If Rob Page was looking for a result and performance to silence the naysayers already casting doubt over his reign as Northampton manager, Sunday’s impressive, reassuring and deserved victory over MK Dons should do the trick.
It had been a season of mixed signals going into this eagerly-anticipated local derby because though there were enough encouraging signs to forecast a bright nine months under Page, they were offset by untimely setbacks and frustrating negatives, most of which came the previous Tuesday.
But if that dire defeat to Wycombe in midweek gave reason for fans to fear the worst, those fears were blown away by a devastating start on Sunday that left MK Dons shell-shocked and put Northampton in the driving seat to finally claim their first win of the season.
It was three very welcome points for Page who would have been feeling increasingly anxious as he chased that elusive first victory.
But the new man at the helm has always conveyed a sense of assurance and belief in both himself and his team and that faith was rewarded on Sunday.
There were – and still are – legitimate concerns but if those 90 minutes on Sunday are a taste of what is to come, all will be well.
Three goals, three points and your local rivals sent packing is certainly one way to get up and running for the season.
Page always had his work cut out following in the footsteps of last season’s miracle-worker Chris Wilder but the fact he’s been able to build a solid base in such a short period of time should be commended.
The main source of concern has come at the other end where the Cobblers have been shot-shy and short on chances, but those concerns were somewhat allayed by a blistering 20-minute spell on Sunday that proved Northampton can blend attacking flair with defensive solidity.
Maybe it was the presence of the Sky cameras which sparked Northampton into life because it was as if someone had flicked a switch and everything clicked into gear as Page’s men found their mojo.
They attacked with pace, with urgency and in numbers. MK Dons had all of the ball and did all of the pressing but they played in front of their hosts rather than behind them.
Northampton, by contrast, played at a higher tempo and with greater conviction to run rings around some static Dons defending.
Matty Taylor playing higher up the pitch can only be a good thing and his class on the ball was clear for all to see as he produced two high quality moments which decisively swung the game in Northampton’s favour.
At the same time, the hassling, harrying and pressing of hard-working Jak McCourt and Harry Beautyman in midfield never gave Dons an inch on the ball.
Maybe it was the presence of the Sky cameras which sparked Northampton into life because it was as if someone had flicked a switch and everything clicked into gear as Page’s men found their mojo.James Heneghan
That said, the impressive nature of Northampton’s ruthless display in attack must be tempered slightly by the fact they came up against a team who seemingly forgot how to defend and opted to go missing for two of the three goals.
Nevertheless, Town pounced on every error and capitalised to maximum effect, something which they’ve not always done this season.
That put them in cruise control but one rare lapse in concentration at the other end gifted Dons a route back into the game with Dean Bowditch left unmarked to nod home a quickly-taken corner.
With renewed belief, the second-half was almost exclusively played in Northampton territory yet it was Northampton who had the half’s best chances, that was the degree to which Dons struggled to break down and cut through a packed home defence.
It was all style and no substance and the one time Dons did go route one, they scored, albeit far too late to make much difference to the final scoreline which only flattered the visitors.
Adam Smith’s most strenuous work involved plucking over-hit and harmless crosses out of the air while those in front of him kept their disciplined and remained well-organised.
David Martin’s excellent penalty save from Taylor prevented his side from heading home with an even bigger defeat and he did likewise from Brendan Moloney as the Cobblers had more than the three shots that Dons boss Karl Robinson rather disingenuously suggested post-match.
On a day of positives, one source of frustration for Northampton in the shape of Kenji Gorre who still has a lot to learn if he his to turn potential into something lasting.
The 21-year-old picked up some tremendous positions as his side chased a fourth on the counter-attack but his insistence to cut inside at every available opportunity makes him far too predictable and easy to defend against.
As right-footer playing on the left wing, it’s natural for his tendency to cut inside but even the idea of going on the outside, even just once or twice, will do no harm and at least give the full-back something to ponder.
The fact he won a very dubious penalty doesn’t change that, and he must also learn to track back and help his team out defensively. Being young and raw does not excuse laziness.
On the whole, though, this was much more like it and eight points from six games suddenly paints a brighter picture for those of a Cobblers persuasion.
That’s also 30 league games unbeaten with just one defeat in 39. It will come as some shock to the system when – indeed if – this team does eventually taste defeat again.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - For all their fancy build-up play, Dons only recorded four shots on target and Smith rarely had serious work to do... 7
Brendan Moloney - Provided a threat down the right and carried Cobblers up the pitch when they began to sit too deep. Almost scored with a well-struck left-footer... 7
Zander Diamond - Solid and reliable at the heart of the defence, easily withstanding what came his way. Been a rock this season... 7
Lewin Nyatanga - One slip aside, quietly effective. Won key headers at key moments and always seemed well positioned to clear the danger, getting the crucial touch to several threatening crosses... 7
David Buchanan - Had next to no help from Gorre so often found himself confronted by more than one Dons player, but did what he does best and kept them at arm’s-length... 8
Jak McCourt - Loves a tackle and he made several crunching ones on Sunday, one of which led to the opener. Brings tenacity, energy and bite to the midfield, and can play as well... 8
Paul Anderson - Seemed off the pace but there were glimpses and touches of what he might bring. Close to scoring with a miscued effort... 7
Matthew Taylor - For perhaps the first time in Cobblers colours his quality really stood out. Peach of a cross to tee up Revell and then an exquisite free-kick. Needs to stop overplaying in dangerous areas though... 8
Harry Beautyman - Much more effective in a central role. Ran himself into the ground with his box-to-box exertions. Some classy touches and a fine finish for his second goal in two games... 8
Kenji Gorre - Infuriating to watch. Seriously needs to learn to add some variety to his game and not cut inside at every opportunity. Lazy at tracking back too, did at least win the penalty... 6
Alex Revell - Outstanding. Just relentless in his work ethic and determination to run down absolutely every ball. Brilliant header for the goal and seemed to win everything against the Dons back four... 9 CHRON STAR MAN
Alfie Potter - 7
Sam Hoskins - 7
Marc Richards - 6