JJ Hooper and Jak McCourt were singled out for special praise by Cobblers boss Rob Page after Saturday’s 4-2 win over Shrewsbury Town at Greenhous Meadow.
Having been restored to the starting line-up for the visit to League One’s bottom club, both Hooper and McCourt were integral in a dominant performance that culminated in a deserved victory.
The strength and pace of Hooper caught the eye in particular with the Port Vale loanee, stationed on the left in a front three, wreaking havoc all afternoon.
“JJ Hooper was outstanding,” said Page. “I had a good chat with him on Friday and he proved on Saturday that he’s a match for anybody with the attributes he has.
“When Shrewsbury played 3-5-2, the right-sided centre-half couldn’t cope with his pace at all. Then he went off through injury, they changed their formation and they still couldn’t cope with him.
“He had a lot of the ball and then when they switched to a diamond we utilised the full-backs out wide and got them on the ball.”
McCourt returned from suspension and brought balance back to Northampton’s midfield as he and John-Joe O’Toole pulled the strings while Sam Hoskins thrived in the free role.
McCourt’s set-pieces were an added bonus with two of Town’s four goals coming from his corners.
Page continued: “Jak’s disappointed with himself at the end because we lost a bit of discipline, but overall I thought he ran the game for us and controlled the game in the middle of the park.
“He was unlucky with a terrific shot and his delivery from set plays was exceptional, and with his general play he controlled the game.
We’re pleased with the start that we’ve had. We’ve had an indifferent couple of weeks with the standards that we set but we have to take confidence from Saturday.Rob Page
“He knew when to slow it down, he knew when to increase the tempo and he knew when to play forward and get the full-backs out, and that’s why he’s in the team.
“He’s been brought into the football club to do that and he was very good on Saturday.”
All in all, Saturday was a satisfying afternoon for Page and his players who steadied the ship after a recent wobble.
“I was really pleased overall,” he summarised. “The final ball was a lot better than it was on Tuesday and our work-rate as a team was very good and our discipline and shape were excellent at times.
“We deserved the scoreline. There was a little bit of ill-discipline with the two penalties - Gabs should stay at his feet and there’s no need to make the tackle for the second one.
“But we won’t focus on the negatives, there were too many positives there to dwell on the negatives.
“We’re pleased with the start that we’ve had. We’ve had an indifferent couple of weeks with the standards that we set but we have to take confidence from Saturday.
“With the lads playing to their potential, like JJ, Sam and Ando, we would have been a match for anyone.”
On Gabriel Zakuani’s half-time withdrawal, Page explained: “He took a knock to the head and we’ve got to respect the physio’s decision.
“If he’s got blurred vision, we had to bring him off as a precaution because we can’t take any chances.”