Northampton Town 2 Bristol Rovers 2 – match review, player ratings and highlights

Nicky Adams, David Buchanan and Sam Hoskins celebrate after Cobblers go ahead against Bristol Rovers (pictures by Sharon Lucey)

Nicky Adams, David Buchanan and Sam Hoskins celebrate after Cobblers go ahead against Bristol Rovers (pictures by Sharon Lucey)

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From despair to unbridled joy in a matter of moments, the closing few minutes of Saturday’s promotion-clinching 2-2 draw with Bristol Rovers were almost a microcosm of Northampton’s film-script season.

On the day when the scene was all set for their long-awaited and eagerly-anticipated return to League One, the Cobblers even had the audacity to attempt to mess with the narrative; chucking away a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 and, seemingly, dash hopes of a promotion party.

When Ellis Harrison ghosted in at the back post to tap into an empty net and bring Rovers level with three minutes remaining, it appeared Northampton had blown their opportunity to party for another week at least.

Attentions turned elsewhere and within two minutes of Harrison’s goal, Ade Akinfenwa - of all people - popped up to steer AFC Wimbledon in front against Plymouth, therefore virtually sealing Northampton’s promotion.

Five minutes of stoppage time followed and slightly confused scenes greeted the full-time whistle with a smattering of Northampton fans pouring onto the pitch.

The news of Plymouth’s defeat filtered through and, finally, the celebrations could begin as the Cobblers got the happy ending they so richly deserved after a season which has often belonged more in Hollywood than Northampton.

With its heroes, villains and countless twists and turns, Northampton’s 2015/16 season is a true footballing fairytale, and words cannot do justice to the emotions felt and events witnessed over the last 245 days.

Following a football club is all about the emotional highs and lows and Cobblers fans have experienced more of those in the last nine months than many do in a lifetime.

From staring into the abyss to romping away with League Two, there have been so many key moments that have helped shape Northampton’s extraordinary adventure.

John-Joe O’Toole’s opening day header; the woeful home defeat to Dagenham; the 10-man win over Oxford; the winding-up petition; the emotional scenes at Newport and Coventry; Wilder’s famous speech at Meadow Lane; Kelvin Thomas’ takeover; the 10-game winning run; the promotion charge; Ricky Holmes’ last-gasp winner; and, finally, Saturday’s euphoric scenes.

It’s been a true fairytale but the story began two years ago when Northampton achieved the great escape and put the building blocks in place to make a season like this possible.

A mid-table finish last season was further evidence of the progress Chris Wilder and co were making but all that threatened to be wasted by what occurred off the pitch at the start of the current campaign.

The future looked bleak and with players unpaid, the team could quite easily have taken the easy option to down tools and fade into mid-table obscurity while the off-field issues took centre stage.

But no, instead what followed was an inspiring act of defiance as players and fans rallied behind each other like never before and those troubling events only served to bring everyone closer together.

Instead of it potentially ruining a great club, it became the catalyst for Northampton’s title charge and one of the most memorable, dramatic seasons in their long, rich history.

Wins at Luton Town, Plymouth Argyle, Leyton Orient and Oxford United all followed as one by one, rivals fell by the wayside to leave Northampton standing tall, by far and away League Two’s best team.

Performances dipped as the finishing line drew closer but the character, spirit and refusal to be beaten has never once wavered as the Cobblers turned potential defeats into valuable draws to chip away at their target.

It could have happened last weekend but that only delayed the inevitable and the promotion party duly kick-started in style at a jubilant Sixfields on Saturday.

Given the scenes which followed, it’s easy to forget that a football match took place on Saturday and an entertaining one at that.

Having made the brisk start of a team who’ve won seven of their last eight, Rovers disappointed for much of Saturday’s contest and they can count themselves fortunate to leave with what is a valuable point in their own quest for promotion.

At 2-0 up through goals from Nicky Adams and Sam Hoskins, Cobblers were in cruise control and appeared in little danger against a Rovers side who were unable to once test Adam Smith.

Despite a decidedly edgy start, Northampton had deserved their two-goal advantage having produced their best performance for some time, which perhaps unsurprisingly coincided with Wilder’s decision to return to 4-2-3-1.

Adams and John-Joe O’Toole spurned chances to put Rovers to bed and those misses ultimately proved costly when Rovers rallied late on to snatch a point.

Two low crosses from two overlapping full-backs brought about goals for Matty Taylor and Ellis Harrison to deny Cobblers the chance to seal promotion without needing help from elsewhere.

But that would have been too straightforward, not in keeping with this chaotic, unpredictable campaign that has rarely followed the simple path.

That it was a slightly anti-climatic way to win promotion made the moment no less sweeter for Northampton fans who have been put through the mill in this crazy season but got the ending they deserved.

Come rain or shine, Northampton have been the best team this season. A fact they’ll soon rubber stamp with the title.

How they rated...

Adam Smith - Surprisingly quiet afternoon until the final 15 minutes but can’t be blamed for either goal... 6

Brendan Moloney - Covered well defensively and motored forward on every occasion but got caught out by the overlapping run of Brown for Rovers’ equaliser... 7

Zander Diamond - Had early trouble up against the lively Gaffney and was beaten by Taylor for the first goal but looked fairly comfortable between those moments... 7

Rod McDonald - Imperious at the back for 75 minutes as he and Diamond kept Smith quiet but even then he wasn’t at fault for either goal... 8

David Buchanan - Showed good anticipation on more than one occasion to cover for his team-mates but might be disappointed not to have done more to prevent both goals... 7

John-Joe O’Toole - Covered every blade of grass in the type of performance which we’ve become so accustomed to this season, although did miss one golden chance to put the game to bed at 2-0... 7

Danny Rose - Lots of silky touches in a classy midfield display. Showed great composure, finesse and vision to work himself out of tight spaces. Has proved a terrific acquisition... 8 CHRON STAR MAN

Ricky Holmes - Impact wasn’t quite as explosive as recent games but pinpoint cross teed up Adams and that was not the only dangerous cross he delivered throughout the afternoon. Also desperately unlucky not to score with a sublime free-kick that clipped the crossbar... 8

Nicky Adams - Well-taken header got Town in front and that did his confidence a world of good. Back to his early-season form... 8

Sam Hoskins - First start in almost three months and produced another lively showing, capped off by a well-taken goal... 7

John Marquis - Put in another tireless shift, chasing down every lost cause and working his socks off to hold up every long ball. Played his part in the second goal too when crossing for Hoskins... 8

Substitutes

James Collins - 6

Lawson D’Ath - 6

Jason Taylor - 6