Chris Wilder said going into Saturday’s clash at Burton Albion on Saturday that he didn’t want the home team celebrating in front of him and his players come the end of the game. Well, that didn’t quite go to plan.
The Cobblers manager was upbeat ahead of the trip to Pirelli Stadium, bullish about his team’s chances of spoiling the party for the Sky Bet League Two champions-elect, but after just 41 minutes this game was as good as over as Burton led 3-0.
Town, needing a win to maintain their outside play-off chances, were simply blown away.
From as early as the fourth minute when Shwan Jalal decided to drop the ball to the floor rather than kick it out of his hands, things unravalled for the Cobblers.
The lively Stuart Beavon raced in to block Jalal’s clearance (and although the ball probably did hit his arm, it was impossible to tell in real time) and then collected the loose ball and crossed it, with Zander Diamond scuffing the ball into his own net under pressure.
Burton were all over the Cobblers, all over the pitch.
They played a high pace, high pressure game which unsettled virtually every Cobblers player. Tackles were missed, passes misplaced, and too many of the Town team, indeed, virtually all of them, were not at the races.
It took Wilder’s men 30 minutes to even get something close to resembling a foothold in the game and settle things down, and they then shot themselves in the foot again.
This time, a poorly struck and straightforward corner from the right was allowed to get through to an unmarked Phil Edwards eight yards out, and his scuffed shot bobbled into the net off the far post, which was unguarded.
To complete the opening half horror show, Evan Horwood then made a clumsy and rash challenge on Lucas Akins to concede a penalty. Akins was going nowhere, and Jason Taylor and Diamond were also covering, so Horwood should have just jockeyed instead of tripping his man.
Burton played a high pace, high pressure game which unsettled virtually every Cobblers player. Tackles were missed, passes misplaced, and too many of the Town team, indeed, virtually all of them, were not at the racesJeremy Casey
It was a shoddy end to a shoddy half from the Cobblers, and although Town did rally after the break following the introduction of Marc Richards and Ryan Cresswell for the ineffective Diego De Girolamo and struggling Collins respectively, the damage had been done.
Lawson D’Ath’s wonderful goal did at least put a smile on the faces of the fantastic travelling support, and if Ivan Toney’s spanking volley on the hour had gone in rather than hit the legs of Burton goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin, a special comeback may have been on. But it wasn’t to be.
And to be fair, the Cobblers didn’t deserve anything from this game.
Plymouth Argyle’s win over Tranmere meant that even if the Cobblers had won at Burton, the play-offs would have been beyond them.
But that fact did not take any of the edge off Wilder’s disappointment and anger at the first-half debacle, that he branded embarrassing and unacceptable.
The Cobblers manager spoke a lot after the game about consistency, about how Burton have managed consistently strong performances to steer them to promotion and to the brink of the league two title.
It is something he is striving to get his Cobblers team to manage over the course of a 46-game season.
But on the evidence of Saturday, when the team couldn’t even find any kind of consistency in the space of 90 minutes, that is going to take a lot of hard work this summer.
SHWAN JALAL - clearly felt Stuart Beavon handled when blocking his early clearance that led to Burton’s fourth-minute opener, but the Town goalkeeper should have just kicked the ball from his hands rather than take the risk of dropping it to the floor. Settled down in second half - 4
BRENDAN MOLONEY - a quiet game by the Irishman’s standards. The fomer Yeovil man seems to have lost the attacking spark that was the trademark of his early Cobblers performances - 4
ZANDER DIAMOND - unfortunate to score the own goal on his return to the Pirelli Stadium, and was probably the pick of a defence that was all over the place in the first half - 5
LEE COLLINS - the normally reliable Cobblers captain looked unusually out of sorts in an at times erratic first-half performance before he was taken off at half-time - 4
EVAN HORWOOD - clumsy challenge on Lucas Akins that led to the penalty which killed the game. Like Moloney on the other flank, Horwood struggled to get forward throughout - 4
RICKY HOLMES - when he is good he is very good, when he’s not quite at it, Holmes can be anonymous, and he struggled to get into this game. Big improvement in the second half though - 5
JASON TAYLOR - like most of his team-mates, Taylor struggled to get hold of the game and was off the pace in the first half as Burton totally dominated the midfield. Better after the break - 5
JOEL BYROM - not the way he would have wanted to celebrate signing his new two-year contract. Worked hard, but his distribution was well below his normal high standard, although he did clip a lovely ball into D’Ath for his goal - 5
LAWSON D’ATH - like Holmes on the opposite wing, D’Ath wasn’t in this game until the second half. Scored a goal of the highest quality to at least give the travelling fans something to cheer - 5
DIEGO DE GIROLAMO - it’s difficult to see what De Girolamo is supposed to offer this Cobblers team. Effort and commitment is there, but the Sheffield United loan man simply doesn’t affect play enough - 4
IVAN TONEY - the teenager led the line well, and must have been frustrated by the lack of support until the introduction of Marc Richards at the break. If his volley had gone in at 3-1, it might have been a different outcome - 5
MARC RICHARDS (for De Girolamo, 46 mins) - Richards gave the attack a focal point, and for the first 20 minutes of the second half he and Toney were a real handful. Might want to forget the free-kick he sent over the stand behind the goal! - 5
RYAN CRESSWELL (for Collins, 46 mins) - introduced at half-time, the big defender probably had an easier time of it than Collins as Burton took their foot off the gas, but put in a solid display - 5
CHRIS HACKETT (for Moloney, 90+4 mins)
Not used: Duke, Carter, Gray, Tozer
CHRON STAR MAN - the travelling supporters who cheered and backed the Cobblers from the first minute to the last, even through that opening 45 minutes