COMMENT: Joyless football at the heart of Edinburgh dismissal

Former Cobblers boss Justin Edinburgh
Former Cobblers boss Justin Edinburgh

Football is a ruthless business. And there are few people who now know that more than Justin Edinburgh.

On Thursday, the 47-year-old lost his job as manager of Northampton Town FC, just eight months after taking the helm at Sixfields.

A disastrous start to the season, not only in terms of results but also in terms of performance, meant his time at Sixfields was up, and he was shown the door.

A miserable fate that befell him just nine months after he also was sacked from his previous job at Gillingham.

No, this has not been a good year for the former Tottenham Hotspur defender.

Every football manager knows that getting the sack is an occupational hazard, indeed losing your job is, er, part of the job, but they just don’t expect it to be happen twice in a timeframe shorter than the length of a Football League season.

Just 15 months after the incredible high of the celebrations of that league two title success under Wilder, the Cobblers find themselves bottom of league one, playing joyless football, with no points from four matches, and an increasingly disgruntled fanbase

Jeremy Casey

Whether he deserved to lose his job at Gillingham at the very start of 2017, I have no idea, but, in all honesty, although I feel sympathy for Edinburgh on a personal level, he probably can’t have too many complaints about no longer being employed at Sixfields.

Yes, it is early in the season, with just four league games played in Sky Bet League One, and yes, the team is still gelling with 14 players being brought in over the summer.

Yes, he has has suffered with injuries to key players, in particular John-Joe O’Toole, but the problems with Edinburgh’s management at Northampton, certainly as far as the board of directors and supporters are concerned, go deeper than just results.

Among other things, the performances this season have been insipid and listless and his insistence on playing three at the back hasn’t worked.

He also managed to lose the little matter of the club’s big local derby against Peterborough United at Sixfields 4-1 - not ideal when he had already lost a large chunk of the club’s supporters a few months ago.

But first, let’s be positive and thank Edinburgh for what he did do for the Cobblers, and that was maintain the club’s status in the third tier of English football.

Under his predecessor Rob Page, the Cobblers were spiralling towards relegation, with the title-winning season under Chris Wilder a distant memory, just a few months after it had happened.

Edinburgh was brought in to keep the club up, and he did it, with an impressive flurry of six wins in 10 games ultimately doing the trick.

it was a case of job done, even though ultimately the team crawled over the line on the final day, picking up just four points out of the final 24 on offer, with the football in the final six weeks of the season pretty terrible.

The Cobblers haven’t won a game since beating Port Vale 2-1 on March 14

From a personal point of view, Edinburgh is an approachable and likeable man and is very good with the media, and there was no doubting his passion and desire to succeed at the Cobblers.

He is a hard worker, and was confident going into the summer, as he knew he had a big few months ahead of him, with virtually a blank canvas to work with.

He was given a free hand to rebuild the squad and bring in exactly the players he wanted to, to play the style of football he wanted to.

The news that Chinese company 5USport were investing serious money midway through the close season only strengthened Edinburgh’s position as he went about his recruitment, and it all looked to be going exactly to plan as the players rolled in.

The likes of Ashton Taylor, Matt Crooks, Aaron Pierre, Sam Foley, Daniel Powell, Matt Grimes, Billy Waters, Chris Long and others were signed, with all of them, certainly in the majority of people’s opinion, upgrades on the players that had been allowed to leave the club at the end of the previous season.

Pre-season was fairly encouraging, the players bonded on a training camp in Spain, and there was genuine excitement and enthusiasm ahead of the campaign.

The talk in the build up to the start of the season was of added pace, added creativity, added quality, there was talk of the squad being full of options and flexibility, with intense competition keeping everyone sharp, and with the Cobblers being able to mix things up at will.

Then the season began, and things started to unravel.

Prior to a ball being kicked, Edinburgh had insisted he wanted to play three at the back, with wing-backs providing the attacking width, and that is how the team lined up for the opener at Shrewsbury.

It didn’t work.

The Cobblers struggled to string two passes together, struggled to create chances, but they still should have claimed what would have been a hard-earned point at the New Meadow, only for the home side to snatch a last-gasp winner.

It was a depressing opening day, but it was just one game. Nothing to worry about.

A narrow League Cup defeat at a much-changed Queens Park Rangers saw an improved performance, but an expected 1-0 defeat, before Fleetwood came to town for the first league one match of the season at Sixfields.

Edinburgh again went with the wing-backs, and it was a better showing than the previous week at Shrewsbury, but the match still ended in a 1-0 defeat, with Town again struggling to create chances.

