Cobblers boss Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has revealed how he took a ‘risk’ by playing John-Joe O’Toole in Saturday’s crunch clash with MK Dons after the midfielder was absent from training in the days leading up to the game.
O’Toole complained of a hip problem last week and was not able to train on Thursday or Friday but his importance to the team meant Hasselbaink felt compelled to play him from the off.
And it was a risk that paid dividends when O’Toole scored his third goal in three games to put Northampton into a 16th minute lead, with Chris Long securing victory later in the first-half after Alex Gilbey had equalised for Dons.
“He’s a goal poacher but it was a big decision to play him because he’s been suffering with a little bit of tightness on his hip and he didn’t train on Thursday and didn’t train on Friday,” revealed Hasselbaink.
“But we know what he can do and the purpose he has in the team and the presence he brings so we took a risk.”
On the performance of striker Long, who notched his eighth goal of the season and fifth in eight games, Hasselbaink added: “Chris is our first line of defence when we don’t have the ball and he put a shift in.
“We want to give him more opportunities and more chances to score goals, but he’s doing absolutely amazing for us at the moment.”
Saturday’s win was not achieved without some alarm for the Cobblers who had to weather a late MK Dons storm as the visitors laid siege on the home side’s goal in desperate hope of salvaging a last-gasp equaliser.
“We tried to work from a shape with organisation,” explained Hasselbaink. “MK Dons were changing their shape all the time – they went from a diamond into a 4-2-3-1 and it’s difficult for us so we had to be very disciplined and keep working on our shape.
“In the second-half, we did that well at certain times but at other times it was a little bit too easy for them to play through us and that’s just something to keep on improving.”
With January signings Hildeberto Pereira and Gboly Ariyibi both named among the substitutes for the visit of Dons, Hasselbaink for once had the option of bringing on players who have the pace and directness to hurt opposing teams on the counter-attack.
That has been a luxury very rarely afforded to him this season but both Pereira and Aryibi had the desired impact in the closing stages of Town’s victory on Saturday, particularly the former.
Hasselbaink continued: “I had to put on some fresh legs and play a couple of players who could push us up field because we were going backwards too easily and I wanted more pressure at the other end to stay as far away from our goal.
“We now have to work on keeping the other team as far away from our goal as possible. Let them play football in their half, especially when we are winning and if they turn us, there is lots of space behind us but we can go back to the goalkeeper and go forward from there.
We now have to work on keeping the other team as far away from our goal as possible. Let them play football in their half, especially when we are winning and if they turn us, there is lots of space behind us but we can go back to the goalkeeper and go forward from there.
“We play a lot better when we have intensity with and without the ball because we can put teams under pressure big time.”