If you said you saw last Saturday coming, I’m afraid you’re a liar.
Most of us, I think, were quietly confident that we could nab a second away win of the season, after taking some beatings away at pretty much all of the division’s main contenders (Charlton, Portsmouth, Bradford and Wigan). Northampton, already on their second manager of the campaign, looked eminently beatable. But no-one predicts a 6-0 away win!
It was essentially a perfect team performance. By the looks of it, the boys maintained their intensity from minute one to the final whistle. They didn’t let their heads drop after a fair few chances didn’t work out, didn’t let Tom Nichols’ penalty miss affect them (in fact it served as an extra incentive to put the game to bed) and they didn’t sit back, even when the destination of the points had been decided. And to top it off, Stuart Sinclair was back.
Again, goals came from all over the attack; only the ridiculously unlucky Nichols, still yet to open his account, somehow didn’t score. It might get boring to wax lyrical about Ellis Harrison every week but he gives me no choice. Firstly he dominated his marker in the air for a headed effort, but his second was equal parts audacious and technically brilliant. I simply don’t believe last year’s slightly less confident Harrison would’ve tried it.
Rory Gaffney’s rebounded effort from Chris Lines’ volley, via the post, may not be one for the scrapbook. But it was just reward for working hard to be in the right position at the right time. That was typical of Gaffney this season; the Irishman covered every inch in the final third, and set up the opener (albeit unwittingly) by cutting inside, touching the ball into Billy Bodin’s path for a shot so hard it not only troubled the net but Bodin’s hamstring. He, too, looks a changed man from the one we saw before the summer.
Even Dom Telford, not often spotted thanks to the rich vein of form other forwards find ourselves in, finished a pinpoint cross from fellow loanee Marc Bola, who has fitted right in when displacing Lee Brown from his berth at left-back, to make it half a dozen at the aptly named Sixfields. (Apologies both for how bad that pun/joke is, and for stealing it from Twitter).
Once again, Liam Sercombe’s quality shone through. I can’t tell if his volley was supposed to hit the floor or not, and frankly I don’t care. His cross for Harrison’s first goal was perfect also. ‘Sercs’ put it a few feet ahead of the striker, hanging in the air, just above head height, just begging for the Welshman to attack.
You really couldn’t pick out anyone having an off-day, unsurprising given that sides who win 6-0 don’t tend to carry many passengers. I guess the keeper had a quiet one, but even though we weren’t troubled by Northampton all that much, I have to doff my cap to Tom Broadbent and Rollin Menayese.
The centre-back pairing, called into action by a second consecutive International window where Tom Lockyer and Ryan Sweeney have been called away, had a combined experience of four League games between them – all by Broadbent, and all this season. This time last year, the pair were turning out at the sixth and seventh levels of the pyramid respectively. Both represent a return of sorts to a good old Rovers tradition; that of finding rough diamonds, who’ve fallen out of the full-time professional game or perhaps never been in it to start with, who have talent and will work hard.
Menayese is now the third of the many development squad players to make a first-team appearance, and it’s still only mid-October. Broadbent, for all the media fuss made about his previous line of work, knows that headlines don’t keep a player in the game, and his performances have been capable, solid and full of graft.
Some might take Nichols’ continued drought in front of goal as a negative, but he’s still putting in the hard yards. He’s creating chances, hitting the target, and showing no sign of his head dropping. It’s a matter of time before he starts banging them in regularly. Comparisons with Luke James, from last year, should end with the fact that they both came from Peterborough.
My gushing over last week has left me little space to discuss the one to come. Oxford, like us, have wildly fluctuating form and don’t know what kind of seasons they’re in for yet. Given that we appear to have settled our home form after two early losses I’ll back us to take maximum points.
Shrewsbury, on Tuesday, are a different kettle of fish; after pulling up no trees at all last season, they sit top of a division full of much bigger sides with stadia that could fit their New Meadow home in their car park. Their defence is rock solid, conceding less than a goal a game on average. Stuffing a struggling side away is a vast improvement on recent road trips but this may be different. If we score first, I can see us taking a point. Concede the opening goal, and I fear a repeat of Wigan or Portsmouth.