If there was anyone left questioning whether or not this Northampton team are the real deal prior to Saturday, they were answered in the most emphatic manner possible with this dismantling of a promotion rival as the Cobblers juggernaut went up another gear.
On paper, a trip down the M1 to face Kevin Nolan’s resurgent Leyton Orient, who came into this game on the back of impressive wins at Wycombe and Portsmouth, presented Town with one of their toughest tests of the season so far, but not for the first time, Chris Wilder’s men made a mockery of all pre-match predictions thanks to a magnificent second half performance.
Orient were overpowered and outclassed by a rampant Cobblers side whose pace, power and movement – not to mention their relentless work ethic – were central to this excellent victory.
In a season of highly impressive performances, the second 45 minutes at Brisbane Road were unquestionably the best yet and it was all built on two moments of breathtaking individual quality
A disjointed, scrappy first half yielded few clear-cut chances and gave no indication of what was to come after half-time but once Town hit the front through Rod McDonald’s spectacular strike, there was only ever one winner.
Orient, too, had struggled prior to half-time, Jobi McAnuff and Kevin Nolan coming closest with half chances, as neither side made much headway in a sluggish half void of quality in the final third.
That said, it was the visitors who squandered the game’s best opening when an unmarked James Collins sliced wide from close-range, while Ricky Holmes and then Marc Richards wasted glorious chances on the counter-attack as the Cobblers broke in numbers and twice found themselves with four-on-two opportunities, only for the chance to be lost on both occasions.
But any first half regrets were quickly forgotten about when the Cobblers clicked into gear and produced an irresistible second half display.
You won’t see many games where a team’s second half performance contrasts quite so drastically from the first as this one on Saturday, and it all hinged on a moment of mesmeric quality that came on 54 minutes.
Orient appeared to have dealt with a Lee Martin cross but with his back to goal and the ball going away from goal, Rod McDonald – of all people – swivelled, arched his back and produced a brilliantly-executed overhead kick that beat Alex Cisak and found the far corner.
Barely a week goes by without the Cobblers adding to their collection of memorable moments in this crazy season but McDonald’s goal perhaps epitomised these past seven months best of all.
When a centre-back who was playing in England’s sixth tier less than a year ago pops up and casually scissor-kicks into the top corner, you know it’s your year.
And that goal paved the way for a rampant second half from the visitors.
Having struggled to get going, the Cobblers now went through the gears and came streaming forward time and again, and just when you thought McDonald had goal of the day securely wrapped up, the irrepressible Holmes had other ideas – outrageously volleying home a second goal.
He’s already bagged wonder goals at Luton and Dagenham over the past two months but this was the pick of the bunch, instant control followed by a sweetly-struck, first-time, 25-yard volley which rocketed into the top corner, the despairing Cisak once again left grasping at thin air as the ball whizzed past him.
Orient briefly rallied, Jay Simspon and Nolan both fractions away from pulling a goal back, but Northampton, who always looked comfortable in one of their most convincing defensive performances of the season, had threatened to catch the home side on the counter-attack all afternoon and eventually made it count with two late goals.
James Collins profited from some slack defending to scramble in a third before the Cobblers crowned a glorious afternoon with a wonderfully-worked fourth in stoppage time.
All started by the outstanding John-Joe O’Toole in his own penalty area, Lawson D’Ath led the break out and drove forward before biding his time and then playing the perfect pass to Collins, who took a touch and rifled into the bottom corner to put the seal on an astounding afternoon.
Collins, McDonald and Holmes will understandably grab the headlines but the game’s outstanding performance came from Northampton’s comeback man.
From unselectable to irreplaceable, O’Toole’s stock rose to it’s highest point yet with this midfield masterclass in which he almost single-handedly ran the show.
Winning tackles, making interceptions, beating players and setting up attacks, O’Toole’s performance had it all and was key to steering his side past Orient.
Amazingly, at half-time, Northampton’s run of 87 successive league games without a goalless draw looked under threat after a drab first 45 minutes but instead they recorded a seventh straight league win – the first time that has happened since 1986 – as records continue to be broken by this seemingly relentless Cobblers team.
As Nolan acknowledged afterwards, this was just the type of performance that shows why the Cobblers are sitting pretty at the top of League Two with more points (64) than any other side across England’s top four divisions – and that’s having played fewer games than most others.
Cheered on by their tremendous 1,000 plus fans, who were in terrific voice throughout, Wilder’s side allied defensive solidity with attacking ruthlessness to overwhelm Orient.
And while victories over the likes of Barnet and Morecambe were impressive in their own right, it’s wins like this one, where the Cobblers utterly demolished a side who were playing League One football only last season, that send out a very loud message to the rest of League Two: Northampton Town won’t be going away any time soon.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Much quieter day compared to when Orient came to Sixfields earlier in the season. Made only the one save of note and that was from a weak McAnuff effort... 8
Brendan Moloney - Has looked to be getting back to his best in recent weeks and this was another fine performance, rarely put a foot wrong in both attack and defence... 8
Zander Diamond - An almost flawless defensive display. Won headers, tackles and made timely interceptions. Gave the dangerous Simpson very few sniffs.... 8
Rod McDonald - Partnership alongside Diamond continues to blossom and this was another hugely impressive showing from McDonald, the highlight of which was that spectacular overhead kick... 9
David Buchanan - Played his part in a well-deserved clean sheet, a reliable performer as always... 8
Ricky Holmes - Wasted a couple of good counter-attack chances in the first half but more than made up for it with a volley of trademark quality and brilliance... 8
John-Joe O’Toole - Best player on the pitch. Bossed the game from midfield with a combination of tough-tackling, tireless work-rate and sublime passing. A truly magnificent performance... 9 CHRON STAR MAN
Danny Rose - Impressive debut. Grew into the game and did the simple stuff well. Looks a tidy player... 8
Lee Martin - It was his hard work which forced the mistake for McDonald’s opener, pouncing on a defensive error before crossing. Has clicked so well with Holmes and co... 8
James Collins - Missed a very presentable early chance but two clinically finishes put the seal on a terrific victory. Gave Orient’s defenders a torrid afternoon... 9
Marc Richards - Didn’t quite happen for him but given the quality around him, his side are capable of producing results and performances even without a contribution from the skipper, unlike days gone by... 7
Lawson D’Ath -7
Jason Taylor - 6
Ryan Cresswell - 6