Though what seemed a straightforward stroll turned into an unnecessarily arduous ordeal, the grandstand finish to this see-saw encounter should not detract from the fact that Northampton were full value for their eventual victory; the final scoreline failing to portray an accurate representation of how this game unfolded and just how well the Cobblers played.
To observers on the outside, the 3-2 scoreline paints the picture of a hard-fought, end-to-end contest between two evenly-matched teams, but for large periods on Saturday, Northampton held sway and were several levels above a Bury outfit who visibly lacked confidence.
At 3-0 up and cruising with just over 15 minutes remaining, you’d have been forgiven for thinking this game became purely a question of how great Northampton’s victory would be, with any thoughts of an unlikely late rally from the troubled visitors dwindling by the second.
But what had looked a cruise to victory descended into a tension-riddled struggle, one only worsened for the home faithful by a remarkable nine minutes of stoppage time that saw Bury launch wave after wave of attack before coming up just short of what would have been the unlikeliest of points.
And whilst Northampton’s inability to finish off Bury did not prove fatal on this occasion, if they continue to ally defensive frailty with wasteful finishing, it’s unlikely that better, more in-form teams will be quite so forgiving.
Nevertheless, it was an impressive victory and one which means the Cobblers are now the outright second top scorers in the whole of League One, behind only leaders Scunthorpe United, and sit fifth as a result of this nervy yet justified victory, those rumblings of discontent voiced after the derby defeat to Peterborough suddenly feel a lifetime ago.
It’s a chaotic ride following this unpredictable Cobblers team but Saturday provided further reasons to be encouraged with regards to how high their ceiling should be this season – despite their late wobble.
It wasn’t so long ago when they looked a team who would struggle for goals this term, those dull back-to-back goalless draws against AFC Wimbledon and Oldham spring to mind.
But, almost overnight, they’ve become a side who appear capable of scoring almost at will, albeit at the cost of losing some of that defensive solidity, and that bodes well given that scoring goals is supposedly the hard part of football.
So horrible had Bury’s form been going into Saturday, expectations were high for a Cobblers win and they duly delivered although only after taking their time to build up a head of steam and click into top gear.
A cagey, mainly dull opening half-hour gave little indication of the drama that was to unfold but an injection of quality from the returning Matty Taylor saw Cobblers hit the front and triggered a rampant passage of play and a deluge of Northampton chances either side of half-time.
Bury’s confidence was already in short supply prior to Marc Richards’ opener, and that only sapped them further with their hosts utterly dominant for the next 40 or so minutes.
With Sam Hoskins’ pace and directness bamboozling the mesmerised visitors and Taylor bringing a touch of class to the Northampton midfield, the Cobblers threatened to run riot and played with an extra zest once they hit the front.
Richards’ thundering spot-kick and Taylor’s audacious and magnificently-executed free-kick confirmed Town’s superiority and with only 19 minutes to go, signs of a Bury comeback were in short supply prior to George Miller’s header.
Whilst Northampton’s inability to finish off Bury did not prove fatal on this ocassion, if they continue to ally defensive frailty with wasteful finishing, it’s unlikely that better, more in-form teams will be quite so forgiving.
It was remarkable, almost as if someone flicked a switch, how Bury hauled themselves back into this game and how Northampton conspired to make a mess of what should have been a cruise to the finish line.
Zeli Ismail was allowed the freedom of Sixfields to drive home a second and all of a sudden the visitors sniffed a dramatic comeback, aided by the questionable decision to add six minutes of stoppage time.
It was only some desperate last-ditch defending, particularly from Gabriel Zakuani, that kept Bury at bay and ultimately saw Cobblers through to the full-time whistle, which was greeted by audible sighs of relief all around Sixfields.
Though it became a struggle, the very fact that Northampton scored three goals and took three points yet still have issues to rectify can only augur well.
Now the challenge is to fit all the pieces together; resolve their defensive issues whilst maintaining a goal threat, there’s no reason why Northampton can’t keep themselves in the promotion hunt.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Needed to show more authority and command his area when the cross came in for Bury’s first goal, and didn’t look completely at ease during the visitors’ late bombardment... 5
Brendan Moloney - Motored forward with regularity and got himself into some terrific positions in attack but failed to pick out a pass or cross when the opportunity arose. Had a good game in general though... 7
Zander Diamond - Brought up his century of appearances for the club and was relatively comfortable until the late flurry. Could have been quicker to close down Ismail for the second... 7
Gabriel Zakuani - Made several crucial last-ditch interventions, headers and tackles to thwart Bury in the frenetic finale, one particular last-gasp challenge springs to mind... 8
David Buchanan - Could have got out quicker to close down the cross for Bury’s first, and then allowed Ismail too much room to shoot... 6
Jak McCourt - Couple of delightful through balls might have resulted in goals with better finishing. Controlled the game well until he started dropping too deep in the frantic closing stages ... 7
Matty Taylor - Page had no hesitation in bringing him back after suspension and no wonder – fabulous delivery for Richards’ first before his stunning free-kick ultimately decided the match. His set-pieces are like gold dust... 8
Sam Hoskins - Another electric performance, his pace and directness ran rings around Bury who simply could not contain him all afternoon. May have had a hat-trick with better finishing... 9 CHRON STAR MAN
Paul Anderson - Has a habit of drifting in and out of games and spent more time out than in here. Barely involved before being replaced... 6
JJ Hooper - Retained his place in the side after last week’s impressive showing but didn’t quite happen for him this time, though did at least offer something a threat... 7
Marc Richards - Handed a rare opportunity to stake his claim due to Revell’s suspension and did just that with two well-taken goals, particularly the comprehensively dispatched penalty... 8
Alfie Potter - 7
John-Joe O’Toole - 6
Lewin Nyatanga - 6