Northampton Town 2 Port Vale 1 – match review, player ratings and highlights

MATTY'S AT IT AGAIN: Taylor scored his second late winner in four days after Aaron Phillips put Town ahead. Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds
MATTY'S AT IT AGAIN: Taylor scored his second late winner in four days after Aaron Phillips put Town ahead. Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds
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If you subscribe to the theory that all good teams find ways of grinding out results when not at their best, then this scrappiest of all scrappy 2-1 wins augurs well for the Cobblers.

It goes without saying that they can ill-afford to play like this on a regular basis and expect to get away with it, but for a team who have too often been on the wrong end of tight games and late winners, Tuesday’s victory, coupled with Saturday’s success at Wimbledon, made a pleasing and encouraging change to the norm.

And it is not the ragged, disjointed nature of the performance that will be remembered if the three points prove sufficient in keeping Cobblers in the division come the end of the season.

Almost entirely devoid of quality, and desperately short of goalmouth action, this game is unlikely to feature prominently on the end-of-season highlights reel but football is not always about pretty passing and fancy play.

Sometimes, it’s just about winning by any means possible, and thanks to two goals of the unconventional variety, that’s exactly what Northampton achieved on Tuesday evening.

In terms of attacking threat, the Cobblers edged it. In terms of midfield control, Vale held the advantage.

But both teams were bereft of quality in the final third and though they each found plenty of promising positions, neither had the composure or aptitude to capitalise.

Vale were toothless up front, only twice hitting the target in the entire 90 minutes, and whilst Northampton clearly carried more of a threat, they were unable to fashion many genuine clear-cut chances.

That said, they did have opportunities. Keshi Anderson twice went close while Marc Richards spurned a one-on-one before having a goal ruled out for offside.

That’s the thing about this Northampton team: they almost always create chances even when well below their best. It’s a handy knack to have.

In similar style to the defeat against Oldham, though, they couldn’t convert on Tuesday, and when they did eventually find the net, the goal was unorthodox in its execution.

Aaron Phillips can try all he likes to claim he meant his cross that sailed beyond Leo Fasan and into the net but it was a timely slice of fortunate for the hosts, although if one player deserved some luck, it was the excellent Phillips.

Northampton enjoyed their best period of the game in the subsequent passage of play, Richards twice going close, only for some familiar statuesque defending to allow Vale back into it.

JJ Hooper was of course the beneficiary after Sam Kelly waltzed his way through the static home defence, and then came Northampton’s worst spell of the game.

It goes without saying that they can ill-afford to play like this on a regular basis and expect to get away with it, but for a team who have too often been on the wrong end of tight games and late winners, Tuesday’s victory, coupled with Saturday’s success at Wimbledon, made a pleasing and encouraging change to the norm.

It was the manner in which they lost control in the second-half, most glaringly after conceding, that concerned most, but, thankfully for them, they have Matty Taylor and his left foot in their arsenal.

After keeping his cool from the spot on Saturday, he again was the match-winner, albeit in very different fashion. Showing vision, technique and a touch of class all in one, the 35-year-old spotted Fasan out of position and duly thumped a venomous 88th shot bouncing up into the net, deceiving the Vale goalkeeper in the process.

They had to withstand a frantic late Vale bombardment in what little time remained but that goal was enough for a another crucial victory.

Like any team that has ever existed, the Cobblers have made life hard for themselves this season but this win surely staves off the threat of relegation for good now.

Up to 14th and within three points of 10th, they can begin to look up for the remaining eight games of the season, although with tough fixtures to come against Bolton, Sheffield United and Millwall all in the next month, they will have to vastly improve on Tuesday’s showing to continue their recent resurgence.

It was not as if the Cobblers were outplayed or outclassed by the Valiants but there’s no doubt the final shot count of 15-3 in Town’s favour certainly flattered the hosts and proved how statistics can often skew reality.

The Cobblers lacked control in midfield, were often loose in possession and always looked susceptible to the counter-attack, and it was only Vale’s own shortcomings that let them off the hook.

The fact that they won owed more to the away side’s lack of quality than it did to Northampton’s good play, but when the game needed a touch of quality to separate the teams, it was Town, and Taylor in particular, who provided it.

Better teams, such as Bolton, might not be so forgiving.

Admittedly, though, playing well is not what counts at this stage of the season. You don’t get points for pretty performances if wins don’t follow.

Results are all that matter, and providing they get the win or two they need to rubber stamp survival, the Cobblers can regroup and reset in the summer when Edinburgh will undoubtedly reshape the squad to fit his needs.

For now, however, they can rest easy, safe in the knowledge that safety should be a mere formality.

How they rated...

Adam Smith - Given no chance for Hooper’s goal and was rarely called into action otherwise, though did claim an important cross during Vale’s late barrage... 6

Aaron Phillips - His first Cobblers goal may have come in unorthodox fashion but if anyone deserved a slice of fortune, it was Phillips. Another solid performance here as he barely put a foot wrong, although did sell himself too easily in the build-up to Hooper’s goal... 8

Zander Diamond - The Scot is enjoying a rich vein of form recently and seems to be enjoying life under Edinburgh. A rock at the back against Vale, winning headers and making important tackles in another composed display, even if he could have done better for Vale’s equaliser... 7

Lewin Nyatanga - Again, like Diamond, was relatively comfortable throughout against a toothless Vale attack. Produced one superb flying header to prevent a tap-in with the game in the balance at 1-1... 7

David Buchanan - Steady and reliable in a wholehearted performance, this was classic Buchanan on his special occasion as he reminded everyone just why he’s started Northampton’s last 100 games... 7

Matty Taylor - Regularly exposed at the base of the diamond but coped well in the circumstances, thwarting several Vale counter-attacks, and of course topped it off with a smart piece of improvisation and a belting strike to win it... 8 CHRON STAR MAN

John-Joe O’Toole - Spent most of the game stranded on the right side where he was unable to influence proceedings. One of his quieter games for some time... 6

Luke Williams - Nothing came off for him on a very frustrating night, most of which he spent on the fringes of the game. Touch was off and lost possession too often and too easily... 5

Keshi Anderson - Shot over in an early half chance and forced Fasan to tip wide in a lively start but quickly faded. Seems to have more impact from the bench than when he starts, and his frustrations were clear for all to see when he was substituted... 6

Michael Smith - Typically hard-working and tenacious but became frustrated by the lack of quality service up to him. Didn’t get a sniff of goal... 6

Marc Richards - Could only volley straight at Fasan when put through, and was then denied by the flag. Had a couple of other half chances without success... 6

Substitutes

Hiram Boateng - 6

Paul Anderson - 6