Cobblers boss Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has explained his reasoning behind the team he selected for Saturday’s clash against Rotherham United, stating that, at the moment, he does not see John-Joe O’Toole as a central midfielder.
Making three changes in all from the previous weekend’s 1-1 draw at Bristol Rovers with Hildeberto Pereira, Daniel Powell and Kevin Luckassen all coming in, it was the decision to play Pereira, considered mostly as a wide player, alongside Matt Grimes in midfield that raised eyebrows.
With Hasselbaink preferring to play O’Toole in a more advanced role for the time being, Pereira was chosen over Shaun McWilliams, Regan Poole and Sam Foley to replace the suspended Matt Crooks and partner Grimes in a midfield two, but the decision did not pay dividends.
Northampton were overrun and outplayed in all areas of the pitch, especially midfield, as Rotherham cantered to a simple three points courtesy of goals from Michael Smith, David Ball and Richie Towell, leaving Hasselbaink’s team in the Sky Bet League One relegation zone.
On his team selection, he explained: “The thinking was that we needed more people on the ball to be able to control the midfield. We know that Crooks is suspended so it was going to be Shaun or Hildeberto in there.
“I decided to play Hildeberto there because we wanted John-Joe come into the box and when he plays closer to the striker, he’s closer to the box and he doesn’t have make up that many metres.
“I do think, at the moment, that I don’t see John-Joe as a central midfielder so that was the reason – to be a little bit more attacking. Even though some people say we were defensive, we tried to be more attacking.”
Hasselbaink made no excuses for the performance and admitted his side deserved nothing from the game, but he was nonetheless left frustrated with referee Ben Toner’s decision not to send off two Rotherham players during the second-half.
After Crooks saw red for two soft yellow cards at Bristol Rovers last weekend, neither Semi Ajayi nor Joe Mattock suffered the same fate on Saturday despite committing fouls when on a booking, the former coming with the game still in the balance at 1-0.
“I think it was a second yellow and it could have been for the centre-half as well when Hildeberto was counter-attacking from a corner,” said Hasselbaink.
I do think, at the moment, that I don’t see John-Joe as a central midfielder so that was the reason – to be a little bit more attacking. Even though some people say we were defensive, we tried to be more attacking.
“The defender knows what he’s doing and if he doesn’t already have a yellow card, would the referee give a yellow? I think so.
“With the left-back, the free-kick I think is a yellow card offence and again if he hadn’t have had a yellow, he’d have given out.
“But taking those things away, we didn’t do enough. We were not calm enough on the ball and we didn’t into the areas where we needed to get into to hurt them and that cost us.”
There were precious few positives to take out of Saturday’s defeat but the return of Kevin van Veen was one. The Dutchman has struggled with a knee injury ever since signing from Scunthorpe United but he made a 20-minute cameo against Rotherham and could start against Shrewsbury Town on Tuesday evening.
Van Veen’s fellow Dutchman, Kevin Luckassen, should also be involved after making his first Cobblers start in Saturday’s encounter, with Hasselbaink adding: “I think Kevin (Luckassen) could have done a little bit better at times but he’s working very hard and he’s getting fitter. It was only his first start.
“The problem we had was that we were going to start Chris Long but then on Friday he had a back problem and he could not be on the bench. Kevin needed a little bit more time before starting but unfortunately we couldn’t give him that.
“We will definitely be looking at playing Luckassen and van Veen up front together. Van Veen is back now and when he came on he looked a lot sharper than before.”