Cobblers pay the penalty as Saddlers fightback to take the spoils

ON TARGET: John-Joe O'Toole prods Northampton in front against Walsall. Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds

ON TARGET: John-Joe O'Toole prods Northampton in front against Walsall. Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds

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Marc Richards missed a last-gasp penalty as Cobblers failed to back up last week’s win over Coventry City on Saturday when they surrendered a half-time lead to lose 2-1 to Walsall at the Bescot Stadium, missing a hatful of chances in the process.

For long periods of this game, it looked as though Northampton would build on that crucial victory last time out but a combination of more unconvincing defending and wasteful finishing in front of goal would prove their downfall – not for the first time this season.

In a first-half low on goalmouth action, not to mention quality, John-Joe O’Toole’s sixth strike of the season was enough to have Northampton ahead at the break despite Walsall’s strong end to the half.

But Walsall improved as the game progressed and two goals in five minutes just after the hour-mark, scored by Matt Preston and Erhun Oztumer, flipped the game on its head.

Thereafter it was all about the Cobblers as they pressed and pressed for an equaliser but several glorious opportunities went begging and there would be no way back as Town slumped to another hugely frustrating defeat, summed up by Richards’ late penalty miss.

Awarded a spot-kick in the fifth minute of added time, it was a golden chance to take what would have been a thoroughly deserved point, only for Richards to inexplicably blast it wildly over.

That was the last meaningful action of the game, with the Cobblers remaining 16th despite the result.

New loan signing Michael Smith was named among the Northampton substitutes, and with Justin Edinburgh selecting an unchanged starting XI, that meant Gregg Wylde was the loan player to miss out on a place in the matchday squad.

The Cobblers lined up as they did against Coventry, with O’Toole the most advanced player in a midfield diamond, and it was the visitors who dictated the lively if scrappy opening exchanges.

But aside from Marc Richards having a strong penalty shout turned down, there was little threat on Walsall’s goal before the home side came within inches of going ahead themselves.

After Zander Diamond’s excellent challenge prevented Erhun Oztumer from getting away on goal, the resulting corner saw Eoghan O’Connell swivel on the penalty spot and strike a shot against the foot of the post, with Adam Smith well beaten.

The strong away following was left aggrieved for a second time on 22 minutes when their side had another penalty appeal waved away after Keshi Anderson appeared to be tripped from behind.

It mattered not, however, as just 90 seconds later, Northampton hit the front. Winning a free-kick wide on the right, Matty Taylor’s deep delivery was fumbled by home goalkeeper Neil Etheridge and the ball sat up invitingly for O’Toole, who duly poked home.

Walsall’s attempted response was temporarily rebuffed by the Cobblers, although the visitors were fortunate not to be pegged back when another Saddlers corner caused trouble but Jason McCarthy hooked wide.

There was little else to get excited about in what was a largely disjointed and low quality opening half, however Richards was fortunate not to see red for a reckless lunge on Flo Cuvelier, with two Walsall players somehow failing to convert the subsequent free-kick.

More last-ditch defending, first from David Buchanan and then Taylor, thwarted Walsall again in first-half stoppage-time as the visitors just about kept their slender lead intact until half-time.

Northampton suffered an early blow in the second-half when Diamond was forced off with a leg injury, replaced by Rod McDonald, as Walsall looked to pick up from where they left off.

With the visitors dropping off, possession was almost entirely dominated by the home side but as the hour-mark ticked by, neither goal appeared in much danger.

That didn’t prevent the Saddlers from levelling, though, after yet more unconvincing Northampton defending from a set-piece. Cuvelier’s delivery again caused panic and with Town unable to clear, Preston was there to convert from close-range.

That prompted a debut for Smith, who replaced Anderson, but only after Richards had squandered a glorious chance to immediately restore the lead when heading agonisingly wide following superb work by McDonald on the left.

And that miss proved all the more costly within seconds. A break down Walsall’s right, led by the excellent McCarthy, resulted in a dangerous cross flashing across the face of goal and after the ball cannoned back off the post, Oztumer showed good composure to take a touch, cut past a defender and slot past Smith.

From 1-0 ahead to to 2-1 behind in five minutes, Northampton suddenly had it all to do, and again they were guilty of wasteful finishing in front of goal when an unmarked Lewin Nyatanga rose highest and powered a free header too close to Etheridge.

It was now all Northampton who applied heavy pressure in search of an equaliser but it appeared it was not going to be there day when another wonderful chance went begging, this time O’Toole somehow unable to scramble the ball home from under the crossbar.

Debutant Smith then headed over as the Cobblers continued to launch wave after wave of attack, and it seemed their pressure would be rewarded in the dying seconds, only for Richards to smash his penalty miles over the crossbar, capping off a disappointing afternoon.

Walsall: Etheridge, Edwards, O’Connor, McCarthy, Chambers (c), Cuvelier (Laird 85), Oztumer, Osbourne (Dobson 79), Preston, Bakayoko (Jackson 62), O’Connell

Subs not used: MacGillivray, Morris, Randall, Makris

Cobblers: Smith, Eardley, Diamond (McDonald 50), Nyatanga, Buchanan, Taylor, O’Toole, Boateng (Beautyman 76), Williams, Anderson (Smith 67), Richards (c)

Subs not used: Cornell, Phillips, McCourt, Anderson

Referee: Robert Jones

Attendance: 4954

Cobblers fans: 941