Cobblers hit the 50-point mark after Oxford stalemate

EYES ON THE BALL: Keshi Anderson in action for the Cobblers against Oxford on Saturday. Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds

EYES ON THE BALL: Keshi Anderson in action for the Cobblers against Oxford on Saturday. Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds

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Cobblers have hit the 50-point mark in Sky Bet League One after they were held to a goalless draw by Oxford United at a sun-kissed Sixfields on Saturday.

In the classic game of two halves, this contest opened up dramatically after half-time and each team were presented with at least one golden opportunity to win it but unable to convert, the game ended in a deserved draw.

Both sides lacked any quality whatsoever in an error-strewn and frankly terrible first-half that deservedly ended goalless with the two goalkeepers barely having to break sweet.

The second period was a much more open, end-to-end affair, the highlight of which was Matty Taylor’s missed penalty shortly before the hour-mark.

Oxford ended the stronger and several times threatened to win it, missing one superb chance in particular, but a draw fairly reflected a keenly-contested encounter between two evenly-matched sides.

The point takes Northampton up to 50 for the season and almost certain safety, although they will hope to chalk up at least one more victory from their remaining six games to rubber stamp survival.

Justin Edinburgh was dealt a double blow before kick-off with the news that key midfielders Luke Williams (hamstring) and John-Joe O’Toole (groin) missed out through injury.

That meant both Keshi and Paul Anderson came into the starting line-up, but those enforced changes didn’t appear to disrupt the Cobblers in the opening moments of Saturday’s contest as they made a bright start.

On two occasions in the first five minutes Keshi received possession in dangerous areas but both times he wasted the opportunity, particularly in the second instance when he tamely shot straight at Simon Eastwood having driven into the penalty area.

Marc Richards then headed onto the roof of the net but whilst Northampton continued to have the better of the opening half-hour, goalmouth action was at a premium.

Of what openings there were, most went the way of home side with Matty Taylor hitting the wall from a 20-yard free-kick and Zander Diamond clearing the crossbar from the subsequent corner.

Restricted to harmless possession and speculative pot shots, Oxford had hardly laid a glove on their hosts in the first 30 minutes, at which point Conor McAleny went close by curling a low shot narrowly wide from 20 yards.

That signalled a better period for the visitors but, in truth, both sides were severely short on quality in an abject first-half that predictably and deservedly ended goalless.

Immediately the second-half began with more promise and Michael Smith was inches away from firing Town into the lead within 60 seconds of the restart, just failing to reach Keshi’s clipped cross to the back post.

Oxford responded with a similar chance as Antonio Martinez couldn’t quite reach Phil Edwards’ fizzed cross before Liam Sercombe shot straight at Adam Smith.

The game had suddenly burst into life, and moments later the Cobblers were presented with a glorious chance to go ahead.

Anderson did well to reach Richards’ pass before skipping round both Chey Dunkley and then Eastwood, who proceeded to haul down the Cobblers winger for a clear penalty.

Referee Mike Jones had no hesitation in point to the spot but, not for the first time this season, Town failed to net from 12 yards, this time Taylor the guilty party as Eastwood atoned for his mistake by tipping the spot-kick onto the woodwork.

In the period of pressure which followed, Richards lashed into the side-netting before Anderson was unable to get the timing of his jump right to meet Aaron Phillips’ dangerous cross.

Hiram Boateng and Gregg Wylde were both introduced by Edinburgh around the hour-mark but Northampton had lost their way a fraction thereafter, allowing Oxford to have more of the ball and find space in wide areas.

The Cobblers had to be alert to cut out several dangerous balls into the box and they then were indebted to Smith, who pulled off a tremendous fingertip save to divert Joe Rothwell’s curler onto the crossbar.

The home side had been reduced to half chances at the other end, Smith ballooning a header over one such example, before United squandered a wonderful chance to break the deadlock with four minutes to go.

A cross from the left was missed by Town’s defence and fell at the feet of Kane Hemmings who, with time and space six yards out, shot straight at the feet of Smith.

Up the other end, the other Smith couldn’t generate enough power with a close-range header and as stoppage-time approach, both sides held the belief they could win it.

Richards had the chance for Northampton to do so but dragged his shot from 12 yards straight at the defender, and that was the last meaningful chance as three minutes of stoppage-time passed without incident.

Cobblers: Smith, Phillips (Moloney 74), Diamond, Nyatanga, Buchanan, P Anderson, McCourt (Wylde 62), Taylor, K Anderson (Boateng 55), Smith, Richards (c)

Subs not used: Cornell, McDonald, McWilliams, Beautyman

Oxford: Eastwood, Edwards, Dunkley, Nelson, Johnson, Rothwell, Lundstram (c), Sercombe, Ruffles (Skarz 83), Martinez (Hemmings 55), McAleny (Hall 70)

Subs not used: Ribeiro, Long, Raglan, Stevens

Referee: Mike Jones

Attendance: 7,434

Oxford fans: 1,399