Northampton Town 2 Swindon Town 1 – match review, player ratings and highlights

THREE IN A ROW: Cobblers celebrate after John-Joe O'Toole's late goal secured their third straight home win. Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds
THREE IN A ROW: Cobblers celebrate after John-Joe O'Toole's late goal secured their third straight home win. Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds
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The lateness of the winning goal and the tightness of the final scoreline suggests Tuesday’s win over Swindon was a hard-fought one but make no mistake, the Cobblers were full value for these priceless three points that inch them a significant step away from trouble and towards the safety of mid-table.

It was left late and it arrived in unnecessarily dramatic fashion but this 2-1 victory only flattered Swindon who played second fiddle for the vast majority and had their goalkeeper to thank for not being on the end of a much heavier beating.

Even the most ardent Robins supporter could not begrudge the hosts their victory as, for the third successive home game, Northampton produced a dominant performance to claim an important win at the expense of a team in the bottom four.

Indeed, the final margin of victory would have been far more reflective of a largely one-sided game had Town, and Marc Richards in particular, not forgotten their scoring boots.

Nevertheless, that man John-Joe O’Toole did it again and his fourth goal in three games and ninth of the season snatched arguably Northampton’s most important victory of the campaign to date.

With results going in their favour elsewhere, the Cobblers are now eight points clear of safety and only two adrift of as high as 13th, some turnaround from just two weeks ago.

Tuesday made it three home wins in a row, and with all three complemented by refreshingly positive performances, it represents a far cry from the five previous home matches that all ended in defeat by the odd goal.

On the front-foot and more aggressive in their approach, Northampton now regularly play like the home team at Sixfields and look to dominant games instead of sitting back and almost waiting for something to happen.

And while it’s important to guard against getting carried away, there are positives signs wherever you look since Justin Edinburgh’s arrival.

Neal Eardley has been a revelation at right-back, Zander Diamond and Lewin Nyatanga look far more secure in defence, while John-Joe O’Toole and Hiram Boateng have the makings of a midfield partnership to rival many in League One.

Then there’s Matty Taylor’s set-pieces, his 11 assists for the season are three more than anyone else in the division, plus the physicality and work-rate of Marc Richards and Michael Smith up front which will cause headaches for any opposition defence.

Any praise must of course be tempered by the quality of the opposition which, in three of the last four games, and especially in the case of Swindon on Tuesday, has been substandard at best. The Robins, insistent on patient passing football, possessed all the hallmarks of a side under serious threat of relegation.

A timid first-half made way for a better second but even when their sustained spell of pressure brought a goal – and a fine goal it was too – they immediately reverted to type: sat back and conceded instantly.

From a Cobblers viewpoint, this win was not as plain sailing as it perhaps might have been.

On the front-foot and more aggressive in their approach, Northampton now regularly play like the home team at Sixfields and look to dominant games instead of sitting back and almost waiting for something to happen.

What should have been a stroll to victory instead descended into a frantic tussle, one which Swindon grew into, but eventually Northampton were rewarded for their proactivity when given a helping hand to strike the first blow shortly after the hour-mark.

First, credit must go to Adam Smith for pulling off a terrific reaction stop just minutes before, a key moment in the context of the game.

Steady in possession and dependable at the back, Neal Eardley, alongside Swindon goalkeeper Lawrence Vigouroux and match-winner O’Toole, was the game’s outstanding player and he was the architect of Town’s opener with Lloyd Jones unable to deal with his teasing cross.

Keshi Anderson struck a post within seconds before the Cobblers fell back into old habits by sitting deep and inviting Swindon forward, and that risky ploy looked to have cost them two points when Luke Norris brilliantly headed in a wicked cross from the dangerous James Brophy.

The sometimes baffling psychological side of football was on show here. Having dominated for so long, once ahead, Northampton inexcusably dropped the tempo and retreated backwards, something that only encouraged Swindon forward.

But to Town’s immense credit, back they came. Instantly, Boateng forced another good save, and from the subsequent corner, Taylor delivered another terrific delivery and there was O’Toole once more to head in an 83rd minute winner.

