Three goals. Four minutes. One extraordinary FA Cup tie that flipped on its head in a blink of an eye as Northampton made the third round of the world’s oldest football competition in the most dramatic of circumstances.
The phrase “do things the hard way” springs to mind. All fans of all clubs up and down the country hold the belief that their side always makes life difficult for themselves, but when it comes to Northampton Town, that really does seem the case – and there was no better example of that than on Saturday.
In this quite remarkable and astonishing FA Cup tie, the Cobblers appeared doomed to one of the biggest cup shocks in recent history as Northwich Victoria, sitting 91 places below the Cobblers, produced a fabulous performance that belied their status as a side who ply their trade in tier eight of England’s football pyramid.
Their 2-0 lead after 82 minutes was a fully deserved one as they outplayed and outfought Northampton on a blustery day at Sixfields, with Jimmy Ball and Richard Bennett on target.
Ball’s goal came on the stroke of half-time, firing a low first-time volley into the bottom corner, after the visitors had created the clearer chances and played the better football in a first half that was ruined as a spectacle by a brutal gusting wind.
It was much the same in the second half and when Bennett headed home a second after Brian Summerskill pounced on a rare David Buchanan error, the Vics looked set for one of the most famous victories in their 141-year history.
But then came a fightback of the most dramatic variety and in a blink of an eye Northampton turned a humiliating exit into a place in Monday’s third round draw.
Sam Hoskins frantically scrambled home, Jason Taylor flicked over Springthorpe and Dominic Calvert-Lewin nodded into the bottom corner for three goals in four minutes that broke Northwich hearts and catapulted the Cobblers into the third round for the first time since 2006.
That four-minute blitz rather encapsulated this incredible season that never ceases to amaze as this seemingly unbreakable Cobblers side continue to show remarkable character, spirit and belief.
They refuse to know when they’re beaten, even when all the odds look against them.
It was harsh on Northwich and their excellent fans who deserved so much more after a committed team display with the terrific Summerskill and Bennett catching the eye, but ultimately a lack of fitness played its part as they went from cruising at 2-0 to losing 3-2 in what seemed a heartbeat.
Northwich’s manager Jim Gannon was rightly proud of his players afterwards as they gave the Cobblers an almighty scare and perhaps if not for Hoskins’ somewhat fortunate goal seven minutes from time, the Vics may have held on for a famous win.
As well as Northampton’s superior fitness, Chris Wilder’s substitutions also made the difference, particularly the influential Ricky Holmes who showed Cobblers fans exactly what they’ve been missing during his injury troubles this season.
His pace, trickery and directness caused Northwich problems from the moment he was introduced and it was his brilliant outside-of-the-boot cross which teed up Calvert-Lewin for the winner.
And that wasn’t even the final action in what was a frantic and breathtaking final few minutes.
Adam Smith did what he does best, pulling off a quite brilliant reaction save to deny Alex Byrne as Northwich somehow summoned the energy to go forward one last time in an attempt to force a replay, and then Calvert-Lewin squandered a glorious one-on-one opportunity to put the seal on Northampton’s win.
As it turned out, that miss mattered not as Town’s three-goal burst proved enough.
Just when you think events at Sixfields are calming down a little, something like this happens.
Bring on the third round.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Busier than he might have expected. Could do little about the goals but pulled off a sensational last-minute save from Byrne that protected the win... 7
Brendan Moloney - Had his hands full with the tricky Summerskill who was a constant thorn in Town’s side... 6
Ryan Cresswell - Can count himself fortunate not to be sent off on two separate occasions in the first half. Was run ragged by Bennett... 5
Zander Diamond - Pulled off two brilliant last-ditch blocks but, like his partner, couldn’t cope with Northwich’s pace and directness... 6
David Buchanan - Uncharacteristic error gifted Northwich a second and what appeared at the time winning goal. Probably his worst display in a Cobblers shirt... 5
Joel Byrom - Never really got to grips with the blustery conditions as he didn’t offer the required control in midfield. Missed his regular midfield partner... 6
Jason Taylor - Came in for the suspended O’Toole and it was his well-judged header from Adams’ free-kick that got Town level... 7
Alfie Potter - Barely in the game before being hauled off at half-time... 6
Lawson D’Ath - Was as close as any Cobblers player to scoring in a laboured first half display with two off-target attempts. Replaced by Holmes on the hour... 6
Nicky Adams - Seems to make a difference even on a quiet day, as this game proved. Added two more assists to his rapidly growing tally and could have had more... 7
Dominic Calvert-Lewin - Missed a great chance to open the scoring early on that may have made for a totally different game, but more than made up for it with a well-taken winning goal... 7
Marc Richards - Helped Town improve. Twice denied by the excellent Springthorpe... 7
Ricky Holmes - Made all the difference as he showed exactly what Northampton have been missing during his injury-ravaged season... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
Sam Hoskins - Brought much-needed energy and it was his goal which sparked hope of a comeback... 7