There’s not much left to say about this seemingly unstoppable Cobblers team after they added another three points to their rapidly increasing tally at Crawley Town on Tuesday.
It was a performance that demonstrated all the qualities required for any side who have lofty ambitions as Northampton allied attacking flair in the opening hour with defensive resolve in the final 30 minutes – a pretty handy mix in anyone’s book.
In all honesty, this game could have been out of sight by half-time had the visitors made better use of some promising counter-attacking positions as Nicky Adams, Lawson D’Ath and Alfie Potter proved too hot to handle for the Crawley defence.
But a 2-0 lead was a fair reflection of the opening 45 minutes. The goals came from a composed Joel Byrom header after Marc Richards’ penalty had been punched back out into the danger area, and then a wonder strike from John-Joe O’Toole.
When the ball rolled back into O’Toole’s path and the midfielder lined up a shot, you weren’t quite sure what to expect. A year ago he may have skied his effort over the crossbar, but on this occasion he stroked the ball home with a gorgeous left-footed strike.
Richards and Adams then both spurned chances to make the final half an hour more comfortable, but Town have made a habit of setting up tense, nerve-shredding finishes for their fans in recent weeks and this was to be no different.
When Brendan Moloney was dismissed for pulling back Shamir Fenelon and Simon Walton converted the resulting penalty, it was inevitable that Crawley would lay siege on Adam Smith’s goal.
Having looked so comfortable for an hour, Chris Wilder’s men were now frantically back-peddling as they attempted to withstand the home side’s increasing pressure.
However, try as Crawley may, there was to be no way through a stubborn Cobblers rearguard, led by the outstanding Zander Diamond, and even when they were breached, Adam Smith was there, as he so often has been this season, to make a brilliant reaction save.
Ultimately, this was a deserved victory and one which followed a familiar theme.
“Tuesday’s win means Northampton have now chalked up 37 points in League Two this season, which is their best return after 19 games since the 1986/87 Division Four title-winning campaign when they had 48 points at this stage.”James Heneghan
Fans of all clubs like to believe their team always does things the hard way but that really does seem the case for Northampton this season.
Games involving the Cobblers have tended to follow a similar pattern: Northampton start well, score early and then find themselves clinging on for dear life in the final 10 minutes as they desperately defend a one-goal lead.
In fact, of Northampton’s 11 league wins this season, nine have been by just a single goal – 4-2 and 3-0 wins over Morecambe and Exeter the only exceptions – and the fact that they are able to hang onto such slender leads so often is testament to their defensive determination.
It’s also testament to their ability to strike first, get in front of the game and then stay there. Out of their 19 league games, Northampton have led at some point in 15, going on to drop points in just four.
The catalyst for this amazing run of form seems to stem back to September 5 and Northampton’s tepid 2-1 home defeat to struggling Dagenham & Redbridge, which remains one of only two wins for the Daggers this season.
Since then, the Cobblers have lost just once in the league, taken 30 points from a possible 39 and shot up the table from 16th to level on points with second-placed Oxford, two behind leaders Plymouth.
For those of us who witnessed that defeat to Dagenham at the time, it was difficult to envisage what has followed as it gave no indication that Northampton were capable of such an impressive run, but it may well prove their most important result of the season.
And the statistics just keep getting better for Chris Wilder’s men, who have now made it 80 matches since they were last involved in a goalless draw.
But the most impressive and telling stat is yet to come.
Tuesday’s win means Northampton have now chalked up 37 points in League Two this season, which is their best return after 19 games since the 1986/87 Division Four title-winning campaign when they had 48 points at this stage before going on to rack up 99 by the end of the season.
That might be a stretch too far this time around but, at this moment in time, nothing seems beyond them. A win over bottom-of-the-table Yeovil on Saturday could see Town go top.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Sent the wrong way from the spot but made one brilliant reaction save late on to protect all three points... 7
Brendan Moloney - Was an error-free evening until his red card. Can’t have any complaints as he pulled Fenelon back when the striker looked set to score... 6
Zander Diamond - Imperious display from the Scotsman. An absolute rock at the back as he won header after header and produced several critical last-ditch challenges. Epitomised Northampton’s spirit and resilience... 9 CHRON STAR MAN
Ryan Cresswell - Couple of silly challenges aside, this was an excellent return to the fold. He was just the man to deal with Crawley’s late aerial bombardment... 8
David Buchanan - Fortunate to get away with one hesitant moment but made up for it with a stunning goal-saving tackle... 7
John-Joe O’Toole - Transformation from outcast to key man is remarkable. Has become such a crucial part of the side and this game highlighted why. Capped off a fine evening with a stunning strike... 8
Joel Byrom - Kept his cool well to react first and nod home the opener. Was the springboard for many of Town’s counter-attacks... 7
Lawson D’Ath - One of his best games of the season, particularly first half. Was a constant outlet for Town and won the penalty with a neat piece of footwork. Also played a role in the second... 7.5
Alfie Potter - Worked tirelessly to close Crawley’s defenders down. His pace was always cause for concern though most of the visitors’ play came down the other side... 7
Nicky Adams - One of his off days. That’s not to say he was poor, though, as he played his part in a perfect away performance for 60 minutes... 7
Marc Richards - His excellent hold-up play is so key to the way Northampton operate away from home. But it was a bad night in front of goal as he saw his spot-kick comfortably saved before missing an equally excellent chance to make it 3-0... 6.5
Josh Lelan - 6
Dominic Calvert-Lewin - 6.5
Jason Taylor - 6