Cheltenham Town boss Mark Yates hailed an ‘unbelievable’ performance from Cobblers goalkeeper Lee Nicholls following his side’s play-off semi-final defeat at Whaddon Road on Sunday night.
The Cobblers were 2-0 aggregate winners in the tie against the Robins, with Luke Guttridge’s brilliant goal sealing a 1-0 win in the second leg to add to Town’s 1-0 win at Sixfields last Thursday.
But at the other end of the pitch on Sunday, Nicholls also more than played his part.
With the score still at 0-0, the young Liverpudlian produced a stunning first-half penalty save from Marlon Pack and went on to make a string of top-class stops to deny Cheltenham the goal that would have got them back in the tie.
A disappointed Yates was suitably impressed, and focused on the Cobblers goalkeeper’s performance rather than pointing the finger of blame at Pack or any of his own players.
“We had a lot of chances, but their goalkeeper has played unbelievably well,” said Yates.
“Northampton have got a job done on us, but I am really proud of my players.
“We showed people what we are about, and we didn’t necessarily do that in the first-leg on Thursday, but we got beaten by a great strike.”
Asked if Pack’s miss from 12 yards was the pivotal moment in the tie, Yates said: “Looking back on it, the penalty miss was a key moment.
“But I am not going to blame Marlon Pack for us losing, he has been our best player this year.
“He was big enough to stand up and take the penalty in a big game, and I thought he had a good game.
“There were lots of good performances in the game, but I think we could have been out there until 9 o’clock the next morning and still not scored.”
The closest the Robins came to breaking the deadlock when Kaid Mohamed’s bullet header smacked against the crossbar with Nicholls, for once, beaten.
If that had gone in it would have set up a grandstand finish, and Yates felt the player got too good a connection on the ball.
“It was a great header from Mo, and he has probably headed it too well,” said Yates, who is a close friend of Cobblers boss Aidy Boothroyd.
“We put some great balls into the box, but at this club we don’t blame people for missing chances.
“When people are brave enough to get there, we will never criticise them for missing.
“We had lost of chances, but unfortunately it wasn’t our night.”