“We’re going hunting,” was the message from Dean Austin to Northampton’s relegation rivals after his side pulled to within two points of League One safety courtesy of Saturday’s ‘magnificent’ 2-0 victory over Plymouth Argyle.
It was just two weeks ago when, on a 10-game winless streak, there looked to be no way back for the Cobblers whose 3-0 defeat at Blackpool had left them deep in relegation trouble, languishing second-from-bottom and five points adrift of the cut line.
But they followed last week’s dramatic 3-2 win over basement boys Bury with comfortably their best display of the season to date as they easily dispatched Plymouth on Saturday when Sonny Bradley’s second-half own goal added to John-Joe O’Toole’s opener shortly before half-time.
The victory gives Town a real shot of doing the improbable and completing the great escape, something which will likely be achieved with victories over Walsall and Oldham in their final two games, although much depends on the outcome of Tuesday’s set of fixtures when both Rochdale and the Latics feature.
For now, though, Austin has got the Cobblers believing. “Anything is possible,” he declared after Saturday’s win. “We’ve got two great games coming up and people are going to be having a little look at us now.
“They’ll be looking over their shoulders because we’re going hunting and we’re going to hunt these down.”
Saturday was Austin’s first home game in temporary charge since replacing Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and however he imagined it would play out, he surely couldn’t have expected such a dominant, assured performance from his players who stunned their high-flying, play-off hunting visitors.
Prior to this fixture, Northampton owned the worst home record in League One having not tasted success at Sixfields since beating MK Dons in January but, in contrast to Hasselbaink’s more cautious, safety-first approach, Austin let the shackles off and reaped the rewards as they defied all expectations in producing a wonderful display.
Though Town’s caretaker boss was reluctant to single out any individuals afterwards, teenage midfielder Shaun McWilliams took many of the plaudits and received a standing ovation when replaced in injury-time.
“I told Shaun to enjoy the people chanting his name because he’s a young boy and it was a great experience for him,” added Austin.
“As one of the youngest players in the squad and a Northampton boy who’s come through the ranks, it’s nice to have such special memories and that should be one.”
But McWilliams was not the only one to receive praise from Austin as O’Toole led the list of other impressive performers.
He continued: “I gave JJ a big responsibility. He’s a whiner and I’m disappointed he didn’t score more and we didn’t put it our of sight.
“He’s disappointed not to score more as well but it’s hard to single out individuals. Richard (O’Donnell) didn’t have much to do but he managed the game well, Shay Facey was back to his best and Ash Taylor and Leon Barnett held the back four.
Sometimes it’s about that little bit of belief and when things aren’t going your way, it’s easy to get bogged down. I believe that’s what happened to us but full credit to the players – they were magnificent.
“Buchs was awesome and some of Grimo’s passing was exquisite – he showed the pure quality that he has and Crooksy hasn’t played for a couple of weeks.
“I have to manage him because of the hamstring problem he’s had and then Sam Foley comes on and does the job, slips in straight away, and I think Sam Hoskins’ GPS must have broken after the amount of running he did!”
But as impressive as Northampton’s performance was on Saturday, there was an obvious question on everyone’s lips come full-time: why has it taken them so long to play so well?
It’s not as if Austin has inherited a different squad or bought his own players and yet their display, in every possible department, was a total contrast to how they dismally crumbled to defeat against Rotherham and Charlton in two of their previous three home games.
“We’ve got so many good players here,” added Austin. “Jack Bridge and Jordan Turnbull are on the bench, Regan Poole isn’t even making the 18, Joe Bunney isn’t making the 18 and there’s also Brendan Moloney so this group is more than capable of easily holding its own in this division.
“Sometimes it’s about that little bit of belief and when things aren’t going your way, it’s easy to get bogged down.
“I believe that’s what happened to us but full credit to the players – they’ve proved to everybody that they are good enough to do it and they were magnificent.”