Cobblers get play-off bid back on track

James Gray celebrates after scoring the Cobblers' winner against Luton (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)
James Gray celebrates after scoring the Cobblers' winner against Luton (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)
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James Gray scored his first goal for the Cobblers to clinch a well-deserved victory over Luton Town and put the club’s bid for the Sky Bet League Two play-offs back on track.

A Ricky Holmes penalty and Gray’s late strike cancelled out Alex Lawless’ strike for the Hatters to give Northampton a good win over a Hatters side who have now fallen out of the top seven.

It looked for a period as though the home side would have to settle for a draw but Gray struck with just six minutes to go to settle the contest.

Elliot Justham made a regulation save to hold Joel Byrom’s right-footed shot inside the first two minutes and the midfielder created a chance for John-Joe O’Toole with a free-kick but the latter’s contact was too heavy.

It felt for long periods like a game between two teams who were afraid of losing and therefore took almost no risks, with inventive play at a premium and chances few and far between.

O’Toole unleashed a fierce first-team shot after a corner had been cleared directly into his path, Justham holding it well, and Ricky Holmes almost backheeled one in at the front post after a good counter-attack from a Luton corner.

The second half got off to an immediately more lively start, with Lawless caressing a first-time shot over Matt Duke and into the far corner of the goal in the first minute after the break.

The main effect of the goal was that Luton adopted a much more defensive strategy, with the classic ‘two banks of four’ negating the Cobblers and forcing them into mistakes.

A moment of magic or an error was required to overcome such stubbornness and it was the latter, with Michael Harriman inexplicable playing a cross with his wrist with James Gray lurking nearby. Holmes duly dispatched the penalty.

The team reproduced the free-kick routine from which they scored at Shrewsbury but the pass into Byrom pushed him too wide for the shot and instead he played a cross which was well met by Gray and expertly saved by Justham.

Luton were rocked and Jason Taylor had a shot well blocked, with the rebound squirming into the path of Byrom, who rattled a shot straight at the goalkeeper.

Ivan Toney missed a glorious chance to give the Cobblers the lead when he rose to connect with a Holmes cross but skewered his header horribly wide of the target.

The second Cobblers goal almost seemed an inevitability and so it proved with Gray exhibiting all the qualities of the proverbial fox in the box.

Holmes struck a shot from the edge of the area which Justham did well to palm away with a deflection but Moloney put it back into the danger zone and Gray did the rest.

It was a well deserved goal for his personal efforts and sealed a thoroughly deserved victory for a Cobblers side who might not be out of this play-off race after all.

Cobblers: Duke; Moloney, Collins, Cresswell, Newey; Byrom, Taylor; Holmes, O’Toole, D’Ath; Gray

Subs: Toney (for O’Toole 64), Carter (for Newey 64), Diamond (for Gray 88)

Not used: Carter, Warburton, Clifton, Jalal

Luton: Justham; Harriman, McNulty, Wilkinson, Kinsella; Drury, Doyle, Smith, Lawless, Cullen, Benson

Subs: Lacey (for McNulty 57), Miller (for Cullen 70), McGeehan (for Lawless 82)

Not used: Guttridge, Stockley, Hall, Gooch

Attendance: 5,668

Away fans: 913

Referee: Graham Scott