The thrilling nature of Northampton’s late comeback in their 3-3 draw with Southampton U21s on Tuesday night did not prevent manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink from expressing his disappointment at the way they got themselves into such a mess in the first place.
With an hour played, the Cobblers deservedly found themselves trailing 3-0 and on the way to being emphatically dumped out of the Checkatrade Trophy after a laboured, sluggish performance at Sixfields.
Jake Hesketh’s well-taken brace had Southampton in control before Jonathan Afolabi seemingly put the tie to bed and completed a dismal evening for Town when adding a third just short of the hour-mark.
But Northampton, aided by three substitutions, rallied in spectacular style and rescued themselves from an early exit with Sam Foley prodding one goal back on 72 minutes before Lewis McGugan’s fabulous dipping volley made it 3-2 six minutes from full-time.
It still seemed it would be too little, too late as five minutes of stoppage-time ticked away but, with the very last act of the game, Ash Taylor met Matt Grimes’ inswinging corner and sent a bullet header crashing into Alex McCarthy’s net to snatch the unlikeliest of draws, with the immediate blowing of the full-time whistle leaving Southampton’s players crestfallen.
Despite the comeback, though, as well as the subsequent penalty shoot-out win, there was no disguising Northampton’s deeply disappointing performance for most of the evening.
“I’m not happy,” said Hasselbaink afterwards. “Yes, it was a good finish but it was not the game that I was looking for, especially with how we have played
in the last few games.
“For the first 75 minutes, we were just slow and there was no intensity and the first pass was always backwards.
“It was not good and they scored three goals and they deserved to be ahead because we didn’t compete, so I was a little bit frustrated.
“Nevertheless, it’s nice to see that we have the capability of coming back and that we have bouncebackability and that is very important.
“But I want us to be so much better and so much more on the front foot - it doesn’t matter who is front of us, who we are playing or what competition, we at least want to be ‘at it’ every time and I think we should have done a lot better for 75 minutes.”
McGugan’s goal was the highlight of Town’s comeback. With the ball dropping from a height following a half-cleared corner, McGugan, on his wrong foot, showed immaculate technique to send a vicious first-time shot whizzing past a bamboozled McCarthy.
“Lewis is technically very good and he can do those kind of things,” added Hasselbaink. “I’ve seen it before and that’s not a surprise to me but there is so much more in his game that he can give us and improve.
“He can become a lot sharper and more available for us but the goal will help him and it will give him confidence and hopefully he can kick-on and keep getting fitter.”
On defender Ryan McGivern, who made his Cobblers debut on Tuesday, Hasselbaink continued: “Ryan was always going to play and he needs games.
“He’s not played for a long time and you could see that at times but he will get better with the more he plays and we need him to give the others competition.
“It was always going to be a difficult game for him because it’s been so long since he last played but we are happy to have him and he gives us cover.”