If a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory against Premier League opposition following a pulsating cup tie doesn’t kick-start Northampton’s season into life, there’s little else that will.
The Rob Page era has been waiting for lift-off following four successive league draws, and on Tuesday against West Bromwich Albion in the EFL Cup round two, it got just that.
There are times when cup shocks are achieved more through fortune than skill, when an unfancied team clings on for dear life in the face of relentless pressure from higher-ranked and better quality opposition.
But that was far from the case in Tuesday’s see-saw, ding-dong EFL Cup tie, even if Northampton did eventually require the drama of penalties to prevail and see off West Brom.
Because make no mistake, this was not a West Brom team packed with kids, nor was it even a second-string made up of reserves and first-team players needing to build up match fitness. Tony Pulis selected something close to a full-strength XI which included several big names, such as the likes of Rickie Lambert, Saido Berahino and James McClean.
And yet they were more than matched by a Cobblers side who seemed to suddenly rediscover their swagger from last season, a side that didn’t look at all out of place against an outfit of such quality.
They weren’t overawed or intimidated by taking on a Premier League team, instead they went toe-to-toe with them and matched their visitors stride-for-stride.
Unrecognisable from Saturday, and indeed every other game this season, this performance was a throwback to last season when Northampton would hurt teams by playing on the front foot and at a high tempo, not letting opposing sides settle.
The victory also ensured Town’s love affair with the League Cup continues as West Brom became the ninth higher-ranked team to be knocked out of the competition by Northampton in the last six years, following in the footsteps of Wolves, Blackpool, Cardiff, Ipswich, Brighton, Reading, Liverpool and Barnsley.
Given their form so far this season, not many would have given Northampton much chance to repeat their cup heroics on Tuesday – least of all their own fans – but they were full value for their 35th minute lead after a first-half in which they dominated for long spells.
Jak McCourt’s presence in midfield was perhaps the biggest positive of all as he carried out the dirty work with his tenacity and energy in the anchor role, which in turn allowed Matty Taylor and John-Joe O’Toole to play with more freedom higher up the pitch and support Alex Revell up front as the 4-1-4-1 system worked to a tee.
The first goal stemmed from another player who made all the difference in Brendan Moloney as the marauding right-back provided width and an extra attacking option down the right, continually pushing West Brom back.
He delivered a pinpoint cross which Zander Diamond powered beyond Boaz Myhill but, predictably, once Northampton hit the front, they inexplicably sat back, invited pressure and Albion’s equaliser was all too predictable.
The goal will go down as a mistake on Adam Smith’s part after McClean’s shot squirmed through his grasp, but if you sit off a team who possess as much quality as West Brom, you’re only waiting for the inevitable.
The same pattern emerged at the start of the second-half and sure enough, with Town sat far too deep, Albion pounced and Gareth McAuley’s pinpoint header from Matt Phillips’ wicked delivery had the visitors ahead within two minutes of the restart.
At that point, there seemed only one winner, but write off this Northampton team at your peril.
The Cobblers came roaring back, got themselves up the pitch, pressed high and aided by the introduction of Sam Hoskins and the brilliant Alfie Potter, they deservedly clawed back on level terms through Alex Revell.
That set up a frenetic final 10 minutes as both sides hunted a winner, followed by 30 more minutes of end-to-end action, during which.Smith and Berahino resumed their own personal duel from normal time, and the latter seemed so spooked by the goalkeeper’s repeated attempts to thwart him that he sent his penalty in the shoot-out horribly off target
Hoskins and Taylor calmly converted to put Town in the driving seat and after Smith’s excellent save from James Morrison, it all boiled down to Kenji Gorre.
It’s no secret that the young Swansea winger has struggled since arriving at Sixfields, but he showed no hint of nerves and shouldered the responsibility to take the decisive spot-kick, and he didn’t disappoint, calmly sending Myhill the wrong way to secure a famous win for the Cobblers.
For both Gorre and Northampton, this was just the tonic they required after an indifferent start to the season.
West Brom are not the appropriate yardstick by which to judge Northampton this season – that will ultimately be decided by 46 league games across nine months – but there was a sense that they needed a spark to get up and running. Perhaps this was it.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - At fault for the first goal but more than made amends with a string of fine saves as he continually thwarted Berhaino in particular, and then saved the key penalty from Phillips to allow Gorre to win it... 8
Brendan Moloney - Outstanding on his return to action. Brought an extra dimension to Cobblers with his willingness to get forward and provide an outlet on the right, none more so than when he delivered a pinpoint cross for the opening goal. Defensively brilliant until the point of exhaustion... 9
Zander Diamond - Seems to have gone up a level this season and his header for the opener was followed by a brilliant piece of last-ditch defending. A rock all night... 9
Lewis Nyatanga - Thrown into the deep end on his debut but passed with flying colours. Up against proven quality opponents but remained composed throughout and was not overawed by the task... 8
David Buchanan - Barely put a foot wrong as he went about his business with typical determination and excellence... 8
Jak McCourt - Might just provide the missing link to make it all click. Impressed in the holding well as he broke up play tenaciously and was always on the look out for the forward pass, and that allowed Taylor and O’Toole more freedom higher up the pitch... 8
John-Joe O’Toole - Given more freedom and that made all the difference. Disciplined, kept things simple and always put a challenge in, even after picking up a yellow card. Brought back a bit of style and presence to the midfield... 8
Matthew Taylor - His range of passing proved far more threatening when played higher up the pitch, and almost got himself a goal too. Much better all-round performance and hopefully a sign of things to come... 8
Harry Beautyman - Not a natural winger but his energy, work ethic and discipline helped Moloney down that side all night both in defence and attack. Almost scored a spectacular first-time volley too... 8
Kenji Gorre - Always willing to drive at the opposition defence in his most promising performance in a Cobblers shirt to date, and that coolly-taken winning penalty must surely given him the confidence to now kick-on... 8
Alex Revell - An absolute machine in terms of his ridiculous work-rate, chasing down everything and anything throughout the 120 minutes, and he capped it off with a typical striker’s goal... 9 CRHON STAR MAN
Alfie Potter - Electric off the bench, gave West Brom’s tiring defenders no rest as he constantly drove forward and tried to make something happen... 8
Sam Hoskins - Also had an impact, setting up Revell’s equaliser and then slotting home his spot-kick... 8
Aaron Phillips - Continued Moloney’s good work on the right... 7