Northampton Town 2 Walsall 0 '“ match review, player ratings and highlights
The most impressive aspect of Saturday's accomplished and professional 2-0 victory over Walsall was the seemingly straightforward manner in which it was achieved as Northampton barely broke sweat in simply swotting aside a team who came within touching distance of promotion scarcely four months ago.
It has almost become routine for this remarkable set of footballers: another week, another game and another masterclass in how to win a football match. The Cobblers are a team who have forgotten how to lose.
On Saturday, it was a lesson in how to control and dominate for 90 minutes without necessarily controlling or dominating possession.
Wallsall saw plenty of the ball and did plenty of probing but rarely did they possess the cutting edge or killer pass to make inroads, Adam Smith a virtual bystander in the home goal.
Northampton developed those game management skills under Chris Wilder last season and they have been honed by Rob Page who is quickly proving himself to be a very astute and shrewd manager.
And despite that change of manager, the Cobblers haven’t lost that knack of controlling, managing and seeing out games with ruthless efficiency, this win over Walsall a fine example.
They didn’t totally overwhelm the Saddlers, neither did they play the visitors off the park, but from the moment Matty Taylor headed them into a 24th minute lead, the three points always looked certain to head their way.
There was a pleasing ebb and flow to the match in a bright opening quarter during which both sides had their moments but there was always the sense that Northampton held the edge.
Walsall were well in the game, though, and they regularly attacked in numbers because they knew the increasing importance of scoring the first goal against this Northampton team, as alluded to by Saddlers manager Jon Whitney afterwards.
Get that first goal and you can control the game, but concede and it becomes an uphill struggle to break down what has become a well-drilled, well-organised and resilient team who have become so adept at winning and seeing out leads.
And scoring that first goal is easier said than done: it’s no coincidence that Northampton still haven’t fallen behind in over 650 minutes of league football this season.
That was the case again on Saturday and after Taylor expertly flicked in Harry Beautyman’s wicked cross, there was only one winner.
Aside from a moment of magic from Erhun Oztumer, whose delicious lofted pass was squandered by Scott Laird, the Cobblers restricted Walsall to harmless possession and speculative long-range shots.
By contrast, Northampton’s attacking play has gradually become more cohesive and fluent as the weeks have ticked by and they carried as much of a threat on Saturday as they have done all season.
Beautyman twice went close, first whistling a shot wide and then shooting too close to Neil Etheridge, who then had to be at his best to thwart Alex Revell on two separate occasions in the second-half.
But there was nothing Etheridge could do about Revell’s coolly-taken spot-kick as he put the gloss on a polished performance, their best of the campaign to date.
With the defence looking solid and the attack starting to find their shooting boots, it’s all coming together nicely for Rob Page, although he’s adamant they can and will get better as the season progresses.
Given what we’ve seen so far, that’s an exciting prospect for Cobblers supporters. It’s early days but the signs bode well for another successful campaign.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Fine low save denied Bakayoko early on but that was the extent of his workload on a relatively peaceful afternoon for the Cobblers keeper... 7
Brendan Moloney - Supplied width on the right by regularly bombing forward, allowing Anderson to drift inside. Stuck to his defensive task well... 7
Zander Diamond - Developing into a real leader this season and again he marshalled the defence well all afternoon. Seldom looked under pressure or in any trouble... 7
Lewin Nyatanga - Effortless at the heart of defence. Comfortable with the ball at his feet and showed terrific anticipation to cut out the danger... 8
David Buchanan - His usual steady self. Delivered some excellent crosses from the left and wasn’t afraid to bark out the instructions to Gorre.... 8
Jak McCourt - Very quickly becoming an important cog in Page’s wheel. Adept at recovering the ball and breaking up play, which allows his side to stay on the front foot. Has an eye for a pass too... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
Paul Anderson - Tended to drift inside but that allowed Moloney to provide the overlap. Understanding with his new team-mates is still not quite there but promising signs... 7
Harry Beautyman - Picked up pockets of space in good areas behind Revell. Great cross for Taylor and twice went close himself. A nuisance for Walsall all afternoon... 8
Matty Taylor - Starting to really find his feet at this level and in this team. Excellent header gave Town the lead and his full passing range was on display in a brilliant performance. Has a seemingly endless supply of energy... 8
Kenji Gorre - Persistent fouling got him booked but played his part in the opening goal on what was a better outing for the youngster. Got stuck in more and even crossed with his left foot... 7
Alex Revell - Twice denied by some very good Neil Etheridge acrobatics but got the goal he deserved when rolling home the late penalty... 8
Alfie Potter - Brought an injection of pace and energy as Cobblers looked to hit Walsall on the counter-attack... 7
Sam Hoskins - 7
John-Joe O’Toole - 6