Northampton Town 1 Tranmere Rovers 0 - Jefferson Lake’s view and player ratings

STAR MAN - Richard Cresswell is mobbed after scoring the winning goal for the Cobblers against Tranmere (Pictures: Sharon Lucey)
STAR MAN - Richard Cresswell is mobbed after scoring the winning goal for the Cobblers against Tranmere (Pictures: Sharon Lucey)
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It was completely appropriate that the Cobblers’ latest league victory was secured with a headed goal by Ryan Cresswell.

Not just because when Tranmere beat Northampton on December 28, the bruising Yorkshireman was a frustrated spectator, nursing the knee he injured in a FA Cup first-round replay six weeks previously.

And not because on the occasion of that festive setback the team lost not one but two defenders to injury in the space of 10 first-half minutes, a weakness which was to stifle them throughout their desperately poor mid-season run.

It was fitting for these reasons but also because, in these crucial games late in the season, the true colours of certain players are shown.

It can now be said with some certainty that in Cresswell, Northampton have a player who can be firmly relied upon when the stakes are growing gradually higher.

He will admit that he should have scored at least one more goal, having headed wide when in good positions either side of the one attempt with which he did score.

But what he does at the attacking end of the pitch tells only half of the story because he was also excellent as a defender, snaffling any loose ball which came his way and towering into header after header in a dominant display.

This was exactly the type of performance for which he was bought - to lead from the back, make headers and interceptions, and to be a force in the other team’s penalty area.

Good Cobblers teams of the past, and specifically those which have won promotion, have had defensive leaders of great repute, from Ian Sampson to Sean Dyche.

Cresswell may not be classified with such players just yet but it is vital that teams chasing promotion have established and senior players in them to grind out results when the rest of the team are perhaps not as good as they can be.

The win over Tranmere, which must have been so sweet for Chris Wilder considering the pain their victory caused him in December, started in a similar fashion to the other wins at Sixfields, with the home side attacking at pace right from the start of the game.

In other matches, they have scored during such spells but did not against Rovers and so were forced to be more patient and resilient and to essentially wear down their opponents to the point of set-piece submission.

There was still some attacking flair on display but it was brute force and sheer guts which won the day on this occasion, and Cresswell is a black belt in both such disciplines.

It will concern Wilder that Ricky Holmes limped off with a nasty-looking injury because he has been a consistently high-quality player throughout his time at the club.

But even that will do little to cool the glow of satisfaction he will take from looking at the league table this weekend - incredibly, inexplicably and perhaps unbelievably, the Cobblers are just three points off the top seven

Jefferson Lake

But even that will do little to cool the glow of satisfaction he will take from looking at the league table this weekend - incredibly, inexplicably and perhaps unbelievably, the Cobblers are just three points off the top seven.

The gap could, and really should, be wiped out altogether by full-time of Tuesday night’s game against Carlisle United at Sixfields.

With key players excelling as the pressure builds, anything could happen now.

Player ratings

MATT DUKE

Took three crosses into the box under extreme pressure and made a brilliant save onto his bar in the final five minutes to secure the clean sheet and victory ...8

BRENDAN MOLONEY

Very good in both defence and attack but was caused so few problems by his opposite number that it is hard to say whether he truly excelled or not ...7

RYAN CRESSWELL

Led by example with an immaculate defensive performance which was capped by the winning goal. An outstanding display from a stand-out player ...8 STAR MAN

LEE COLLINS

His best piece of play went almost unnoticed - reacting to win the loose ball after Duke’s fine late save and complete a clearance as the boots flew in on him ...8

EVAN HORWOOD

Played a couple of loose passes but on the whole can feel very content in the way he performed and helped the team collect yet another clean sheet ...7

JASON TAYLOR

Another skirmishing display but one in which he saw considerably less of the ball than on previous occasions, with plenty of yards covered ...6

DARREN CARTER

An improvement on his display at Plymouth, and his set-piece delivery was especially better, although it may not be enough to keep him in the side when Byrom returns from his suspension ...6

LAWSON D’ATH

Did better than he has in the previous two games and was unlucky not to score after one penetrating run but still looked a little jaded at times ...7

JOHN-JOE O’TOOLE

It is encouraging that he got a good chunk of the game under his belt and he did well without ever really turning up any trees in a measured outing ...6

RICKY HOLMES

Continues to play with consistency and is always a threat in just about every game he plays - if there is a criticism, it’s that he should pass the ball earlier sometimes ...7

JAMES GRAY

Led the line well and showed both good physical presence and speed across the ground. Made several unselfish runs into wide areas to create space for others ...7

Substitutes:

CHRIS HACKETT (for Holmes 70)

Was a good outlet and a very useful player to have in the team as they looked to counter-attack in the closing stages ...6

IVAN TONEY (for O’Toole 82)

TOM NEWEY (for Gray 83)

Not used: Bodin, Diamond, Perry, Jalal