Putting the off-field issues to one side for a moment, this 1-0 win over a decent Mansfield outfit provided more evidence of a team and a club that is very much on the rise in a season that may yet culminate in promotion.
Chris Wilder’s men have showcased their versatility with a variety of wins this season, whether that be free-flowing comprehensive style victories or more scrappy, battling performances, and this was an example of the latter as the Cobblers dug deep to grind out another three points.
It was a deserved victory and one which could have been more convincing on another day had Joel Byrom brought his shooting boots with him.
No matter, Marc Richards’ early header, following superb work from Alfie Potter, was enough for a victory that now makes it just one defeat in 10 league games, an impressive run even without factoring in the off-field problems.
Mansfield gave the impression of a well-organised side who will give many teams problems this season but their lack of quality in the final third was telling as they struggled to break down another resilient Cobblers showing, in part thanks to a second successive outstanding performance from Rod McDonald at centre-back.
McDonald is the prime example of why young players should never be written off on the basis of one or two bad games.
There’s no question that the 23-year-old struggled at the start of his Cobblers career, the home defeat to Dagenham & Redbridge springs to mind, but having spent the last five years playing non-league football, it was natural that McDonald would take time to find his feet and adapt to this level.
His performance at Coventry in the FA Cup was near-flawless and he produced a similar display against Mansfield, outshining his more senior centre-back partner Zander Diamond, who had McDonald to thank for sparing his blushes on a couple of occasions in a shaky first half performance.
McDonald played his part in a overall defensive effort which saw the Cobblers keep a clean sheet for the first time since September’s 1-0 win over Oxford United, while Richards’ early goal ensured this would be the 78th consecutive Northampton game hasn’t ended goalless.
The win also makes it just two defeats in 13 games in all competitions, a quite extraordinary run given the circumstances and one which is testament to the resilience and character of everyone associated with the club.
It only illustrates how far this side could go if matters away from the pitch are resolved.
A big day awaits on Monday but if this was to be the club’s final game, at least it was a winning one.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - A rare quiet day. Didn’t make a save of note although did make one crucial intervention when finger-tipping away a dangerous cross that was heading for Matt Green... 7
Brendan Moloney - Didn’t live up to last week’s ridiculously high standards but solid enough performance on his first league start of the season... 7
Ziander Diamond - Put his side under pressure with some misjudged headers in a shaky first half but improved markedly after half-time to help keep Mansfield at bay... 7
Rod McDonald - Has come into his own in recent weeks and this was another classy defensive performance. Made several last-ditch interventions including one in the final seconds which prevented what looked a certain goal... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
David Buchanan - Could write the same thing every week for the ever-dependable left-back, who put in another solid showing here. He never seems to stop running... 7.5
John-Joe O’Toole - Displayed some moments of real class in another fine all-round midfield display... 7.5
Joel Byrom - Not known for his scoring exploits but could have had a hat-trick on another day. Was keen to get forward at every opportunity... 7
Alfie Potter - Fabulous jinking run and an inch-perfect created the winning goal. Was withdrawn at half-time... 7
Lawson D’Ath - Not short on endeavour but final ball was lacking on this occasion... 6
Nicky Adams - Things didn’t quite come off for him but he never stopped trying to make stuff happen. Looked to be a target for some crunching Mansfield challenges... 7
Marc Richards - Won the match with a trademark header. Held the ball up to great effect late on to help his side get up the pitch and run the clock down. Almost teed up Byrom for what would have been a fabulous team goal... 8
Dominic Calvert-Lewin - 6
Jason Taylor - 7
Ryan Cresswell - 6