themselves treading water.

A record of two wins from seven games has plunged their play-off bid into problems, with five points now the gap to seventh spot.

With only five games to go, you would think each of those matches would need to be won to secure a place in the end-of-season shoot-out.

But Monday’s defeat to Cambridge did nothing to bring the belief and momentum needed to conjure up that kind of run.

The U’s headed to Sixfields without a win in their previous seven Sky Bet League Two games and with just one victory in 15 league games.

And on the way to the ground, some of their supporters, who totalled more than 900, unsurprisingly sounded disillusioned about their current situation.

That considered, the last thing Cobblers wanted to do was give the away side a shot in the arm.

But the concession of a first-minute goal from Harrison Dunk did just that - and Richard Money’s men clung to what they had.

Not only that, they posed plenty of problems on the break, with striker Tom Elliott and Peterborough United loan player Nathaniel Mendez-Laing looking lively.

At the other end, Cobblers just couldn’t create the kind of chances needed to trouble their former keeper, Chris Dunn.

And it is stating the obvious to say they are missing main man Marc Richards.

Because while the likes of James Gray, Diego De Girolamo and Ivan Toney - whose display was a beacon of light - offer plenty of energy, they don’t possess the nous of Richards.

That is no surprise when you consider their limited experience of league two football.

Gray is just 22, while De Girolamo and Toney are both 19.

Richards, at 32, has played far more games and scored far more goals than those three players combined.

And his predatory nature, along with his ability to give defenders the necessary dig in the ribs that unsettles them, had been vital to Cobblers’ revival.

In fact, during the two months before he got injured, Town lost just once in 10 matches, winning seven of them.

The statistics don’t lie.

But Cobblers must move on from that Richards injury and Monday’s defeat.

Because whether or not they make the play-offs this season, they can garner huge satisfaction from a campaign that has been a vast improvement on the previous one.

Last April, they were fretting over their Football League status.

This year, they are disappointed to lose a game that would have taken them to within two points of the play-offs.

That perspective must be applied to the current situation.

But such is the nature of football, that fans, players and managers can’t help getting excited when things are going well.

Expectations are elevated and fantasies are forged.

Cobblers’ play-off dreams continue to flicker, but they know that one more defeat may just extinguish their hopes.

How they rated...

MATT DUKE

Kicking was a cause for concern at times and could perhaps have done better with the goal, but did make a good reaction stop during the first half... 5

BRENDON MOLONEY

Got forward well and hit a sizzling drive wide towards the end, but was perhaps not utilised on enough occasions... 6

RYAN CRESSWELL

Had a real battle on his hands against Tom Elliott, who was up for the fight, but largely dealt with the threat well... 6

LEE COLLINS

Was sacrificed as Cobblers sought to add attacking options, but had done little wrong up to that point... 6

EVAN HORWOOD

Some of his passing was not the best, with the fans not happy, but he did deliver a couple of good crosses... 5

CHRIS HACKETT

Didn’t enjoy the best 30 minutes before being replaced as Chris Wilder realised a change had to be made to the formation... 5

JASON TAYLOR

Got stuck in and couldn’t be faulted for his commitment as he tried to add substance to the Cobblers display... 6

JOEL BYROM

Couldn’t really get a grip of the game as he would have liked, but he did make a couple of interceptions and tried to get things moving... 6

LAWSON D’ATH

Wasn’t able to provide the creativity Cobblers were looking for and made the wrong decision on a couple of occasions... 5

RICKY HOLMES

Usually the man who finds the breakthrough, he did what he could but was snuffed out well by the Cambridge defence... 6

JAMES GRAY

Didn’t have a say in the game as he found it tough against a couple of really resilient centre-backs... 5

Substitutes (who played more than 20 minutes)

IVAN TONEY (for Hackett 30)

The one bright spark for Cobblers as he held the ball up well and some of his flicks were a joy to behold... 7

DIEGO DE GIROLAMO (for Collins 66)

May have felt unlucky not to have earned a penalty as his appeals were ignored, but that was the only really dangerous moment he was involved in... 5

CHRON STAR MAN - Michael Nelson (Cambridge United)