That would prove enough to claim the points, and it was a case of better late than never.

Aside from Brophy, Swindon’s standout player was goalkeeper Lawrence Vigouroux whose excellent early penalty save from Richards was only the first installment in what would be a long-running duel between the two, with the Robins goalkeeper prevailing on each occasion.

He could not, however, prevent his side from succumbing to defeat, one which leaves them in desperate trouble.

By contrast, the Cobblers made it back-to-back league wins for the first time since October and, slowly but surely, the confidence and intensity of last season is returning.

It’s not all perfect, of course, and there remains areas of concern, not least their tendency to sit back on precarious leads, but Justin Edinburgh’s impact on this Northampton team is visibly growing by the match.

Playing with more energy, expression and tempo, they’re creating chances with regularity and troubling opposition teams through a combination of strength, pace and pressing.

With another two to their tally on Tuesday, scoring goals is certainly not a problem. Only three teams in League One can better their 48 goals this season, while no one has managed to score three goals or more on as many occasions as Northampton (9).

It’s been at the other end where problems have arose. That, though, is gradually being remedied.

The reluctance to make substitutions before 75 minutes this season, first from Rob Page and now Edinburgh, is also curious, and it almost cost them on Tuesday before O’Toole’s late show.

One other notable concern is the amount of space opposition teams are finding down Northampton’s left, with David Buchanan offered little protection from those in front of him and it was to the surprise of very few that Swindon’s goal stemmed from that side.

There will always be teething problems at this stage, however. One thing is for sure: if the Cobblers keep progressing at the current rate under Edinburgh’s guidance, a top half finish is most certainly attainable.

With tricky-looking trips following Tuesday, it was essential Northampton did not lose this game. They did more than that and justifiably so too, gaining a victory which may well go a long way to shaping the remainder of their season.

It was tense and it was edgy but, most importantly, it was three priceless points. The Cobblers have their tails up.

Roll on Southend.

How they rated...

Adam Smith - Mostly a spectator, only really called into action to brilliantly deny Rossi-Branco shortly before Town’s opener. Was rendered powerless to stop Norris’ fine header... 7

Neal Eardley - A revelation at right-back. Was almost faultless for the second time in three days as he prevented Swindon from making any headway down his side and was tidy in possession and attack, none more so than when sending in a teasing cross which forced the breakthrough... 9 CHRON STAR MAN

Zander Diamond - Untroubled for lengthy periods and when he did come under pressure, he rarely seemed ruffled. Approaching somewhere near his best form now... 7

Lewin Nyatanga - Been rejuvenated of late and this was his best performance for a while. Made key interceptions and anticipated well to regularly snuff out the danger... 8

David Buchanan - Difficult evening against the troublesome Brophy who was a menace all night. Didn’t get offered much protection and was unable to prevent Swindon’s danger man from teeing up the leveller. Did offer an outlet in attack... 6

Matty Taylor - Once again showed how invaluable he is to this team with another one of his trademark set-pieces which set up the winner. Made two key tackles too... 7

John-Joe O’Toole - Chosen a handy time to find his scoring boots as he continued his fine form. As well as his match-winning goal, he was excellent in general play. Good in possession, as evidenced by his part in the opener, and broke up play effectively... 9

Hiram Boateng - Such a classy operator even when he’s not fully on it. Wasn’t as influential previous games but still a prominent figure in midfield. He and O’Toole have the makings of an exciting partnership, for the remainder of the campaign at least... 8

Keshi Anderson - Quick feet won the penalty on a quiet night for him. Was kicked plenty and tracked back admirably but he’d surely carry a greater threat in a more advanced position, instead of picking up the ball so deep... 7

Marc Richards - Got into some great positions but left his scoring boots at home, squandering two fine early chances including his second successive penalty miss, albeit this time denied by a tremendous save. Vigouroux proved his nemesis all evening... 6

Michael Smith - Remains without a Cobblers goal, coming closest when dragging a shot wide, but that shouldn’t detract from his relentless work ethic and strong hold-up play. Touch was immaculate on the night too... 8

Substitutes

Grregg Wylde - 6

Jak McCourt - 6

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