Embarrassed Cobblers humbled by five-star Rovers

DAY TO FORGET: Rovers celebrate one of their five goals. Pictures: Sharon Lucey
DAY TO FORGET: Rovers celebrate one of their five goals. Pictures: Sharon Lucey

Cobblers suffered embarrassment and humiliation in equal measure on Saturday when they were humbled 5-0 by Bristol Rovers on a disastrous afternoon at the Memorial Stadium.

Rob Page, already under pressure from disgruntled Northampton fans, would have been after a reaction from his players following Monday’s wretched second-half performance against Bradford City but what he got was something even more mortifying.

Most of the damage was done in an extraordinary opening 24 minutes when Rovers ruthlessly took advantage of a team clearly lacking in confidence and belief to run riot and race into a 4-0 lead.

Ellis Harrison was the main beneficiary when blitzing a seven-minute hat-trick after Billy Bodin had fired the Pirates into an eighth-minute lead.

All four goals were the result of bad defending as the disjointed Cobblers willingly stood off their hosts and gave them ample space to pick their passes and find their spots.

There was some respite thereafter for Town who at least competed in the remaining 20 minutes of the half, however their misery was compounded by events either side of half-time.

First, Paul Anderson was stretchered off with what looked a serious injury, before Harrison completed a dream afternoon by scoring his fourth within minutes of the restart.

Mercifully, that was the last time Adam Smith had to pick the ball out of his net with Rovers seemingly content with their five goals and three points.

There have been a number of low points for the Cobblers amid their terrible form over past two months, most notably December’s FA Cup upset to Stourbridge, but it was the feeble manner of this loss that takes the biscuit and will have Page under mounting pressure.

And with the visit of title-chasing Scunthorpe United to come next week, there is no guarantee it will get better any time soon, whether Page is at the helm or not.

Back to Saturday when there were full debuts for Greg Wylde and Hiram Boateng, who started at the ground where he began the season, while Harry Beautyman and Rod McDonald both returned to the starting XI with John-Joe O’Toole and Marc Richards both dropping to the bench and Lewin Nyatanga missing out through illness.

Paul Anderson started at right-back as Northampton lined-up 4-3-3 but Rovers began in the ascendancy and threatened early on through Bodin, who lost his footing at the crucial moment after waltzing through the visiting defence, and Ellis Harrison, whose weak shot was fumbled but collected by Adam Smith.

Those were mere warning shots for what was to come, however, and they were warning shots which the Cobblers failed to heed when, on eight minutes, the Pirates struck the first of many blows.

The home team were finding plenty of space in the opening stages and it was Bodin who profited first when he danced beyond David Buchanan’s mistimed challenge and drove at goal before rifling a first-time rocket into the top corner.

The early goal was reflective of an open start to the game and the Cobblers initially responded well to going behind by pressing up the pitch and pushing men forward.

But whilst Town’s final ball was lacking, that wasn’t the case for Rovers who threatened to score every time they came forward and they duly added a second on 18 minutes.

Again the Cobblers were exposed down their left side as James Clarke worked his way to the byline before crossing for Harrison to convert from close-range for his first of three in a crazy seven-minute period.

Only a last-ditch tackle from Zander Diamond prevented the rampant hosts from getting in again but Harrison’s second arrived from the subsequent corner when more woeful defending allowed the Rovers man to prod home from under the crossbar.

The home side were now utterly dominant and pouring forward at will, and it was just a few more minutes until they had a fourth when Harrison completed a remarkable 24-minute hat-trick.

Once again he was left in acres of space inside the penalty area as Lee Brown was given time to get the cross in, with Harrison expertly flicking the ball beyond Smith.

That left Northampton completely shell-shocked, leaving Page to try to remedy the now hopeless situation by making two changes with less than 30 minutes played, bringing on O’Toole and Richards for Wylde and Beautyman.

But that made little difference, even if the Cobblers did end the first-half on top, as the damage had well and truly already been inflicted.

And things went from bad to worse on the cusp of half-time when Anderson went down clutching his leg in agony and frantically signalling for the stretcher, suggesting a serious injury.

He was replaced by JJ Hooper at half-time which meant Page had to again shuffle his pack, moving Matty Taylor to left-back with Buchanan swapping to the right.

Predictably, Rovers fancied more goals in the second period and they immediately went close to adding a fifth when Chris Lines side-footed wide from eight yards barely moments after the restart.

No matter, the fifth did indeed come within the next eight minutes and again it was that man Harrison who bagged his fourth of the day, this time pouncing on a loose ball and then slamming into the net from just yards out.

The hosts could have had more if they so wished but the remainder of the second-half became something of a nonevent as Rovers looked content with their five goals and three points.

Hooper did at least force a straightforward save from Will Puddy in the only shot on target from Northampton all game, but that wasn’t even a crumb of consolation on this forgettable afternoon.

For Rovers, Byron Moore and James Clarke both threatened with long-range efforts as the game rather petered out, not that the jubilant home fans cared as their joy and almost disbelief at the one-sided scoreline taunted the 300 travelling fans whose misery was complete once the full-time whistle sounded.

Let the inquest commence.

Rovers: Puddy, J Clarke, Lockyear, McChrystal, Brown, Bodin (Lawrence 80), Lines, Clarke, Montano (Moore 60), Harrison, Taylor (Easter 71)

Subs not used: Roos, Mansell, Sinclair, Gaffney

Cobblers: Smith, Anderson (Hooper 45), Diamond, McDonald, Buchanan, Boateng, Taylor, Beautyman (O’Toole 28), Hoskins, Wylde (Richards 28), Revell

Subs not used: Cornell, Hanley, McCourt, Potter

Referee: Gavin Ward

Attendance: 8,424

Cobblers fans: 321