Northampton Town 3 Chesterfield 1 – match review, player ratings and highlights

BREAKTHROUGH: O'Toole's header finds the bottom corner. Pictures: Sharon Lucey
BREAKTHROUGH: O'Toole's header finds the bottom corner. Pictures: Sharon Lucey
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Despite threatening and failing to click into top gear, there can be no doubt that this 3-1 victory over an admittedly abject Chesterfield side was nothing less than the Cobblers deserved on a generally encouraging day that was another step in the right direction.

Aware of the increasing need for points, and given fixtures elsewhere, there was no escaping the fact that nothing short of victory on Saturday would have sufficed and, thanks in no small part to John-Joe O’Toole’s timely return to goalscoring form, that’s exactly what Northampton achieved.

There were some edgy moments – there always are in Northampton games these days – but that shouldn’t detract from the fact they were a level above the outclassed Spireites and always looked like they had the capacity to find another gear if need be.

Now with back-to-back home wins under their belts, the Cobblers engine that has stuttered so often this season is now threatening to rev back into action, at least if the signs in their last three games are anything to go by.

Slowly but surely, this team is improving – at both ends of the pitch.

Towards the end of Rob Page’s tenure, Northampton were a side who had lost their identity and who had no direction, one devoid of confidence and belief.

The same cannot be said now. Though they are clearly not the finished article, they’re playing with more freedom and more purpose, pressing with greater urgency whilst playing more as a team, each man knowing their role within the system.

Creating more chances, scoring more goals and tighter at the back, their undoubted progress is yielding results too.

Only four teams in League One have scored more than Northampton’s 46 goals this term, and since Edinburgh’s arrival, only Milton Keynes Dons (11), having played one game more, have scored more goals than the Cobblers (10).

Their three most recent goals came in a fractious, bitty game against Chesterfield that was not helped by a dismal refereeing performance.

O’Toole’s excellent 12th minute header, created by sterling work from the superb Hiram Boateng, was just the start needed to ease Northampton into their groove and though the visitors improved as the first-half wore on, they carried next to no goal threat – perhaps no surprise given they had managed just one goal in their previous eight games.

O’Toole scored his second from virtually the same spot as the first but there was more fortune to this one in the way Keshi Anderson’s shot deflected kindly into his path, not that should take anything away from an improvised finish.

Every game has a defining moment and this one was no different.

It came in the minutes immediately after half-time. With Liam Grimshaw unable to beat Adam Smith having been put through on goal, Northampton went up the other end where Marc Richards headed home Matty Taylor’s teasing free-kick.

Now with back-to-back home wins under their belts, the Cobblers engine that has stuttered so often this season is now threatening to rev back into action, at least if the signs in their last three games are anything to go by.

From potentially being right back in the game at 2-1, suddenly Chesterfield were 3-0 down and all but beaten.

David Faupala did revive some hope when finishing off good work from Dion Donohue, who strolled through Northampton’s non-existent midfield, but Smith was barely troubled thereafter.

There were elements of the old Cobblers at various stages here, most notably after that Chesterfield goal which prompted some panic around a jittery Sixtields, but the more they win, the more confident at seeing out games they will become.

Hiram Boateng, thriving in a left-sided midfield role, and the scoring form of O’Toole are a significant factors behind Northampton’s recent improved displays and they were again prominent figures on Saturday.

Boateng deserves a special mention. The ease at which he can glide past defenders, sometimes three or four at once, is a joy to watch. Aged just 21, he has the all the raw attributes to go far.

His signing, which Rob Page deserves credit for, is proof that there are gems to be found in the loan market.

Neal Eardley was again impressive at right-back and Keshi Anderson, playing in an unfamiliar role, was also bright, while the physicality and work-rate of Michael Smith and Marc Richards up front were a handful for Walsall last week and then Chesterfield on Saturday.

All in all, it was a productive day out.

But whilst it is undeniable that strides are being made by Edinburgh, his team are far from out of trouble. They face another must-win, or at least must-not-lose game, against fellow relegation battlers Swindon Town on Tuesday.

Lose that and Saturday’s good work will be undone. Victory, however, would almost entirely quash any lingering fears of the drop.

This is certainly no time to be resting on laurels.

How they rated...

Adam Smith - Made two huge saves at critical moments, initially from Donohue in the first-half prior to O’Toole’s second, and then smart work denied Grimshaw just seconds before Town’s third... 8

Neal Eardley - Another quietly excellent performance as he continues to make the right-back spot his home. Received lots of the ball and found plenty of space, both of which he used effectively by picking out neat passes to start and continue attacks. Solid at the back too... 8

Zander Diamond - Caught out slightly for Faupala’s goal but that shouldn’t detract from a largely assured display as he and the back four kept Smith’s workload to a minimum... 7

Lewin Nyatanga - Place under threat due to Zakuani’s return to fitness but looked secure for the vast majority here, returning to the sort of composed and classy form which we saw earlier in the season... 7

David Buchanan - Pretty much error-free. Wasn’t particularly stretched defensively and motored forward whenever he could, almost scoring that long-awaited first Cobblers goal too, only to be denied by a fine diving save... 7

Matty Taylor - Growing into his new role at the base of a diamond, and will always pose a threat with his set-pieces as highlighted by the third... 7

John-Joe O’Toole - Terrific all-round performance, not just for his goals - both of which were well-taken - but also his general play. He was busy and tenacious in midfield as well as intelligent in possession. Now up to eight goals for the season... 8

Hiram Boateng - Another superb midfield display, arguably his best yet. With his strength on the ball and ability to break up play, he has all the tools to become a top-class midfielder. Chesterfield had no answer to him all day, particularly when he was whipping in a delightful cross to get his side up and running... 9 CHRON STAR MAN

Keshi Anderson - Was nippy and vibrant despite operating in a role which doesn’t suit his skill set, just behind the front men. Often drove at Chesterfield’s back four but didn’t quite have the end product on this occasion... 7

Marc Richards - Put in a real shift up front, chasing down defenders and putting himself about. Took his goal tally to double figures for the season with a fine header... 7

Michael Smith - Showed impressive work-rate and was a nuisance for the Chesterfield back four all afternoon. Should have had his first Cobblers goal too when dragging a shot just wide from 18 yards... 7

Substitutes

Gregg Wylde - 6

Paul Anderson - 6

Disagree with these ratings? Vote for your Cobblers man of the match here – www.northamptonchron.co.uk/sport/football/vote-who-was-your-cobblers-man-of-the-match-against-chesterfield