With Northampton rooted to the bottom of the league and Cheltenham encountering something of a hiccup recently, these were important points for boths teams.
The arrival of the tricksy right winger Jermaine McGlashan from Aldershot has seen Cheltenham change to a more wing-based style, breaking up the midfield trio to make way for an extra striker in a 4-4-2. The only change made from the side that faced Burton Albion a week earlier was the return of Luke Summerfield to the midfield in place of Russ Penn. Aidy Boothroyd opted to set up his team in what was broadly a 4-5-1, but, as all the attacks came down the left through Michael Jacobs, Brett Williams would tuck in while Luke Guttridge would often hover towards the right.
There wasn’t a great deal to Northampton’s attacks: they generally just looked to hit the ball in behind for the bulky Adebayo Akinfenwa to chase – Jack Butland mostly doing a decent job of sweeping up the loose ball. Their first was a pretty standard follow up from a corner and their second a counter-attack where Williams dragged Steve Elliot wide enough to really stretch Cheltenham’s defence, making it easy for Akinfenwa to twist Alan Bennett and finish.
While Northampton found their goals pretty easy to come by, Cheltenham struggled to mount any proper attacks. McGlashan was finding some joy down the right, while the usually ineffectual Josh Low was also doing well on the left against his old club. The issue was that their crosses were so easily dealt with by Clarke Carlisle against Jeff Goulding.
Their best moment of the first half was a patient passing move, but, outnumbered, Marlon Pack struggled to find the space he needed to dictate play as he usually does with both Summerfield and Penn ahead of him. Against Burton, this hadn’t been a problem as their midfield’s organisation was so woeful the pair were able to drive through easily, but they are far more likely to encounter a competent midfield such as Northampton’s in their remaining games. This means the strikers’ supply will only come from out wide, making Cheltenham far more predictable, so they may be better off returning to the Penn-Summerfield-Pack triangle that served them so well earlier in the season.
Ten minutes into the second half, Mark Yates made the ballsy decision of using up all his subs in a triple substitution – Kaid Mohamed replaced Low on the left, Summerfield made way for Penn and Darryl Duffy came on for Jeff Goulding. The introduction of Mohamed and Penn simply gave the side more drive: Mohamed’s decision-making is awful, but he poses a constant threat with his direct running and drifts inside to good effect, while Penn is simply a bit more dynamic than Summerfield. The effects of Duffy switch were more complex though – replacing big man Goulding when seemingly trying to play through the wings appeared to a bit of a shot in the foot, however replacing him with Duffy, a more poacherish type of striker, allowed James Spencer to move around more. Beforehand, he has been forced into a more rigid position, but with Duffy more suited to that role, he was now free to drop deeper or pull wide – he still didn’t play particularly well, but his movement helped Cheltenham pass the ball around slickly.
Cheltenham’s goals didn’t come from any particular pattern of play – the first a penalty and the equaliser Duffy taking advantage of a defensive mishap – but they got back into the game by simply upping the ante and attacking Northampton with more drive, while Northampton’s decision to sit back more also played into their hands.
The Northampton players looked utterly broken walking off at full-time, but really it was better than they probably would have imagined before the game. With the chasing pack snapping at their heels, Cheltenham can’t really afford to draw against the league’s bottom side. Torquay’s win over Crawley and Shrewsbury’s draw with Crewe gave them some breathing room, but they will need to up their game to seal their place in League One next season.