Northampton Town 0-0 Crawley Town Six Things: renaissance of a dying art

Aaron Pierre was colossal –

Crawley Town took a step closer to securing their EFL status with a 0-0 draw at Northampton Town in an agricultural affair. Here’s our Six Things from the game.

Renaissance of a dying art

No-nonsense defending is seen by some as a thing of the past, but it was a prominent theme in this encounter at Sixfields PTS Academy Stadium in which the two stand-out performers were centre-backs. Joe McNerney produced a gallant display for Crawley, showing outstanding aerial prowess and impeccable reading of the game. Northampton’s Aaron Pierre, who has been in excellent form over the last four months, imposed his physicality to dominate his box, keeping the likes of Ollie Palmer and Dominic Poleon quiet. Here, we saw old-school defending at it’s very, very best.

O’Toole’s big chances

Crawley’s Tom Dallison-Lisbon forced David Cornell into his only save of the first half after 15 minutes, but the left-sided centre-back might have hoped to generate more power on his header. Northampton came close when Timi Max Elsnik hooked over Ash Taylor’s powerful throw, but their best openings fell to John-Joe O’Toole. After a good pass released Jack Bridge down the left, the in-form attacking midfielder produced a fine cross to the back-post, but O’Toole fired off-target with the goal gaping. The former Bristol Rovers midfielder also threatened at the start of the second half, heading wide at the back-post from Joe Powell’s corner, although he tended to find himself at the end of moves rather than being involved in the build-up play.

Northampton need a focal point

The quality of deliveries from Powell, who himself found the side-netting from a free-kick, made Northampton a threat from set pieces. However, it was perhaps telling that Pierre caused more problems in the opposition box than the spirited but lean Sam Hoskins, who can only be used effectively up top in a counter-attacking system. Although the Cobblers could break using Hoskins in a recent 2-1 win at Tranmere, Crawley were more defensive opposition and thus Northampton needed more physicality from their front-man. While Andy Williams is tall and Junior Morias, powerful, neither the two late substitutes nor Hoskins offer the range of qualities required to lead the line in a Keith Curle system.

No Payne, no gain

Midway through the second half, visiting boss Gabriele Cioffi shored up his midfield by replacing technician Felipe Morais, who had struggled to adjust to the route one nature of the contest, with Josh Payne, who is more of a natural ball-winner. Payne’s arrival allowed Crawley to have more spells of control in the latter stages of the second half than they did beforehand, with the likes of Lewis Young and Palmer coming alive. Their best chance came to Dominic Poleon, who showed a nice piece of close control before forcing a reaction stop from Cornell in injury-time.

Clear-out compulsory for Cobblers Curle-ification

At full-time, natives were evidently not happy with Northampton’s performance. The problem is not that they do not have a good squad – midfielders like Shaun McWilliams, Elsnik and Bridge are all good players – but that the squad is not entirely suited to the manager’s methods. For example, they need a target man as above, but also strong-running wing-backs so that Curle does not have to change from his usual 3-5-2 system as he did on Saturday. This blog would argue that Curle, despite having done a very good job at Carlisle, does not necessarily have the set of believes that will maximize the current group. If Kelvin Thomas believes that the 55-year-old is the man to lead a top seven push in 2019-20, therefore, then he must wholeheartedly back the manager to build a squad that can execute his methods. Whichever strategic direction Northampton go in between now and August, there must be continuity in their decision-making to ensure coherent performances.

Sussex strugglers step to safety

The result is a positive one for Crawley, who may be relieved to have maintained the nine-point cushion from the bottom two with Macclesfield and Notts County both avoiding defeat. The goalless encounter also extends their unbeaten away run to three games, with just one goal conceded in that period, which shows progress from their road return earlier in the campaign. Aspects of the Red Devils’ use of the ball left a little to be desired and there are two or three forward-thinking players in that side who might have been capable of producing more in a slightly different role or system; perhaps solving some of those issues could be the key to improving the home form. On the road, however, a point can be considered suitable reward for a solid afternoon’s work.