It’s unlikely to win any beauty prizes but this dogged and gritty 1-0 victory at AFC Wimbledon may just go down as the most satisfying three points of Justin Edinburgh’s short reign so far.
That’s not just because they won, although that in itself was a welcome relief, it was the refreshingly resolute manner in which the Cobblers went about their business in grinding out a first away victory of 2017.
Resilient, hard-working and determined, this was undoubtedly their best defensive performance for many a moon as they prevented a physical and often free-scoring Wimbledon team from finding the net in a home match for the first time since October.
Though it didn’t make for much entertainment for spectators, it was a welcome change for those of a Cobblers persuasion who have too often watched their side get blown away without much of a fight.
From Bristol Rovers to MK Dons, their troubles on the road have been well-documented.
But Justin Edinburgh has gradually turned it around. There was the draw at Southend and even though the result at Fleetwood reflects badly, those who were there saw glimpses of promise.
Even the immensely-frustrating defeat to Walsall suggested there were better things to come.
Finally, on Saturday, the Cobblers put together all the necessary components to win away from home and collect three hard-fought points.
Defensive toughness was the main feature of this win, and let’s not forget, this came away at a Wimbledon team who regularly find the net and who had just come off impressive results at Scunthorpe and Bolton.
But this time they were repelled. As hard as they tried and as much as they pressed, they were unable to find any way through the determined Northampton rearguard who refused to be beaten.
It must be said that the visitors also struggled in attack as the two goalkeepers remained almost entirely untroubled for the first hour.
Tom Soares cracked a long-range effort wide for Wimbledon while Matty Taylor three times went close from 30-yard free-kicks either side of Michael Smith’s swivel and first-time shot that whistled just wide.
They were all half chances before the game’s first clear-cut chance arrived as late as the 70th minute.
The Dons have scored almost half of their 47 goals this season from set-pieces and it seemed they would add another to that list when Darius Charles was left unmarked from a corner and powered a header goalwards.
Resilient, hard-working and determined, this was undoubtedly Northampton’s best defensive performance for many a moon as they prevented a physical and often free-scoring Wimbledon side from finding the net in a home match for the first time since October.
But there was Adam Smith. On the one and only occasion when his defence was breached, Smith stood up to the mark with a fine reaction save in his only notable action of the entire match.
Aside from clawing away a Taylor free-kick, Smith’s opposite number also had little to do and it appeared we were petering towards a second goalless draw between these two this season, a result that both teams looked relatively content with.
But there was to be a late twist, and for once it went in favour of the Cobblers who bucked another recent trend. Instead of conceding a late winning goal, this time they scored it.
Taylor delivered a teasing cross, Chris Robertson chose a curious time to play goalkeeper and referee Nigel Miller duly pointed to the spot.
For all their hard-work in defence, to win games you also need quality and composure at the other end, and thanks to the cool head of Matty Taylor, that’s what Northampton got.
An inevitable Wimbledon bombardment followed in what little time remained but they were to have no joy, once again blunted by a terrific away defensive effort.
If this is a sign of things to come, Cobblers fans should take great encouragement.
You feared Northampton had forgotten how to grind out results, too often they’ve had to rely on out-scoring their opponents rather than keeping things tight and trying to nab something at the other end.
That’s an invaluable skill which all good teams possess, and if Edinburgh can instill the type of dogged, determined attitude we witnessed at Kingsmeadow on Saturday on a more consistent basis, it will provide a solid base to build from.
With Port Vale and Gillingham winning elsewhere to keep everyone on their toes in the League One relegation battle, Saturday’s win came at a good time for Northampton.
Up to 15th and with a healthy cushion back to the bottom four, they can breathe easy again, albeit not for long.
By the very nature of football and indeed sport, and as we’ve seen several times with the Cobblers this season, things can change in a flash. It wasn’t so long ago when it was all doom and gloom following defeat to Oldham, and that came only weeks after optimism had grown.
Back-to-back wins have significantly raised spirits and expectation again, and now Port Vale on Tuesday provides Northampton with a golden chance to finally banish any lingering fears.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - A resilient effort from those in front of him kept his workload to a minimum but stood up to the test on the one occasion he was called upon, pulling off a tremendous save to to deny Charles in the second-half... 7
Aaron Phillips - Had a running battle against the marauding Barcham throughout but coped commendably, in particular when making a pivotal last-ditch challenge. All in all this was another very encouraging display from the right-back who did more than enough to keep his place in the team... 8
Zander Diamond - Was central to just his side’s second clean sheet of 2017, marshalling the defence well and often in the right place to get tackles and blocks in. Participation was unfortunately cut short by a late injury, however his work had already been done by then... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
Lewin Nyatanga - Another defender to excel and stand up to Wimbledon’s physical approach, cutting out one especially dangerous cross to stop a certain goal early in the second-half. Also got his head to plenty... 8
David Buchanan - One short of his century of Cobblers appearances, this was another reminder of why he’s started every game since signing for the club. Kept Dons quiet down his side and got forward at times too. Perhaps a touch fortunate not to concede a penalty for handball... 8
Matty Taylor - His free-kicks provided the most likely source of a goal, and after going close from 30 yards three times, he made no mistake from 12, coolly rolling sending Shea the wrong way to earn an excellent victory... 7
John-Joe O’Toole - No goal on this occasion but he was hard-working and effective in midfield, breaking up play and keeping Dons at arm’s-length... 7
Gregg Wylde - Had the Dons defence back-pedalling with a couple of driving runs but his early withdrawal for Keshi Anderson didn’t came as any great surprise. He at least tried to make something happen when in possession but to no avail ... 6
Luke Williams - Screwed a very presentable early chance wide. The physical, direct style of the match didn’t really suit him as he struggled to find space in the right areas to hurt Wimbledon... 6
Michael Smith - Worked extremely hard for the cause, putting himself about all over the pitch and regularly getting back to help his defence. Went as close as anyone in the first-half when shooting just wide first-time... 7
Marc Richards - Wanted to take the penalty before Edinburgh opted for Taylor on a frustrating afternoon for the skipper who just couldn’t get into the game and didn’t get a chance on goal despite his best efforts... 6
Keshi Anderson - 7
Paul Anderson - 6
Rod McDonald - 6
Disagree with these ratings? Vote for your star man here - Who was your Cobblers man of the match against Wimbledon?