Doncaster Rovers 3 Northampton Town 0 – match review, player ratings and highlights

NIL: It was another frustrating day for strikers as Town failed to score for the 12th time this season. Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds
NIL: It was another frustrating day for strikers as Town failed to score for the 12th time this season. Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds
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Just when you thought Northampton’s catalogue of bad performances and forgettable days had been filled to the brim for 2017, they find room to squeeze at least one more into the collection.

Dispatched 3-0 by Doncaster Rovers on a torrid Boxing Day afternoon in south Yorkshire, the Cobblers were unrecognisable from the team that fought with such hunger and determination in holding Blackburn Rovers to a point only three days earlier, just had they been unrecognisable at Plymouth and Oldham not long after playing Oxford United off the park.

It’s unlikely that Darren Ferguson’s team, promoted only last term remember, will earn three easier points than they did on Boxing Day as Town displayed the type of festive generosity that’s usually only reserved for the day before.

And if the scoreline flattered anyone, it was the visitors. Returning goalkeeper Matt Ingram was Northampton’s best player as he twice saw his terrific work, including a superb double stop, go unrewarded with Doncaster scoring from the subsequent passage of play.

They say old habits die hard and that certainly rings true for the Cobblers this season as the one-step-forward, three-steps-back theme of their campaign continued here. They play well for two games and immediately, and inexplicably, throw in a shocker of a performance and Tuesday’s effort at the Keepmoat Stadium was as bad as anything.

Clear-cut chances have been alarmingly few and far between this season and yet it’s not an exaggeration to say that this was their most blunt, ineffective attacking display to date, restricted to just one chance throughout the entire 90 minutes and that came about due to a defensive error as Doncaster tried and failed to play out from the back.

Shaun McWilliams saw his shot blocked by Ian Lawlor for one of only two attempts on target, though when the other one came is something of a mystery. This was the 12th different league game this season that the Cobblers have failed to score in, the most in the division alongside AFC Wimbledon.

There was much talk regarding Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s team selection. A significant part of Hasselbaink’s management philosophy is to study the opposition and set his team up in a way to negate the strengths and exploit the weaknesses of whoever they are playing, often leading to him making at least two or three changes from game to game.

While that approach has obvious benefits – Town reaped the reward of it at Oxford, for example – it also has drawbacks and sometimes the positives outweigh the negatives, as they did at Doncaster.

Two of the four changes Hasselbaink made were perfectly reasonable. Aaron Pierre was injured so Regan Poole came in alongside Ash Taylor and first-choice stopper Matt Ingram returned to goal.

But it was always a risk to take out Lewis McGugan and George Smith and switch the system to 4-4-2 given that Town had previously looked so comfortable and settled playing 4-3-3 with John-Joe O’Toole behind Chris Long.

Those changes, including the decision to switch Sam Foley to the left flack after he had played so well on the right, backfired and Hasselbaink admitted afterwards he may have got it wrong. Indeed, it’s doubtful that the squad at his disposal is flexible enough to adapt to different systems and different styles of play.

To say 2017 has not been a vintage year for Northampton would be an understatement. The opening away game – the fateful 5-0 defeat at Bristol Rovers – set the tone and there was every chance that their penultimate away trip would end with the same scoreline, only Doncaster’s lack of ruthless edge let Town off the hook.

There’s no guarantee that this Saturday will be any easier, especially considering Portsmouth boast the third best home record in League One. With 2018 around the corner and now three points separating them from safety, making a case for Northampton’s survival is growing harder by the week.

Clear-cut chances have been alarmingly few and far between this season and yet it’s not an exaggeration to say that this was their most blunt, ineffective attacking display to date, restricted to just one chance throughout the entire 90 minutes and that came about due to a defensive error as Doncaster tried and failed to play out from the back.

How they rated...

Matt Ingram - Fumbled one cross but there was no getting away from the fact he was Town’s best player, brilliant first-half save and a sublime double stop both counted for nothing as goals immediately followed... 7 CHRON STAR MAN

Brendan Moloney - Pinned back for most of the game, so much so he barely got beyond the halfway line but for one excellent cross. Won’t be happy about the fact both first-half goals stemmed from Town’s right-back position... 5

Regan Poole - Superb goal-line clearance so nearly kept the game scoreless but rebound fell to Coppinger who tapped in. Never got to grips with Doncaster, and May in particular, after that... 5

Ash Taylor - Dropped well below his high standards, fortunate not to concede a penalty when lunging in on Marquis and doesn’t seem anywhere near as comfortable on the left side... 5

David Buchanan - Not directly at fault for any of the goals but was part of a defence that was unorganised and all at sea at times. Team needs more players with his attitude though... 6

Shaun McWilliams - Denied by Lawlor’s legs and gave his all but was otherwise stuck between defence and attack in a role that clearly doesn’t suit his skill set... 5

Matt Grimes - No idea what possessed him to make such a needless, poor challenge on Marquis, just what Town didn’t need before half-time and there was no way back from there... 5

John-Joe O’Toole - The fact he’s been playing through the pain barrier appeared to catch up with him here. Played a deeper role where he had nowhere near the same impact as Doncaster’s midfield got too much space and time on the ball... 5

Sam Foley - Tenacious work created Town’s only chance of the entire match, however even though he never stopped running and was perhaps their best outfield player, the decision to switch him from the right flank to the left backfired... 6

Chris Long - Remained on the fringes of the game and didn’t do enough with the ball on the few occasions he did get it. Partnership with Richards almost non-existent... 5

Marc Richards - Barely received a decent pass all game. To score goals as a striker you need chances and he didn’t even get a sniff of one here... 5

Substitutes

Lewis McGugan - 5

Sam Hoskins - First touch sent the ball out of play, then immediately got booked for kicking the ball away. Summed it all up... 5

Raheem Hanley - 5