Northampton Town suffered their first defeat of pre-season when Johnny Russell’s first half goal was enough to earn Derby County a 1-0 victory at Sixfields on Saturday afternoon.
In a entertaining affair, the Cobblers began in the ascendency and had the better of the first half, although it was the visitors who led at half-time thanks to Russell’s excellent finish on 32 minutes.
Northampton continued to hold their own in the second half, and they were given a golden opportunity to level when Marc Richards was pushed in the penalty box but the striker skewed the resulting penalty well over.
There were further chances for Town, but Derby posed more of a threat as the second half wore on with Tom Ince and Connor Sammon spurning late openings before the referee called time.
Cobblers boss Chris Wilder named a strong team for his side’s first home friendly of pre-season, although Newcastle target Ivan Toney was only on the bench while Jason Taylor and Ricky Holmes were sidelined with minor ankle and groin injuries respectively.
Also among the substitutes was midfielder Paul Corry, who has joined Northampton on trial after he was released from Sheffield Wednesday. Fellow trialist Gozie Ugwu missed out through a tight hamstring.
Derby represented a significant step up in quality from Northampton’s previous three pre-season outings, all against non-league sides, but the Cobblers equipped themselves well in the opening moments.
It was the home side who enjoyed the greater share of possession early on and a couple of dangerous balls into the box from both flanks caused fleeting moments of panic before being cleared by the County defence.
Derby came into this game having lost their only pre-season outing at Grimsby Town last week, and their lack of match sharpness was perhaps a reason behind their slow start as Northampton continued to dominate possession.
Despite their bright start, though, Town failed to test Scott Carson in the away goal with the first shot of note coming on 20 minutes when Richards blasted a 25-yard free-kick straight into the wall.
For all Northampton’s good build-up play, the best chance of the opening half hour fell to the visitors when they broke quickly and Russell’s pull back fell to Darren Bent 12 yards out but the former England man saw his stabbed effort deflected just wide.
That was a warning sign from the Championship side but Town failed to take notice and a moment of real quality then broke the deadlock 90 seconds later. Derby again broke quickly and Andreas Weimann created space with a neat turn and fed through Russell, who broke into the penalty area and finished emphatically in off the crossbar, giving Adam Smith no chance.
In spite of the setback, however, the Cobblers persisted with their patient possession game, although Carson remained untroubled and Derby maintained their lead through to half-time.
The hosts came out with renewed impetus after half-time and, just seconds after Nicky Adams had their first shot on target, they were gifted a golden chance to get back on level terms.
It came through a mistake from Richard Keogh, who looked to head back towards his own goal, but Richards nipped in and was upended by the Derby defender for a clear penalty, however the Northampton skipper blasted the spot-kick way over the bar.
Both sides then made a raft of substitutions on the hour-mark with Corry, Toney and Hoskins coming on for Town, but those subs didn’t stem the flow of action with Toney firing a free-kick narrowly over before Derby replacement Craig Bryson planted a free header just wide.
The lively Toney was proving a handful for the Derby defence and he again went close when his spectacular volley was tipped over by Lee Grant.
The second half continued to be a highly entertaining affair with another substitute, this time Derby’s Ince, flashing a long-range effort wide before the same man saw his dipping free-kick well saved by Smith.
Sammon was the next to go close, his first-time effort from a tight angle hitting the side netting, as Derby looked to hit Town on the break with the home side pushing for a late leveller.
The Cobblers were unable to fashion a clear-cut scoring opportunity, however, and instead it was Derby who should have added a second, only for Sammon to smash over when unmarked in the penalty box.
It mattered little, though, as the full-time whistle blew moments later, leaving Derby victors of a entertaining encounter, although Northampton will be encouraged by their display.
Cobblers: Smith, Lelan, Diamond (McDonald 81), Cresswell, Buchanan, Byrom, O’Toole (Corry 62), Potter (Hackett 75), D’Ath, Adams (Toney 62), Richards (Hoskins 62). Subs not used: Clarke, Warburton, Clifton.
Derby: Carson (Grant 45), Christie (Ssewankambo 64), Forsyth (Shotton 62), Baird (Warnock 62), Keogh, Pearce (Bryson (62) , Russell (Hanson 75), Hendrick (Sammon 75), Bent (Martin 62), Hughes (Thorne 62), Wiemann (Ince 62).
Referee: Andy Woolmer
Derby fans: 1,226