In an explosive split-second, Marc Richards showed just what the Cobblers have been missing while he has been sidelined through injury for the past seven weeks.
Less than four minutes after coming on as a substitute against Cheltenham, Lawson D’Ath rolled the ball invitingly into Richards’ path as he ran towards the right side of the Robins penalty area.
Then, in a flash, the ball was in the back of the net, flying past goalkeeper Trevor Carson and into the bottom corner after leaving the right boot of Richards with a satisfying thud.
It was a moment that summed up the class and quality of the 18-goal Town striker, and will have left every Cobblers fan thinking what might have been, thinking where they might be in the league two table today if he had not been forced to miss eight games due to an Achilles problem.
Eight games where Town only picked up seven points out of a possible 24.
I think it‘s fair to say the team would be a little closer to the play-off places than four points with two games to play.
That is no disrespect to the likes of Jimmy Gray or Ivan Toney, who are both talents in their own right.
But the simple fact is, they’re not Marc Richards.
Saturday was Richards’ 100th game for the Cobblers, and his goal was his 31st for the club
In anybody’s book that is a good record.
If you take into account that when he was a rookie at Sixfields after being signed by Martin Wilkinson from Blackburn Rovers, Richards didn’t score in his first 20 games in the claret and white, and only twice in his first 35, that record’s even better.
That means he has scored 29 in his past 65 Town games, with 18 in 34 this season alone.
So it is undoubtedly a frustration that Richards got injured at such a crucial time of the season.
But the good news is, Richards will be wearing a Cobblers shirt again next season. And the one after that too.
Like the majority of the Cobblers team, Ricky Holmes may have had a quiet first half against a severely limited Cheltenham team, but the in the second, the former Portsmouth man was superb, a joy to watchJeremy Casey
That alone is a reason to look forward with genuine optimism, presuming that reaching the play-offs is going to be beyond Town this season.
And another is the attacking flair this Cobblers team has. And Ricky Holmes.
Richards is the focal point, the lead actor, but those in the supporting roles are pretty special too.
Toney, quite simply, has the X-factor, and deserved his goal on Saturday, and he and Gray can only improve and learn by training and playing with Richards, who at 32 is approaching the veteran category, and D’Ath is only going to get better and better.
His performance levels have dropped in recent weeks, but like Toney this is his first full season, and on Saturday he was back to his best.
But the jewel in the attacking crown, the man who will surely load many a bullet for Richards, is Holmes.
Like the majority of the Cobblers team, he may have had a quiet first half against a severely limited Cheltenham team, but the in the second, the former Portsmouth man was superb, a joy to watch.
The Robins, who had come to Town for a point, couldn’t contain Holmes, couldn’t get hold of him, and he began to dominate the match.
He is such an outlet for the team, happy to carry the ball from defence to attack, he works as hard as any player, has nearly all the tricks in the book and, most importantly, he has an end product.
Holmes doesn’t flatter to deceive, he delivers. Particularly in matches at Sixfields.
It was his trickery that sucked in the full-back and created the space for D’Ath to set up the crucial opener against Cheltenham, D’Ath being set free down the left wing by a perfectly-timed pass from Holmes.
As has been said many times already this season, this Cobblers team has deficiencies, the main one being the fact it concedes too many goals, but in Richards and Holmes they have two of the best players in the division.
And if they can stay fit, then the future of the Cobblers is going to be very bright indeed.
How they rated...
SHWAN JALAL - the goalkeeper didn’t have too much to do, but when he was called into action he did everything right, and his handling was good - 6
BRENDAN MOLONEY - Will be delighted to have put one over the old boss that didn’t want him at Yeovil Town. Moloney was solid in defence and as always provided an outlet in attack - 6
ZANDER DIAMOND - had his hands full at times with the powerful and unpredictable Mathieu Mensat, but was more than up to the task. Excellent performance - 7
LEE COLLINS - along with his fellow defenders, Collins didn’t really give Cheltenham a sniff throughout. he looks much more comfortable when at the heart of defence - 6
EVAN HORWOOD - solid performance from the left back, who wasn’t really tested defensively as Cheltenham were so weak out wide - 6
LAWSON D’ATH - looked really sharp and back to his best, having a big hand in both the goals. Played with real attacking freedom - 7
JOEL BYROM - has become one of the team’s most consistent and reliable performers. Relished being back on the top quality surface at Sixfields after the minefields of Oxford and Stevenage - 6
JOHN-JOE O’TOOLE - looks much more comfortable in the heart of the midfield than he does when playing in a more advanced role. Saw a lot of the ball, and rarely wasted it - 6
RICKY HOLMES - the little magician really is a different animal when he plays at Sixfields. He was unplayable at times in the second half, and is so exciting to watch when in full flow - 8 STAR MAN
IVAN TONEY - was given a real hammering by Cheltenham’s defenders in the first half, but just kept getting up and getting on with it. Cool and calm finish to open the scoring - 7
DIEGO DE GIROLAMO - showed flashes of his undoubted ability, and very nearly created a couple of openings for himself. But was ultimately frustrated - 6
MARC RICHARDS (for De Girolamo, 66 mins) - made an instant impact with a trademark finish. Class act - 7
JIMMY GRAY (For Tozer, 75 mins)
DARREN CARTER (for Horwood, 86 mins)
Not used: Duke, Hackett, Tozer, Perry