John Still must be sick of the sight of Ricky Holmes.
After scoring the goal which effectively resulted in his sacking as Luton Town manager, Holmes was at it again on Saturday in Still’s first home match in charge of Dagenham & Redbridge.
Except, this time, his impact was even more spectacular.
Up to the point of Holmes’ introduction, it had been a curiously subdued, lethargic Northampton performance which came very much out of character with their season.
Perhaps tiredness played a part after an energy-sapping week, with Saturday’s see-saw cup tie followed by the arduous but rewarding trip to Plymouth, as Dagenham, undoubtedly buoyed by two wins from the last two, showed greater hunger, energy and quality to dominate for long spells.
In truth, the Daggers could have been out of sight by half-time such was their dominance as only some poor finishing coupled with the ever-excellent Adam Smith kept them at bay.
Overrun and outplayed, the lacklustre Cobblers just couldn’t get to grips with Dagenham’s incredible intensity in the first half, but it was something which the home side could not sustain for the entire 90 minutes.
Smith saved brilliantly from Christian Doidge when confronted one-on-one by the Dagenham striker, who then lifted a lob just over Smith’s goal having found himself clean through, before the Cobblers keeper parried away Josh Passley’s fierce drive, while Ashley Chambers twice came close and also had a goal ruled out for offside for an at times rampant hosts.
It was difficult to pinpoint exactly why the Cobblers had laboured up to this point, and even the most biased Northampton supporter would admit that their side were fortunate to be on level terms going into the break.
Town had barely been able to muster a single chance of note, other than Zander Diamond’s header, but the introduction of Marc Richards at half-time, then Holmes shortly afterwards, transformed the pattern of the game.
Prior to the break, Dagenham’s 3-5-2 formation had made life difficult for Northampton’s lone front man James Collins but with Richards now introduced, the home side’s back four were in for a much tougher time and the visitors were able to play higher up the pitch and squeeze Dagenham back.
It was ironic, then, that just as Northampton seemed to have wrestled some momentum, Dagenham finally make use of their good play with the breakthrough.
Doidge was the scorer, stabbing in from two yards out after Passley’s cross, for Dagenham’s first ever home goal against the Cobblers in six games.
But that only forced Wilder to play his trump card and with Holmes introduced, it was now the visitors who were rampant.
Cobblers proceeded to utterly dominate possession and territory thereafter as they won a succession of corners, one of which led to the equaliser when John-Joe O’Toole bundled home his fifth goal of the season after a corner from Nicky Adams, who clocked up his 12th league assists this term.
And that only gave Town extra impetus to go on and complete the turnaround and from this moment on, there was only going to be one winner.
That was indeed the case but no one could foresee what the irrepressible Holmes would conjure up when Northampton won their ninth corner of the game 11 minutes from full-time
Joel Byrom swung in the cross, Dagenham cleared, the ball fell kindly to a perfectly-placed Holmes and as soon as he swung his right foot at it, there was only going to be one outcome.
The ball flew into the top corner, rendering keeper Mark Cousins helpless, for Holmes’ fourth goal in as many games and it proved enough to earn the Cobblers another three points as a visibly fatigued Dagenham side had run out of puff.
It’s quite remarkable how this team just keep churning out results, no matter the opposition or performance, with this win their 13th of 17 by a margin of just one goal this season.
It might not always be pretty but as is so often said, the mark of a good team is one which is capable of grinding out results when not at their best, something which Wilder’s side have had to do several times already this season, the latest example coming on Saturday.
Previous wins over Accrington, Notts County and Carlisle were all achieved in less-than-convincing fashion but over a 46-game season, there will inevitably be times when performance levels dip and a moment of fortune or brilliance is required to keep the wins coming.
And despite Northampton’s 100 per cent record at Victoria Road, this was never going to be straightforward against a Dagenham side enjoying the traditional bounce after a new manager is appointed, however Holmes’ moment of magic proved the difference.
That win takes Cobblers up to 55 points from 26 games this season, four more than Wycombe had when they led League Two at this stage last season.
Over the past five years, the average number of points needed to achieve promotion is 82, meaning just nine more wins might well prove enough for Northampton to claim a coveted top three spot.
With 20 games still to play, that’s a growing possibility.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Another example of his value to this Cobblers team. Kept his side in the game with a couple of excellent first half saves... 8
Brendan Moloney - Struggled to cut out the supply of crosses from the Dagenham left but much improved after half-time... 7
Zander Diamond - Difficult first half as Dagenham came relentlessly forward but rode the storm and would have given Town the lead but for a brilliant goal-line clearances... 7
Rod McDonald - Had plenty to do in a shaky first half but, like everyone else, upped his game as the match wore on... 7
David Buchanan - Rare occasion when he let his guard down as he was caught out for Dagenham’s goal... 6
Joel Byrom - Overrun and outrun by Dagenham’s pressing and hassling during the home side’s dominant spell but managed to gain more control and turn the tide after the break... 7
John-Joe O’Toole - Playing with such swagger and confidence at present. Even on a difficult pitch, his passing was crisp and precise. Scored his fifth goal of the season, more than double his tally from the entirety of last year... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
Lee Martin - Thrown straight in by Wilder and was Cobblers’ brightest spark first half. Showed plenty of enthusiasm but clearly lacking match fitness, understandably, as he visibly tired... 7
Sam Hoskins - Slick turn and shot forced the only save from Cousins before being withdrawn at half-time... 6
Nicky Adams - Took a while to get going but put in a succession of threatening crosses which almost brought the opener before finally adding to his assist tally when O’Toole scored from one of his many dangerous corners... 7
James Collins - Had no joy against Dagenham’s three centre-backs before Richards’ introduction got him in the game... 7
How they rated...
Marc Richards - Made all the difference as his hold-up play allowed his team to keep the ball higher up the pitch and bring others into play... 7
Ricky Holmes - Cobblers were a different side when he was introduced for what was another match-winning cameo... 8
Jason Taylor - 6