Cobblers battle back to preserve unbeaten run
Cobblers came from 2-0 down for the second successive away game as they extended their unbeaten run to 17 games with an incident-packed 2-2 draw at 10-man Mansfield Town on Easter Monday.
The first-half unfolded in almost identical fashion to Northampton’s win at Stevenage nine days ago as the home side took an early 2-0 lead through two headers by the same man from two set-pieces.
Matt Green was the scorer of both to put Mansfield in control but while the sluggish visitors barely created a chance of note throughout the first-half, they were boosted on the stroke of half-time when Jamie McGuire saw red for a second bookable offence.
That inspired a second-half fightback from Town who halved the deficit through Ricky Holmes’ penalty on the hour mark before John Marquis equalised within five minutes.
Now on level terms and with the extra man, Northampton dominated the remaining 20 minutes and threw men forward, but Mansfield defended doggedly to restrict the league leaders to few sights of goal and earn themselves a share of the spoils.
This was another off-colour performance from the Cobblers who were fortunate not to be more than 2-0 down at half-time but their battling qualities cannot be denied as they managed to grind out another valuable point in their quest for promotion and the Sky Bet League Two title.
With Oxford United and Bristol Rovers also failing to win, Northampton can now mathematically win promotion on Saturday against Notts County if results go their way.
Chris Wilder welcomed back skipper Marc Richards for the trip to Mansfield while Danny Rose and Jason Taylor came into midfield and Rod McDonald replaced Luke Prosser in defence.
The Cobblers boss opted for an experimental 4-3-3 with Richards joined by Marquis and James Collins up front, however Mansfield made most of the early running with Chris Clements almost catching Adam Smith out with an ambitious 35-yard free-kick.
The home side equipped themselves to the blustery conditions far better than Northampton in the opening stages and they made their early pressure count with an 11th-minute opener.
Mansfield won a free-kick on the right and Mal Benning’s wicked delivery caught the wind and evaded everyone, leaving an unmarked Green to nod beyond a stranded Smith.
That could have acted as a wake-up call for the sluggish visitors but instead Mansfield grew in confidence and continued their strong start before doubling their lead six minutes later.
It came in almost identical fashion to the first, except this time from the other side, and again it was Green to profit as the striker guided another free-kick into the far corner.
The shell-shocked visitors attempted to regroup and get a foothold in the game but Stags keeper Scott Shearer remained a virtual spectator as Northampton struggled to build up a head of steam.
At the other end, Smith had a slice of fortune when spilling the ball under pressure, only for it to fall to one of his team-mates, before Clements almost made it 3-0 as he bent one a fraction wide from Emmanuel Dieseruvwe’s cross.
Mansfield saw little of the ball but their tenacious, aggressive approach prevented the visitors from creating a single chance of note prior to first-half injury time.
But the Cobblers were given new hope in the final minute of the five added on when a poor challenge on Marquis from the already-booked McGuire resulted in a second yellow card.
Shearer was called into action for the first time from the subsequent free-kick, tipping over Richards’ header, as the visitors took heart from McGuire’s dismissal.
Wilder reverted back to 4-4-2 for the second half, introducing Holmes and Lawson D’Ath, and the former had an immediate impact when spinning and shooting straight at Shearer 12 seconds after the restart.
Signs of a Northampton comeback were few and far between, although Holmes was agonisingly close to scoring another screamer when his 30-yard thunderbolt clattered the under side of the bar, onto the line and away.
Holmes would not be denied five minutes later, though, when Northampton were given another helping hand by some overzealous Mansfield tackling.
This time Collins was bundled to the ground in the penalty area and referee Darren Handley pointed to the spot, with Holmes coolly sending Shearer the wrong way from 12 yards.
That was all the encouragement Northampton needed with the table-toppers suddenly on the hunt for an equaliser, and they didn’t have wait long to get it.
Within five minutes of Holmes’ penalty, Marquis pulled Cobblers level when prodding home from close range after Shearer had made a mess of collecting Danny Rose’s corner.
Almost immediately Holmes came close to giving Town the lead when cutting inside and curling an effort towards the far corner but Shearer got across well to palm clear.
With the momentum all with Town, they should have been ahead 10 minutes from time when a wonderful interchange of passes from Collins ans Holmes teed up substitute Sam Hoskins who, with the goal gaping, ballooned horribly over.
That was to be the final real chance of the game as Mansfield dug deep to withstand further Cobblers pressure and hold the table-toppers to a draw.
Mansfield: Shearer, Collins (c), Tafazolli (Alfei 23), Pearce, Benning, McGuire, Thomas, Clements, Blair (Chapman 55), Dieseruvwe (Rose 62), Green
Subs not used: Jensen, Beardsley, Daniel, Baxendale
Cobblers: Smith, Moloney, Diamond, McDonald, Buchanan, Taylor (D’Ath 45), O’Toole, Rose, Marquis (Hoskins 79), Collins, Richards (c) (Holmes)
Subs not used: Clarke, Lelan, Prosser, Byrom
Referee: Darren Handley
Cobblers fans: 1,667