Saturday 12th October 2013 ko 15.00
OXFORD UNTED 2 (Constable 44 Rose 45p)
NORTHAMPTON TOWN 0
Att 6,177 (910 away)
It did seem strange swapping the mud of Bedfordshire for some League 2, but that I suppose is the dichotomy of being a groundhopper but also having a season ticket at a Football League club. It was great to get the occasional text and Twitter message from Craig and others that the day went well, and that by and large the weather was kind.
Oxford versus Northampton is one of those fixtures that looks like a local derby but isn’t. Oxford hate Swindon like no other club, but in the case of Northampton I do wonder who their local rivals are these days. It used to be Kettering, but they’re barely in business and are homeless. After them it was Rushden & Diamonds but they were liquidated and the phoenix club is now groundsharing at Wellingborough Town, whilst playing in the United Counties League. Neither seem relevant to the Cobblers at present.
Rivalry is the last thing I suspect on the Cobblers’ mind at the moment. This result leaves them second from bottom of the table, a relegation spot along with bottom club Accrington. Stanley already look doomed, so it looks like there will be a real dogfight to avoid the second place on the trapdoor.
On the evidence of this match, I’m not sure Northampton are equipped to avoid the drop. They looked shorn of the players that got them to the playoff final last season, Ade Akinfenwa has moved to Gillingham, and Chris Hackett is injured. Perhaps the best way to describe their plight is to look at what beat them.
Ever looked at a team sheet and wondered how on earth how that line-up is going to play together? Well that’s exactly how I felt when the teamsheet arrived. It transpired that OUFC would play in a 3-4-3 with the returning Jake Wright playing in defence alongside Michael Raynes and Johnny Mullins. The two full backs, Tom Newey and David Hunt would play as wing-backs in a midfield that saw Andy Whing returning from suspension alongside Danny Rose. Up front James Constable played just ahead of Dave Kitson with another player returning from injury Sean Rigg making up the trio.
It looked odd on paper and for a lot of the time , it was odd to watch as players worked hard to understand, then express themselves in their new roles. And other than a single chance to Roy O’Donovan who intercepted a weak back-pass from Michael Raynes, Northampton created next to nothing.
If there was one player who was enjoying the new formation it was Dave Kitson. He had enough time to spot the killer pass, and it was his sublime flick that led to the first goal. That flick found Whing whose diagonal pass found Constable on the right side of the box. He powered in still further before drilling a low shot past Matt Duke in the visitors’ goal. Constable still has his critics, but few players work harder, and his goal tally speaks for itself.
A minute later and it was 2-0 as Ben Tozer was adjudged to having tripped Constable in the box and Danny Rose stroked home the penalty. The upshot of it was that Cobblers goalkeeping coach Tim Flowers was sent to the stands at half time for remonstrating with referee Darren Deadman. He thought Constable dived, and whilst the big striker did take his time to fall, it was also clear that Tozer had clipped his ankle.
Stung, Northamption brought on striker Ivan Toney at half time to at least play two up front, but although they pressed in the early part of the half they offered precious little threat. I got the distinct impression that manager Aidy Boothroyd would have loved to have someone like Oxford’s Deane Smalley to provide some sort of threat.
As it was Oxford were able to play out the half with little incident and pick up a win that lifts them to third and back in the promotion places. I left wondering whether such an experimental line-up would have worked on stronger opposition. Mind you, if the visitors had been stronger, would have Chris Wilder tried?