Cobblers sink Hartlepool to close in on top spot

GREAT START - the Cobblers players celebrate Marc Richards' early opening goal (Pictures: Sharon Lucey)

GREAT START - the Cobblers players celebrate Marc Richards' early opening goal (Pictures: Sharon Lucey)

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Northampton Town stretched their unbeaten league run to six games as they moved to within two points of top spot in Sky Bet League Two with a 2-1 win over Hartlepool United at Sixfields.

An early goal from Marc Richards gave Northampton a dream start before Andrew Boyce turned Nicky Adams’ corner into his own net.

The Cobblers appeared in total control at that stage as they threatened to overwhelm their out-of-form visitors, however Rakish Bingham pulled one back on 31 minutes.

That made for a more nervy second half but Northampton were rarely troubled and instead it was the home side who looked more likely to add a third, however two goals proved enough.

The win makes it four wins in six games for the Cobblers.

Chris Hackett was a surprise starter as he replaced Lawson D’Ath in the only change from the team that defeated Wycombe Wanderers last week.

Northampton should have been ahead inside 90 seconds when Joel Byrom’s corner found an unmarked Richards but the Cobblers striker could only send his header wide from six yards out.

It mattered little, though, as Richards made amends almost instantly when he put the home side ahead on four minutes.

It started with a well-judged ball over the top by Byrom which set away Adams on the left and the former Bury man sent in an enticing low cross towards the penalty spot where Richards clinically slotted home.

The Cobblers went in search of a quick second and produced some free-flowing football but a couple of well-worked moves broke down in the final third.

Hartlepool came more into the game as the half wore on and Adam Smith had to be alert when he finger-tipped Rhys Oates’ fizzing low effort wide before, from the subsequent corner, Andrew Boyce powered a free header over the crossbar.

Ryan Cresswell then did likewise at the other end, somehow managing to direct his header from three yards out wide of Adam Bartlett’s left-hand post as Northampton threatened a second goal every time they attacked.

And it wasn’t long in coming when Boyce turned Adams’ corner into his own net.

Northampton now sensed blood as they continued to stroke the ball around confidently with another nicely-worked move culminating in Furlong having a chipped effort clawed away by Bartlett before Sam Hoskins’ follow up effort was blocked from close range.

Hartlepool struggled to cope with Northampton’s attacking play but the visitors did carry a threat going forward, illustrated by Bingham who worked a shooting opportunity but Smith saved with his legs.

Town did not heed the warning, however, and moments later Bingham halved the deficit. The striker latched onto a long ball over the top, rounded the onrushing Smith before finishing coolly under pressure into an empty net.

Northampton immediately sought to restore their two-goal lead and Hoskins came close but his shot from inside the penalty area was blocked by a well-timed last-ditch challenge from Scott Harrison.

That was the last action until half-time as the first half fizzled out with Northampton unable to regain their early control.

After a cagey start to the second period, Richards was presented with a golden chance to add a third 10 minutes in when Furlong’s low cross found him at the back post but he skewed over with the goal gaping.

Billy Paynter blazed a speculative volley over in reply for United but it was Northampton who continued to do most of the running, though the crucial third goal remained elusive.

The second half was a nervy affair, Northampton saw more of the ball but their possession was tentative as they remained wary of Hartlepool’s threat on the break.

United struggled to put together much in the way of a late threat on the home goal as the Cobblers comfortably survived four minutes of added time.

Cobblers: Smith, Furlong, Brisley, Cresswell, Buchanan, O’Toole, Byrom, Adams (Taylor 90), Hoskins (Calvert-Lewin 75), Hackett (D’Ath 68), Richards

Subs not used: Clarke, Diamond, Watson, Lelan

Hartlepool: Bartlett, Carroll, Harrison, Bingham, Paynter (Fenwick 90), Woods (Walker 75), Oates (Oyenuga 67), Featherstone, Smith, Boyce, Halliday

Subs not used: Carson, Bates, Hawkins, Jones

Referee: Kevin Johnson

Attendance: 4,477

Hartlepool fans: 204