John-Joe O’Toole came back to haunt his former club when he struck five minutes into the second half to hand Northampton Town a winning start to the new season with a 1-0 victory over Bristol Rovers at the Memorial Stadium this afternoon.
Both teams looked understandably rusty in a first half that lacked quality and was riddled with mistakes - and it was two errors which presented Marc Richards and Matty Taylor with the best two chances of the half, however both failed to capitalise when through on goal.
The Cobblers upped their game in the second half, however, and O’Toole’s goal earned the visitors a deserved victory as he headed in David Buchanan’s fine cross.
Northampton wasted further chances to increase their advantage, but although Bristol frantically poured forward in search of an equaliser late on, they struggled to make much headway against a resilient Cobblers defence and the visitors ran out worthy winners to make the dream start to their 2015/16 Sky Bet League Two campaign.
Chris Wilder handed competitive debuts to five new signings – Adam Smith, Josh Lelan, David Buchanan, Alfie Potter and Nicky Adams – while Dominic Calvert-Lewin was on the bench having just joined on loan from Sheffield United this week.
Glorious sunny skies greeted the new season and the teams were welcomed out by a boisterous home crowd who were celebrating their side’s return to the Football League, and unsurprisingly it was the home team who were quickest out of the blocks with Jermaine Easter looking lively in the opening stages.
He had an early shout for a penalty waved away after tumbling under pressure from Lelan in the box, but Northampton withstood the early onslaught and gradually got a foothold in the game.
And it was then the visitors who were presented with a golden chance to strike first when Marc Richards latched onto a poor back header and found himself through one-on-one with Bristol keeper Steve Midenhall, only to skew his shot well wide.
Northampton were now enjoying a better spell having been slow out of the blocks and they came close again when a corner was only half cleared to the egde of the penalty area, where Zander Diamonds curled an effort narrowly wide.
Despite those openings, though, both sides were struggling to find much fluency in a scrappy and fragmented first half and the two goalkeepers remained largely untested with numerous mistakes coupled with constant fouls disrupting the flow of the game.
An error seemed the most likely way a goal would arrive, and Northampton were almost architects of their own downfall when a mix-up between Diamonds and Smith nearly allowed Easter through on goal, but the Cobblers keeper recovered just in time.
Town threatened going forward but continued to live dangerously at the back and another mistake then presented Matty Taylor with a glorious opportunity. It all started when Cresswell attempted to head back to Smith, however Taylor nipped in and the goal was at his mercy after rounding the visiting keeper, but he dallied on the ball and inexplicably took too long to allow Cresswell to recover and get a challenge in.
That was the best chance of the half and the teams went into the break on level terms, but it was all change five minutes into the second half when the visitors grabbed the initiative and struck through former Rovers man O’Toole.
It was a well-worked goal started by the impressive Joel Byrom who fed Buchanan down the left and his pinpoint cross was superbly headed home by O’Toole.
The Cobblers were now in the ascendency as Richards then spurned a great chance when well-placed, though he was flagged offside.
Rovers looked to rally with Lee Brown’s cross-shot sailing inches wide of Brown’s goal before Smith had to be alert to save well low down from another long-range effort.
However, for all the home side’s endeavour, the Cobblers continued to threaten and they almost extended their lead when Midenhall clawed away Cresswell’s header.
As much as the home fans urged their side forward, Northampton remained on top and if anyone looked like scoring again it was the visitors as Midenhall denied them for a second time in a matter of minutes with a fine save low down from Richards, who controlled well before shooting from a tight angle.
Sam Hoskins and Paul Corry were both introduced for their Northampton debuts, and Bristol seemed to tire in the closing stages as they tried desperately to summon up one more attack, and they almost grabbed a late leveller but substitute Ellis Harrison could only lift his lob straight into the onrushing Smith and the Cobblers survived four minutes of stoppage time to claim the three points.
Rovers: Midenhall, Leadbitter, Brown, Lockyear, Parkes, Taylor (Bodin 71), Lines, Clarke, Easter (Harrison 56), Montano (Monakana 60), Sinclair
Subs not used: Preston, Clarke, Gosling, Blissett
Cobblers: Smith, Lelan, Diamonds, Cresswell, Buchanan Byrom, Taylor, Potter (Holmes 65), Adams (Corry 87), O’Toole (Hoskins 73), Richards
Subs not used: Clarke, McDonald, Calvert-Lewin, Hackett
Referee: Mark Heywood
Cobblers fans: 574