Jefferson Lake’s Northampton Town v Oxford ratings: Lady Luck becomes a Cobbler

SAFE HANDS - Cobblers goalkeeper Lee Nicholls tries to gather a loose ball in Saturday's 1-0 win over Oxford United (Picture: Sharon Lucey)
SAFE HANDS - Cobblers goalkeeper Lee Nicholls tries to gather a loose ball in Saturday's 1-0 win over Oxford United (Picture: Sharon Lucey)
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At several points this season, the Cobblers have conformed to the conventional wisdom associated with successful football teams.

They have taken winning ugly to a new art. They are able to collect points - and even wins - from games in which they are far from their best and in which their opponent is the dominant force.

They are adept at clean sheets and have developed their home ground into a fortress.

Against Oxford on Saturday they added good old-fashioned luck to the list of promotion prerequisites.

James Constable probably could have put his 85th-minute shot nearer to the corner but it still required an excellent full-length save, low to his right, by Lee Nicholls, to keep it out.

At that point, Nicholls was out of the game. There was no way he would have been able to make a second save had another shot been incoming and, with three yellow shirts in the six-yard box looking for a tap-in, an equaliser looked inevitable.

Against all the laws of physics, the ball diverted from Nicholls’ glove to Ben Tozer, who hoofed it away with all of his might and the game was won.

On any other occasion during the past success-starved few years the rebound would have fallen to one of those Oxford players.

And so bad have recent times been that they probably would have gone on to get a second too. Probably an own goal off somebody’s backside.

So is that latest crucial rub of the green proof that this might be a good year to be a Cobbler? Possibly. Having quality players helps too, though.

Nicholls was the pick of the bunch against Oxford - his handling of crosses in difficult conditions was majestic - but there were star performances throughout the team.

Lee Collins played superbly after replacing Kelvin Langmead at central defence and has that useful knack of keeping the ball on the pitch (usually behind the opposing team) when making clearances.

Clarke Carlisle also made a goal-saving block moments before Nicholls’, and his form keeps going in an upward direction.

Few people would question his inclusion at present.

Matchwinner Ben Harding turned in his best display in central midfield and Ishmel Demontagnac was sublime for 98 per cent of the match but blotted his copybook with a reckless challenge that earned him a yellow card.

With the games involving Port Vale, Burton Albion, Exeter City and Rotherham United postponed it was vital the Cobblers beat Oxford - it effectively turned into the game in hand that they lost last week when the match at Wycombe was postponed.

They duly did, maintaining the pressure on the sides around them. But not without a healthy slice of good fortune.

Jeff’s player ratings

LEE NICHOLLS

Man of the match: A result-saving stop and handling was excellent in very difficult playing conditions ...8

JOHN JOHNSON

Placed the emphasis on defending first and foremost and left early due to hamstring injury ...6

KELVIN LANGMEAD

Limped out of it after around 10 minutes with a knee problem

CLARKE CARLISLE

Another exemplary performance, seems to have really found his feet in the past month ...8

JOE WIDDOWSON

Had his hands full with Potter but dealt with him well enough in a competent man-marking mission ...7

CHRIS HACKETT

Not as effective as he was a short while ago but feeling his way back after injury and provided the cross for the goal ...7

BEN HARDING

One of his best performances of the season and a marked improvement; embarked on many driving runs through midfield ...8

BEN TOZER

A couple of errors in the defensive third that took the gloss of what was a first-half display packed with quality passing ...7

ISHMEL DEMONTAGNAC

Sublime and ridiculous again but there was a lot of the sublime and one run in the second half was very special indeed ...7

ADEBAYO AKINFENWA

Should have given the Cobblers a two-goal lead at the end of a good move and doesn’t seem to be his old self at the moment ...6

CLIVE PLATT

Not one of his better games but made a contribution and ended the game playing on the right of midfield ...6

Substitutes:

LEE COLLINS (for Langmead 12)

Turned in a great shift in what was his first game for the club in the middle of a four-man defence ...8

LUKE GUTTRIDGE (for Johnson 71)

Tried to add a little bit of everything to the midfield department ...6

JAKE ROBINSON (for Hackett 83)

Not used: Snedker, Collins, O’Donovan, Hornby, Dias