Cobblers caretaker manager Dean Austin has defended his substitutions during the closing stages of Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Walsall, insisting that he felt he had to take a gamble and go for the win.
Northampton went into the game believing victory was essential for them to have any realistic chance of overtaking two of the three teams above them, including Saturday’s opponents, in the fight for League One survival.
I knew he (Crooks) didn’t have much left in the tank and, for me, we just wanted to win the game, we had to win the game and I wanted to chance my arm.
But, as it turned out, results elsewhere – with Rochdale beaten at Oxford and Oldham held at home – meant a draw at Walsall would have given the Cobblers a fighting chance going into the final day of the season when they play the Latics at Sixfields next weekend.
However, with Saturday’s game still goalless and only 12 minutes remaining, Austin opted to go for broke, replacing midfielders Shaun McWilliams and Matt Crooks with strikers Chris Long and Kevin van Veen at a time when his side were on top.
Those decisions backfired, though, and only broke up what momentum the Cobblers had with Walsall grabbing the initiative and ending in the ascendancy before George Dobson’s late winning goal effectively confirmed relegation for Austin’s men.
“The decision to take Shaun off was based on him being on a yellow card because the game was becoming really stretched and they were trying to hit us on the counter-attack,” explained the caretaker boss.
“The last thing I wanted was to go down to 10 men but I thought Shaun played well.
“Crooksy has been struggling with this hamstring problem for quite some time now. It was the reason why he didn’t play the other week so we’ve been protecting him a little bit and taken him in and out of training.
“Once I saw him stretching after about 65, 66 minutes, I knew he didn’t have much left in the tank and, for me, we just wanted to win the game, we had to win the game and I wanted to chance my arm.
“I wanted to get more strikers on without really changing the shape because I didn’t think that was a problem for us and I dropped JJ back but he was gone and had run himself into the ground.
“But you can’t take him off because you know he could pop up and score you a goal.”