It wasn’t their most vintage performance, nor will it go down as their most convincing victory, but it’s games and results like this 1-0 win over Newport County which ultimately separates good teams from title-winning ones.
Few would have begrudged Newport had they left Sixfields with a point on Good Friday and Warren Feeney might be left scratching his head, wondering how his side managed to lose this game having made most of the running.
But finding ways to win irrespective of the performance is a common trait found in all great sides and it’s one which this Northampton team has developed and honed over the course of this season.
And let’s face it, if any team has earned the right to have a few off-days and grind out slightly fortuitous wins, it’s the Cobblers whose promotion-clinching moment continues to edge ever closer with the title to follow closely behind.
To underline the dominant position Northampton have built for themselves, 85 points would have been enough to win the title – not just gain promotion – in two of the last three seasons.
Yet, this team have managed to reach that tally with mammoth eight games and 24 points still left to play four.
Friday’s three points also draws Cobblers level with Graham Carr’s 1986/87 title-winning team in terms of points won to games played, with the two both on 85 points from 38 games, and only Carlisle United in 1994/95 have reached the same tally in that many games in the history of England’s fourth division.
Three of their last four wins demonstrate why this Northampton team have waltzed away from the chasing pack and will be crowned champions come what may.
First there was the destruction of Carlisle where the Cumbrians were sliced open by Town’s free-flowing, fluent attacking football, then came the show of spirit and resilience to fight back from 2-0 down to beat Stevenage, and that was followed by Friday’s gritty win over Newport.
It’d be harsh to say the Cobblers are stumbling their way to promotion but a drop-off in performance levels has been evident for a number of games now.
An energy-sapping, emotional roller-coaster of season in which they’ve invested so much into has undoubtedly played a part but it’s difficult to be too critical when a side is as far clear as Northampton are.
Newport created the more frequent and clearer chances on Good Friday but the Cobblers produced the game’s most incisive move to go with its most clinical moment.
John Marquis finished it off, lashing beyond Joe Day, after being teed up by Lee Martin who was well found following neat work from Brendan Moloney and Ricky Holmes on the right.
The classy Medy Elito ran proceedings for County, the midfielder regularly finding pockets of space to pick his passes with ease, while Alex Roadman and Scott Gosling had plenty of joy down the wings and Scott Boden was a handful up front.
Those four all had chances, Elito going closest when rattling the crossbar, but a combination of Adam Smith’s shot-stopping, some frantic last-ditch defending and poor finishing meant County left Sixfields empty-handed.
And it’s that ruthless edge which separates the men from the boys.
The plaudits will go to Feeney’s men. The points go to Northampton.
And when all is said and done, that is the difference.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Good stops from Boden and Ayina in the first half followed by a less active second, though always had to be on his toes against a Newport side who carried a constant threat... 7
Brendan Moloney - Played a key role in the goal when picking out Martin but often guilty of being sucked in defensively, leaving Gosling with acres of space at the back post... 6
Zander Diamond - A solid day at the office for the Scotsman, the odd slip aside, as he led the line and positioned himself well to clear several dangerous set-pieces... 7
Luke Prosser - Doesn’t always look in total control of the situation but defended much better after a first half in which his lack of pace was once or twice exploited. Did the basics well... 7
David Buchanan - Had his hands full with the dangerous Roadman who had the beating of the left-back on more than one occasion. Very rare below-par performance... 6
Ricky Holmes - Perfectly-weighted through ball created the only goal and almost teed up Martin for another but didn’t see as much of the ball as he’d have liked... 7
John-Joe O’Toole - Outshone by the classy Elito but carried out his defensive duties when required to ease the workload on the defence. More workmanlike than swashbuckling... 7
Joel Byrom - Best player on the park for 44 minutes when his lazy back pass should have been punished by Ayina. Injury curtailed his afternoon... 7
Lee Martin - Kept his composure to tee up Marquis for the only goal but decision-making was otherwise disappointing before he was replaced at half-time... 6
John Marquis - Collapsed to his knees at full-time and understandably so after running himself into the ground. Won headers, held the ball up and bagged the winning goal with an emphatic finish... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
James Collins - Couple of early chances blocked but didn’t seem at the races in his least effective game since signing... 6
Lawson D’Ath - 6
Sam Hoskins - 6
Danny Rose - 6