Attack is the best form of defence for Austin after Cobblers keep a rare clean sheet

BLOCKED: Centre-backs Leon Barnett and Ash Taylor led Cobblers to a clean sheet on Saturday, just their sixth in the league this season. Pictures: Sharon Lucey
BLOCKED: Centre-backs Leon Barnett and Ash Taylor led Cobblers to a clean sheet on Saturday, just their sixth in the league this season. Pictures: Sharon Lucey

Amid all the excitement of Northampton’s superb attacking performance and subsequent 2-0 win over Plymouth Argyle on Saturday, it almost slipped under the radar that, at the other end, goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell kept just his second clean sheet since signing for the club.

That Town have struggled to keep the ball out of the net should in no way reflect badly on O’Donnell, who if anything has been one of the more consistent performers during his four months at the club, but it has nonetheless contributed to the team’s disappointing campaign.

Saturday was just the sixth time this season that the Cobblers have kept a clean sheet and only their second since November, so while most of the focus was understandably on a vital and well-deserved victory, caretaker boss Dean Austin had other reasons to be pleased.

“I was speaking to the staff about it because I don’t know how long ago our last clean sheet was but it was quite some time,” he said afterwards.

“But on Saturday our defending started from the front and it wasn’t one of those where we sat back and waited - I think they had one long-range shot that Richard threw his cap on and then he had a shot to save from a long throw on a second ball.

“Those were the only things he had to do so that shows you how good we were as a team but it’s only one game.”

There were many striking aspects to Northampton’s performance but, as Austin alludes to, perhaps the most impressive was their refreshingly proactive approach to the second-half.

Instead of sitting on their slender 1-0 lead and inviting pressure, the Cobblers kept attacking and kept creating chances, and if it wasn’t for Plymouth’s inspired goalkeeper Remi Matthews, they’d have scored at least five.

“I’ve said to the boys that the best way to defend is to attack,” added Austin. “I don’t want us to sit back and I don’t want the team to be under stress.

“We’ve worked very hard on our game and we’ve worked very hard on our blocks and defending and the things we look to do when we are going to be in stress because you’re going to be in stress in every single game.

I’ve said to the boys that the best way to defend is to attack. I don’t want us to sit back and I don’t want the team to be under stress.

“That was pretty much as dominant a performance as you’ve seen from us this year but we stayed on the front foot and I emphasised that at half-time.

“I made a couple of tweaks and spoke to the two wide players and said ‘listen, I do not want us to be defending in our final third for this second-half against a good team’.

“Because Plymouth are a decent team with some good players and I didn’t want to do that, hence some of the tactical bits and pieces that I did during the game – that’s why I did them.”