United boss Keith Millen took charge of the team for the first time in the technical area at Sixfields on Saturday afternoon and he admitted afterwards that there was plenty of food for thought as his side fell to a 3-0 defeat following what had been an encouraging start.
“It’s not the start you want, three days into it,” he said. “We didn’t have a lot of time to do too much work. It’s a difficult one to take, but the manner of the goals, for me it was small margins, but the goals are poor and the sort of goals you tend to concede when you’re on a bad run.
“Take the goals out of the equation, I look at the team shape and in the first half I thought we were ok, solid. You could see what we were trying to do.
“We had some half chances where with a bit of luck, maybe a bit more belief, we might have scored the first goal which I think is huge at the moment for this group of players.”
On the game-changing passage of play on 41 minutes, he commented: “You go from almost having a chance to create a goal, whether Zach [Clough] was fouled I don’t know, but if he gets that pass off we’re through on goal.
“They play on, and with the first chance they had, they punished us. We spoke to the players at half time and we said to them, you’ve got to try and believe you can get the next goal.
“But you can see the longer the game goes on at the moment that the belief and confidence is drained. The second goal is then a mistake from us.
“I’ve seen the third again, and I thought it had to be a clear and definite handball - none of their players appealed, the referee didn’t see it, the fans didn’t appeal, so one person sees it, the assistant, and he gives it. That was harsh.”
“But I have to look at the squad now and we have to find a way of being more effective with what we’ve got,” he continued. “You can see Northampton’s identity and what they do to win football matches, and they’re good at it.
“At the moment we haven’t got a way of playing that can hurt teams enough. I need to look at that and the good thing is we have a free week now. We’ve got to change something.
“They’ve changed the manager, it’s the same players who I have to give a structure and way of playing that gives them belief and hope that they can score the first goal.”
A familiar theme of the season so far is for the team to look comfortable, only to then lose its momentum should the opposition go ahead.
“We weren’t opened up, I was pleased with the back four generally, and the midfield two were more controlled in there,” he said. “They never played through us, there wasn’t a big gap or spaces, and that’s something we’d spoken about.
“If you’re going to be a successful team you have to be compact, whatever shape you play, however you press, you have to be compact. If you’re compact and organised, generally you don’t get punished.
“But we’re punished in this game because we made two mistakes and had a poor decision against us.
“Why it’s happening - that side of it we know. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been looking at the squad and the games. The problem of creating more chances, we aren’t set up with the players we’ve got to be a long ball team.
“We’re not that sort of squad, and that’s fine. So, I have to look at what we do have and at how we’re going to be more effective and dangerous. If you are more dangerous and effective it gives the players more belief.
“At the moment I imagine when they go a goal down and they’re wondering where their goal is going to come from to get back in the game. That’s a tough feeling to have.
“But none of this is a surprise to me. There’s a lot of work to do, but I knew that. It would have been great to get off to a good start but we haven’t, and we have to start again on Monday and start working for Saturday’s game.”
And looking to build on confidence is one of the key areas he’ll be concentrating through the course of next week.
“It’s all down to working hard on the training pitch,” he agreed. “We have to simplify the game and start to get them to really understand what it is they have to do.
“The confidence they gain is by having a system that suits what they’re doing. I think what we did today suited the players, I’d never play players out of position, you can’t get the best out of them that way.
“But we need to be finding a way of being more of a dangerous threat. We said before the game, let’s try and get down the sides a bit more, not long balls, but the players we’ve got can run.
“They’ve got lots of energy, so let’s try and slide people in. We did it a couple of times in the first half, but not enough. Unfortunately we fed their two big centre halves and they won everything. That was a disappointing part of our game.
“All in all it’s a day that’s confirmed the work we need to do. You don’t know until you’re in the dressing room what the players are like to deal with, and they were ok before the game.
“I said at half time they’ve got to go again, start the second half well. After the game there’s a lot of disappointment in there. It’s a very quiet dressing room. They’re a quiet team on the pitch.
“That’s something I need to try and get out of them more. That comes a bit with confidence. With a lack of confidence, you tend to go quiet, but you can’t be. If you want to get out of this, we can change the system, change the players, but they have to take it on, they’ve got to drive each other.
“That’s something we need to work on in training. It’s a mindset of believing they can get out of the problem we’re in.”
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