This was not the most polished of Northampton performances, nor was it the most convincing win, but any victory, no matter how it comes, is invaluable in this competitive League Two season and none more so than Monday’s hard-fought one over a decent Accrington side.
It’s been quite a year for Northampton Town, one which no Cobblers fan will forget in a hurry, and there was no better way to round it out than with three points in a match that kept everyone guessing right up until full-time.
As manager Chris Wilder admitted afterwards, the Cobblers can count themselves fortunate to walk away with all three points against Accrington on Monday after a game in which the visitors created the clearer and more frequent chances and but for another imperious Adam Smith performance, the outcome would have been very different.
It was a timely reminder of Smith’s ability as Matt Crooks, Josh Windass and Sean McConville were all thwarted by the flawless Cobblers keeper who almost single-handedly kept his side in the game.
This was always going to be a tough examination of Northampton’s promotion credentials and so it proved.
Though Accrington are not the most glamorous of clubs – and neither do they possess the necessary resources to compete at the top end of League Two on a regular basis – time and again they are a side that defies all the odds, which could well be the case again this season judging by Monday’s performance.
Anyone who looked up their away record in 2015/16 would have been well aware that it was never going to be straightforward for Northampton with Stanley losing just twice on the road, conceding a meagre eight goals in 11 games in the process, going into Monday’s clash.
And hard work it was, made even harder by the fact the game was constantly broken up the sound of the referee’s whistle with Mr Kinseley intent on giving every foul possible, which meant neither side could find their groove and build any forward momentum.
There were chances, though, as both teams squandered opportunities, while Ryan Cresswell was extremely fortunate to escape a straight red card after appearing to haul down Billy Kee when the Stanley striker pounced on a slip and found himself through on goal.
Eventually, the game’s decisive moment arrived just after the hour-mark and it was little surprise that Ricky Holmes, who had just come on, played an instrumental role in what proved to be the winning goal with his cross headed home by Marc Richards for the skipper’s 14th goal of the campaign, 11th in the league.
Suddenly, Accrington, who had been happy to play at their own pace prior to the goal, sprung into life and as time ticked away, they bombed forward with only last-ditching defending coupled with some excellent Adam Smith goalkeeping keeping them at bay and preserving a clean sheet and the points for Town.
It was an excellent victory but there’s no doubt that the Cobblers will have to step it up if they want to remain as serious promotion contenders this term because tougher tests await, not least a trip to league leaders Plymouth in two weeks.
But if you can beat a promotion rival when not at your best, the signs are good. That’s what Northampton did and with both Oxford and Portsmouth failing to win, Wilder’s men now have an opportunity to put some breathing space between themselves and the play-offs.
This was a fitting way to end 2015, a year in which the Cobblers have racked up more points than any other Football League side, bar Burton and Middlesbrough.
It was far from straightforward but that rather sums up a roller-coaster 2015 for Northampton Town. Roll on the New Year.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Back to his best. Has been quiet of late but this was a timely reminder of his talent and potential as several excellent one-on-one saves preserved a well-deserved clean sheet... 9 CHRON STAR MAN
Brendan Moloney - Had his hands full against the tricky and often troublesome McConville who continually cut in from the wing and caused headaches for the home side’s back four ... 6
Ryan Cresswell - Extremely fortunate not to be sent off when he brought down Kee as the last man. Careless in possession on more than one occasion but did play a key role in repelling Stanley’s late barrage... 6
Zander Diamond - Neither he nor his centre-back partner looked comfortable against the pace and movement of Accrington’s forward players, though did read the play well to make some timely interventions... 7
David Buchanan - Influential in Town’s clearest chance in the first half but again, like Moloney, conceded too much space on his side and failed to stem the barrage of crosses... 6
John-Joe O’Toole - Early yellow card seemed to take the sting out of his game. Strangely quiet by his recent high standards... 6
Joel Byrom - Arguably Town’s best outfield player. Composed in possession and got himself out of a tight spot more than once... 7
Alfie Potter - Off at half-time after an ineffective first half showing... 6
Lawson D’Ath - Can’t fault his work-rate or endeavour but lacked the necessary quality when it mattered, typified by a poor first touch would he would have been through on goal... 6.5
Nicky Adams - One inch-perfect ball through ball to D’Ath was the highlight of an otherwise muted performance... 6
Marc Richards - Missed a decent chance first half but made up for it with a nicely-taken header... 7
Dominic Calvert-Lewin - 6
Ricky Holmes - 7
Jason Taylor - 6