Manager Keith Curle is encouraging Matt Crooks to resist the temptation of dropping deep to receive possession and wants him to instead spend more time in the final third following the midfielder’s fine goal during Cobblers’ EFL Trophy defeat to Bristol Rovers.
Not for the first time this season, Crooks was Town’s standout performer on Tuesday and carried their chief creative threat for much of the contest, setting up good chances chances for Dean Bowditch and Daniel Powell in addition to his excellent 76th minute strike when he found the net from 30 yards.
Sometimes he has the attraction of wanting to be involved and wanting to go and get the ball and that can detract from his overall output.
But there were times when the 24-year-old would drop deep towards the centre-backs to pick up the ball and, as a result, his presence and quality in the final third was missed.
“If you have a look at Matt Crooks and his skillset, he’s an imposing figure when he gets the other side of their midfield and he’s running at people,” said Curle.
“He carries the ball very well and I want Matt Crooks to be operating in the opposition’s third of the pitch because that’s where he’s effective.
“It’s about carrying the ball into the final third or being played into the final third. Sometimes he has the attraction of wanting to be involved and wanting to go and get the ball and that can detract from his overall output.
“We want Matt Crooks shooting, arriving in the box, landing on the scrambles on the edge of the box and that showed with the goal he scored.
“It was a great strike which moved a bit that deceived the goalkeeper and we need him in those shooting positions. We’ve got players that can strike and score goals and we need them operating in that area of the pitch more often.”
Town’s defeat ended their participation in the competition for another year and Curle rued some soft defending that presented goals for Tom Broadbent and Stefan Payne either side of half-time.
“When you lose, you’ve got to learn,” added Curle. “They didn’t open us up in general play and our defensive principles were good but they got a ricochet in the box and that can happen at any level when you don’t clear the ball.
“The quality of their balls into the box was good and the second goal killed us because we had a good foothold in the game and we just needed that break.
“That can deflate you but we showed spirit and just needed to force that second goal because we had good opportunities. The substitutes came on and had an impact, they did very well.
“Bridgy and Powelly gave us a good threat and good movement in the wide areas and we opened them up and caused them a few problems, but we needed to show that bit of anticipation and willingness to go in where it hurts.”