Sections of the support were now getting restless, they wanted the manager to abandon his three at the back preference, but he stuck by his insistence that it would work, and that the squad was the ‘right mould’ for the system.

Edinburgh, who at the back end of the previous season had played an equally unpopular diamond system, wasn’t for changing.

He went with three at the back again for the trip to Charlton, only to return with his tail between his legs as a certain Ricky Holmes showed the Cobblers fans just what they have lost as he inspired the south Londoners to a 4-1 win.

Social media was now awash with criticism of Edinburgh and his formation and tactics, and with the Peterborough derby on the horizon, the manager admitted he might be open to changing the system for the visit of the Posh.

But he also admitted he can be ‘stubborn’ as a manager - and he was stubborn as Grant McCann’s men came to town.

He again stuck with three at the back, and antagonised the fans even more by again pairing Marc Richards and Alex Revell in attack, a partnership that has consistently failed to fire.

He perhaps had an excuse at Charlton the week before as Long had injured himself in the warm-up at the Valley, but there was no excuse for the Posh encounter.

It meant the fans were far from onside before a ball had even been kicked, and once Peterborough went ahead, the fans turned, and quickly.

It was a horrible afternoon, similar to ones I have experienced in the final days of the likes of Gary Johnson and Aidy Boothroyd, and although I’m not sure there is ever a case for supporters calling for their own manager to be sacked while a match is being played, that is what happened.

They were voicing their displeasure at a woeful start to the campaign, with zero points and just two goals scored, and with Kelvin Thomas taking plenty of stick in the directors’ box, I would imagine Edinburgh’s fate was sealed , even though his misery was prolonged for four more days.

From the outside, a manager getting sacked just four games into the league campaign looks ridiculous, and it does seem unfair to not allow a manager the time to get a team functioning as a unit after so much change and recruitment.

And after the club have backed their man with so many new signings.

But anybody who has watched the Cobblers this season might feel a little differently about it.

As I said earlier, this was about more than results, it was about the vibe and the negative mood around Sixfields, something which has been prevalent since the back end of last season.

On Radio Northampton on Thursday night, former Cobbler Gregor Robertson, who watched the team on a number of occasions at the back end of last campaign said he couldn’t remember seeing the team play well.

And he added: “I don’t remember ever enjoying watching them play.”

Sadly, that has been a feature of Cobblers performances under Edinburgh, they were rarely entertaining, never allowed off the leash.

Even with all the supposed options at his disposal, Edinburgh was pretty steady in selection, and very steady in formation.

The flexibility and unpredictability, the flair and excitement that had been promised wasn’t there, it was still all too predictable.

And the supporters didn’t like it one bit.

Losing four league games in a row is one thing, losing four games in a row while barely laying a glove on the opposition is another, especially when a quality squad with as much strength in depth has been put together.

The summer investment of 5USport immediately raised expectations, and it quickly became clear that a good start was needed to justify the spending.

The fixture list wasn’t kind to Edinburgh as a tough start was laid on, but the reality is that league one this season is going to be one hell of a slog, one hell of a challenge.

Edinburgh will insist and believe he would have got it right, and he may well have done given time, but the signs on the pitch in the few games played this season suggested the opposite.

Add that to the lacklustre way the team ended last season, the lack of excitement, the lack of goals and attacking football, and you have a recipe for an unhappy football club.

And that is exactly what the Cobblers has become.

Just 15 months after the incredible high of the celebrations of that league two title success under Wilder, the Cobblers find themselves bottom of league one, playing joyless football, with no points from four matches, and an increasingly disgruntled fanbase.

That, ultimately, is why Edinburgh has lost his job, because Thomas and the Cobblers board felt they couldn’t risk things getting worse.

They felt they needed to act, to create a spark that sets the club alight again and gets it heading back in the right direction.

Unfortunately for Edinburgh, to do that they can’t get rid of 26 players, but they can get rid of one manager, and we all know, the buck always stops with the boss.

There is still the chance that Edinburgh’s time at the club could be looked back on with some fondness, because it is he who has assembled this squad, and it is a squad in much better shape now than it was when he took it over in January.

With the transfer window shut until January, chairman Thomas’s job is to now bring in a manager who can get the best out of what most people believe is a talented group of players.

Which, sadly for Edinburgh, was something he was unable to do.

Justin Edinburgh press comference, Sixfields, Northampton NNL-170119-120656009

Justin Edinburgh press comference, Sixfields, Northampton NNL-170119-120656009