A hurricane may have swept through Northampton on Saturday afternoon but even that wasn’t enough to prevent the Cobblers from inching three points closer to promotion and in doing so they made their own bit of League Two history.
With this win over lowly York City, Northampton became only the second team this century – and the first since England’s fourth tier changed it’s name from the old Third Division in 2004 – to reach 60 points or more at the 28-game stage of the season.
The last team to achieve that feat were Chesterfield way back in 2001 and, encouragingly for Cobblers fans, the Spireites subsequently won promotion.
Not only that, but for the first time since May 2000, the Cobblers clocked a sixth successive league win – and 11 in 12 in all – as they comfortably overwhelmed a beleaguered York side despite the horrific weather conditions.
Gale-force winds and heavy rain could have acted as a leveller as the rock-bottom Minstermen came to town, and for large spells of this game there was not a great deal between the sides, but Cobblers’ superior quality in the final third was the deciding factor as Chris Wilder’s men quashed any fears that a two-week break from action might disrupt their momentum.
Instead, Town picked up from where they left off two weeks ago on another excellent day for the club.
While they were racking up three more points, rivals were left frustrated by the weather – Plymouth, Bristol Rovers and Oxford United all seeing their games postponed – and defeats for Portsmouth and Accrington cemented Cobblers’ position in the top three.
Those results now mean the gap back to fourth place stands at a seismic 14 points and surely only a spate of injuries coupled with a severe downturn in form can stop the Cobblers from playing League One football next season.
York were by no means outplayed on Saturday and only a lack of quality in the final third prevented them from perhaps taking something from this game, however once Luke Hendrie was dismissed for a poor challenge on Ricky Holmes moments after Town’s second, their hopes of taking something back up the M1 were over.
Despite the elements, there were times when Town strung together some wonderful passages of play, Ricky Holmes and Lee Martin in particular linking up well, and the final scoreline could have been more one-sided on another day but two goals would suffice.
The opening 15 minutes were York’s best of the match although rather than the visitors causing problems, it was Northampton who were the architects of their own downfall.
Zander Diamond pondered in possession and was bailed out by a typically sharp save from Adam Smith, whose kicking was a source of constant problems for his own side in the hurricane-esque winds.
But once they adapted to the conditions, Northampton gradually went through the gears as Holmes and Martin linked up to devastating affect to give York’s back four untold problems throughout.
O’Toole’s goal was a timely one and arrived just when the visitors seemed to be frustrating Northampton, the midfielder directing home a Martin corner with a smart flick into the bottom corner on 21 minutes.
The rest of the first half was, in all honesty, a fairly forgettable affair with very little in the way of goalmouth action, Richards’ header drifting agonisingly wide the closest either side came to scoring.
In the end, it was a 30-second phase of play just after half-time that ultimately proved the game’s defining moment.
York, who had started the second half on the front foot, looked for all the world to have equalised when David Winfield’s header from a corner appeared destined for the net but, within a blink of an eye, instead of drawing level at 1-1, the visitors found themselves 2-0 behind barely seconds later.
Ryan Cresswell cleared off the line, Cobblers broke, Holmes drove over the halfway line and with three options and just two York defenders back, he fed Richards who cut back inside and emphatically swept into the bottom corner.
It was the type of moment that sums up why Northampton are top and York are bottom, and just to add insult to injury, barely 90 seconds had passed when the visitors were reduced to 10 after Hendrie saw red for a daft and needless lunge on Holmes.
From that moment on, the result was never in doubt and Northampton were able to comfortably see the game out by keeping possession for long spells and patiently probing for another goal without ever really threatening York keeper Scott Flinders.
The win is Town’s 15th in the last 18 league matches, a quite extraordinary run of form that has taken them from six points adrift of top spot in 10th place to five points clear of the chasing pack and on the brink of promotion.
To put that run into context, if Northampton were able to match that form in the final 18 games, they’d finish the season on 107 points. No team has ever finished on more than 102.
Tougher tests await, not least the next three fixtures, but this remarkable Cobblers campaign shows no sign of relenting any time soon.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Excellent save from McEvoy got Cobblers off the hook early on but his kicking in the first half gave his side more problems than the opposition... 7
Brendan Moloney - Vital clearance off the line prior to O’Toole’s goal proved key and made a couple of other key blocks on a busy day for the full-back... 8
Zander Diamond - Played himself into trouble early on but seemed to have adapted to the conditions by the time he was forced off through injury... 7
Rod McDonald - Rarely seem flustered by the swirling wind. Was composed and rarely troubled throughout... 7
David Buchanan - Really solid all-round performance. Kept York quiet on his side and got forward well, coming close to his first Cobblers goal when having a shot deflected wide... 8
Joel Byrom - Cleared Summerfield’s early goalbound shot off the line to keep Cobblers on level terms. Should have had an assist in the first half after picking out Richards with a delightful cross, only for the striker to head wide. Controlled the game once York were down a man... 8
John-Joe O’Toole - Took his goal well, his seventh of the season, in what is fast becoming a trademark industrious and complete midfield performance... 8
Ricky Holmes - York were never able to get to grips with his movement and pace. Involved in several excellent exchanges, particularly with Martin, and was instrumental in the second goal... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
Lee Martin - Assisted the opener with a well-directed corner in another vibrant showing. His pace and vision make him an excellent addition to the squad... 8
James Collins - Impressive performance despite not really threatening in terms of scoring. His hard work and link-up play was key in allowing Cobblers to combat the conditions by playing higher up the pitch and push more men forward... 7
Marc Richards - Might have done better with a first-half header but netted his 17th goal of the season with a typically clinical finish to kill the game off... 7
Ryan Cresswell - Did well after coming on in the first half. It was his goal-line clearance which led to Town’s second... 7
Nicky Adams - 6
Jason Taylor - 6