Football can sometimes be a cruel and bewildering game.
Five minutes before the end of Northampton Town’s game with Leyton Orient, a goalless draw and a point against the league leaders and one of the hot favourites for promotion would have rightly felt a result worth celebrating.
Much like the 1-0 win over Oxford United in their last outing at Sixfields, the Cobblers had to dig deep and show a tremendous amount of resilience to survive a second half onslaught from the high-flying visitors.
But then, having somehow kept the game goalless, it seemed Dominic Calvert-Lewin had snatched the most dramatic of victories when he slammed a header in off the crossbar from Joel Byrom’s corner to spark scenes of mass jubilation around Sixfields.
It looked for all the world that Northampton had stolen an unlikely victory, but those celebrations were short-lived as, with the six minutes of added time up, Orient won a somewhat controversial free-kick 30 yards from goal and Dean Cox duly stepped up to deliver a devastating late dagger through the heart of every home supporter inside Sixfields, curling a superb effort right into the top corner.
In truth, that was the least the visitors had deserved as, previous to that dramatic finale, it had all been about the once again excellent Adam Smith.
A few weeks ago I suggested that when the East Stand is finally built – if ever – it should be named the Adam Smith Stand, however it’s hard to imagine any stand, irrespective of size or stature, being worthy enough to carry Smith’s name with the Cobblers keep fast becoming a Northampton legend.
Chris Wilder made the gamble to bring Smith to Sixfields following his controversial sacking from Leicester City and it’s a gamble that has certainly paid off with the 22-year-old adding another superb display to his ever-growing collection, and this was the best of the lot.
Smith made countless saves to frustrate the visitors with one notable stop from Ollie Palmer catching the eye when the Orient striker seemed certain to score, only for Smith to brilliantly get down and turn his header away for a corner.
Smith’s heroics ultimately earned his side a point regardless of the late drama.
And that dramatic finish should not cloud what was a very decent point for the Cobblers that extends their unbeaten run to three games.
For those of us unfortunate enough to witness the dreadful defeat to Dagenham, it would have been difficult to predict what has followed.
A run of two wins and a draw is a decent return against any opposition at any time, but amid off-field distractions, a growing injury list and on the back of a run of poor results, this has been a particularly impressive turnaround.
And it’s not only the results that will please manager Chris Wilder but also the standard of opposition they’ve come against as well as the type of performances his side have produced with the Cobblers blending attacking flair with gritty resilience.
It can’t have been easy for the players coming into Saturday’s game given the backdrop of seemingly never-ending off-field issues that continue to distract from football matters, and on top of that, the injury list shows no signs of abating.
Rod McDonald will miss four to six weeks, Ryan Cresswell is also sidelined and Paul Corry is likely to sit out the rest of the season after all three picked up injuries in training last week.
David Buchanan added to Wilder’s worries when he taken off with a knock against Orient, although the return of Zander Diamond was a welcome one plus Evan Horwood’s name featuring on the bench for the first time this season is a timely boost.
But Wilder will be desperate to get some of those key players back, especially with another hectic run of fixtures to come – four games in 11 days – starting with a trip to AFC Wimbledon on Tuesday evening.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Added another fine performance to his already stellar collection this season. Pulled off save after save to keep the visitors at bay throughout the second half. Could do little about Cox’s superb free-kick.... 9 CHRON STAR MAN
Darnell Furlong - Continues to impress since signing on-loan. Didn’t do too much in an attacking sense but was solid defensively... 7
Zander Diamond - Didn’t look fully fit and understandably so given he was rushed back from injury but was a rock at the back for much of the game. Made a couple of crucial interventions and won lots of headers in the absence of Cresswell. Ran out of gas late on... 7
Shaun Brisley - Would have won man of the match but for Smith. The centre-back has been excellent since signing on loan and once again impressed against Orient, making several goal-saving blocks... 7.5
David Buchanan - Took a knock in the first half and tried to battle on but to no avail as he was taken off at half-time... 6
Lawson D’Ath - Had a quiet game. Didn’t get too involved from an attacking viewpoint... 6
Ryan Watson - Another energetic and lively display from the midfielder but couldn’t get in the game as much as he’d have liked. Was harshly penalised for the free-kick which led to Orient’s equaliser... 6
Joel Byrom - Equipped himself well in an unfamiliar role when he was moved to left-back after Buchanan’s injury and put in an excellent corner for Calvert-Lewin’s goal... 6.5
Nicky Adams - Quiet game given his recent standards... 6
Sam Hoskins - Plenty of endeavour but final ball was poor. Sometimes a bit rash in his decision-making... 6
Dominic Calvert-Lewin - Always looks a threat in and around the box and he seemed for all the world to have snatched the points with a terrific late header... 7.5
John-Joe O’Toole - No questioning his enthusiasm and desire. Got himself about the pitch and put in a couple of crucial blocks... 6.5
Alfie Potter - Helped halt the tide against his side as a second half sub and came close to putting Northampton ahead but was denied by Cisak... 6.5
Marc Richards - Struggled to get into the game... 6