Thursday, February 18, 2016
Northampton wrap - Oxford United 0 Northampton Town 1
Tuesday saw a few Oxford fans scuttling to reframe the defeat to Northampton as some kind of moral victory. Partly, because it any extinguished any title aspirations we never really had in the first place, mostly, because we lost to Him.
Truth is they were the better team and Chris Wilder is the more complete manager. Of course, he’s also 8 years older than Michael Appleton and benefits from having Alan Knill to work with. In Wilder’s latter days at Oxford he was left isolated because of Kelvin Thomas’ departure, at Northampton he has Knill to work with which is working as well as it did when they were together at Bury.
Some Oxford fans re-edit Chris Wilder as a failure, but he was nothing of the sort at Oxford and never has been. He's has a tactical flexibility that Michael Appleton doesn't; what he does well is exciting to watch, but when it is exposed, he doesn't have an adequate plan B.
There wasn’t a lot in it, they were direct, strong, fast and purposeful, we were a bit fussy in the final third, which is nothing new this season. I do think that Appleton recognises this, which is why he signed Jordan Bowery; to offer a more direct route to goal. Whether it’s fitness or not, I’m not sure, but Bowery’s contribution seems fitful at the moment, unlike, say, the more reliable contribution made by Marc Richards for the Cobblers. I don’t think it’s fair to judge Bowery yet; he needs games.
The game wasn’t helped by the contribution of referee Keith Hill. The idea of a game being played on the floor and at pace seemed to flummox him. Any contact; whether malicious or simply a normal ‘footballing incident’, was considered a foul. It meant that we either had to allow them to plough through or risk a booking. In truth, there were three malicious challenges that I can recall - one by Maguire, who was booked, one by Skarz who wasn’t, and Danny Rose’s challenge on Liam Sercombe, which was worthy of a sending off. As well as losing control of the players on two occasions, he killed the contribution of a number of players, not least Danny Hylton.
The penalty decision followed Hill’s liberal interpretation of the rules; the ball seemed to hit Mullins’ hand, but he was under no pressure, it came from a Northampton player hooking the ball over his shoulder and it was in a fairly benign area of the penalty box. It's difficult to see why Mullins might do it deliberately, and anyhow, was it foul play deserving of losing a goal? Of course not.
But that’s not to say we deserved to win; in a parallel universe we may have snatched three points or a draw, but the defeat was not in any way unjust.