Matt Grimes will be a name familiar to many Argyle fans. The 22 year old my have joined Northampton on a season-long loan from Premier League side Swansea City, however, he is far better known in these parts for his time with Exeter City. In his time at St James Park he won the Player of the Year award in his first full season, featuring on the winning side of the Devon Derby twice, and played for England U20’s, ultimately earning himself a £1.75 million move to Swansea.
Grimes now operates as a key component of Northampton’s midfield, which is – surprisingly for onlookers – one of the most competitive in the division. The Cobblers are blessed with a range of midfield options, from John-Joe O’Toole to Lewis McGugan, Yaser Kasim to Sam Foley and Matt Crooks to Regan Poole, while Shaun McWilliams remains injured. Each of these players have been afforded at least 400 minutes this season (O’Toole aside, who has only recently become available), five have played more than 700, but only Grimes (1,515) has played more than 1,000.
Indeed, it may well be that, in Northampton’s case, they have too much competition: eight players competing for three spots (sometimes two) has resulted in Northampton fielding nineteen different midfield combinations in just twenty-four matches this season. If you’re looking for the roots of Northampton’s struggles this season, then an overindulgent summer in which they gorged themselves on central-midfielders might be somewhere to start.
Nevertheless, Grimes has been the most constant figure, starting all but one league game this season, and has been their most creative player, involving himself in nine goals across all competitions. In particular, the centre-mid is mostly known for his ability from set-pieces; he won the the EFL Goal of the Day for a stunning 25 yard direct free-kick in October and has created a further four goals from set-pieces this season.
Five of the nine goals Grimes has created have been from set-pieces.
With joint top-scorer Ash Taylor and former-Wycombe centre-back Aaron Pierre to aim for, Argyle must be alert whenever the Swansea man is able to whip a dead-ball into the box. Yet, like Carey, Grimes is not a one-trick pony – as he gets back into the rhythm of things he is exerting more and more influence on the game as a whole as he showed with his exquisite assist for their winning goal against Blackpool. If anyone is going to carve Argyle open on Tuesday, it’s likely to be Matt Grimes.
Billy Waters joined Northampton in June of this year for an undisclosed fee from League Two team Cheltenham Town, having scored 27 goals in 96 appearances for Cheltenham, a very respectable showing for a young man who only turned 23 a month ago. Though he may be yet to get off the mark this season, Waters did notch double figures in the goals tally for each of the last two seasons, progressing from the National League into League 2 and now League 1.
It might seem a little odd to select an attack who is yet to register involvement in any goal whatsoever this season. However, Waters has been getting closer to netting his first goal – denied only be a last-ditch tackle against Oxford – and should have registered at least a few assists already, but to be let down by his teammate’s finish, Matt Crooks being the most recent culprit.
Currently, Waters’ asset is his movement off the ball. Observers might watch back Waters’ goal from the past two seasons and write him off as a player who scores tap-ins, but there is an art to scoring from close range and it’s got a lot to do with spatial awareness and attacking positioning. The ability to find space to shoot in the box, or to position yourself for a rebound, is not an easy one to master, but Waters has showed enough in his career to suggest that me is learning the trade and improving year on year.
Northampton manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has already identified that Waters future as a central striker, but is currently having to deploy Waters from the right wing due to a spate of injuries to their attacking options. Waters has played some good spells in recent games against Oxford and Rochdale from that position, but considering Northampton’s lack of height in their available strikers (striker Chris Long is 5ft9) it may well be Waters’ movement that creates the chances from open play. Drifting inside the full back and finding space behind the midfield, if Argyle defend as poorly as they did against Oxford then Waters could well be the man to exploit that space too.
Matt Crooks was tipped for big things after an excellent couple of seasons at Accrington Stanley, but his move to Rangers alongside Josh Windass did not exactly go to plan. A frustrating year at Ibrox started with an ankle ligament injury, and after appearing just 3 times in Scotland, he ended up moving on loan to Scunthorpe in League One towards the end of the season. After helping them into the Play-Offs – where they were defeated by Millwall – Crooks completed a move to Northampton in July for an undisclosed fee.
Quickly cementing his place in Northampton’s competitive midfield during the early weeks of the season, his lively start with Northampton was paused rather abruptly in late-September following a knee-injury that forced him to sit out the next 6 weeks of action. Crooks started the season as a holding midfielder in Justin Edinburgh’s failed 3-4-3 experiment but his season took off when Hasselbaink arrived and was pushed into a role similar to Fellaini’s for Manchester United. His aerial presence finally gave Northampton some bite in attack and he netted goals in three successive league matches.
Having been utilised as a deep-lying playmaker for Accrington, Crooks has the skill set to play in an advanced position while his 6″4 frame allows him to add extra height to a side that is currently lacking physical players through injury or lack of fitness. With Northampton still short of attacking options, Hasselbaink pushed Crooks even further forward during his return to the side on Saturday by deploying him from the left-wing, a strategy that nearly worked when Crooks himself created space for Waters to cross before bombing into the box and put his header from eight yards wide when unmarked. Given that it is unlikely that Powell or Hoskins will be fit in time for kick-off, Crooks will probably resume his position on the wing tonight.
He may not be the most conventional winger you’ve ever seen, but his height and passing range make him a threat to Argyle, particularly from Grimes’ set pieces.