The way a team reacts in a time of uncertainty can be telling, so this commanding victory over Shrewsbury, in a game where the destiny of the three points was never in doubt, should raise spirits and lift the mood after a troubling few weeks.
In theory, there was no better place for Northampton to revive their fortunes than at Greenhous Meadow and against manager-less Shrewsbury, and for once theory became reality as Rob Page’s men cruised to three pressure-relieving points.
The very nature of modern football dictated that this was a crunch game for Page and the Cobblers, such is the way they’ve fallen off after an encouraging opening portion of the season.
Of course, had Town started poorly and then found themselves 12th after 14 games, there’d be a different perception, however their promising start undoubtedly raised expectations among a fan base that is not accustomed to losing in recent times.
So after three defeats in four, conceding three goals in each, and on the back off Tuesday’s galling result at rivals Peterborough, this trip to basement side Shrewsbury represented a must-win for psychological reasons as much as anything.
Because whilst one game should not define a team’s season, this was unquestionably a vital afternoon for both fans and Page, even if just to calm the waters and restore some faith in which direction the team is heading.
They did that too with a stylish and controlled performance that yielded three thoroughly deserved and much-needed points, albeit against a beleaguered Shrewsbury side visibly lacking on confidence and belief, not to mention quality.
Nonetheless, Northampton would have been a match for most teams on this evidence and but for two penalties, the final scoreline would have been more emphatic and portrayed a fairer reflection of how this one-sided game unfolded.
Even when a new manager is finally installed, it’s difficult to foresee Shrewsbury escaping the trapdoor based on Saturday when they came up well short.
But for Northampton, you can only beat what’s put in front of you and that’s exactly what they did as JJ Hooper, who wrecked havoc on the left, and Sam Hoskins, who once again sparkled in the free role, starred in an overwhelming display.
Jak McCourt brought balance back to midfield which was sorely lacking at Peterborough four days earlier, and the added advantage of his return allowed John-Joe O’Toole and Hoskins to play with freedom.
Pace is a priceless commodity which will always strike panic into defenders and it’s something that Hoskins has in abundance, but this season he seems to have refined his game and matured as a player, helped by the free role which he’s occupied under Page.
That’s enabled him the freedom to roam and find pockets of space before driving at opposition defences, forcing them to back-peddle which in turns creates space for his team-mates to exploit.
One of those to benefit was Hooper, whose inclusion in the team stirred much debate but Page was vindicated in his decision.
This was a stylish and controlled performance that calmed the waters and yielded three thoroughly deserved and much-needed points.James Heneghan
Hooper is something of a mercurial character, he’s a player who has the raw attributes – most notably speed and strength – to be a potential match-winner, but too often his decision-making and end product lets him down.
Saturday, though, was one of those occasions where he got it right and proved what a handful he can be, the highlight of his excellent performance being his superb assist for Paul Anderson’s first.
Anderson himself had a fine game while O’Toole and Zander Diamond rediscovered their form after a brief wobble.
All in all, this was a productive and reassuring day out for Northampton, who soar back up to eighth in a highly competitive League One table that sees a mere eight points separate fifth from 22nd.
Four days is a long time in football. After the misery of Tuesday, suddenly the outlook is a much brighter one.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Fine early block with his feet kept Cobblers level but that was the extent of his work on an overdue quiet day despite earning a needless booking late on. Toney’s emphatic finishing gave him no chance with the two penalties... 7
Brendan Moloney - Exploited the space well and delivered several good crosses. Didn’t have much to do at the other end... 7
Zander Diamond - Solid day’s work for the Scot who needed a comfortable afternoon like this after a couple of recent shaky performances.. 7
Gabriel Zakuani - Well-placed header put Town ahead but his poor decision to tackle Toney gifted Shrews a route back into the game. Injury curtailed his participation at half-time... 7
David Buchanan - Typically business-like at left-back, defending with assurance and getting forward whenever possible... 7
Jak McCourt - Brought balance to the team as he tided up in midfield and controlled the game against Shrews, while his wicked set-piece delivery was an added bonus... 8
John-Joe O’Toole - Back to somewhere near his best with this neat display in midfield as he and McCourt set the tempo and pulled the strings... 7
Paul Anderson - Made an intelligent run for his opener before adding a late second which may down as an own goal. Excellent, hard-working all-round display... 8
Sam Hoskins - Been a revelation this season and continued that here when he backed up Tuesday’s performance with another sparkling showing, capped off by his well-taken goal. Put in a real shift too... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
JJ Hooper - Was a threat from the word go. Used his pace and strength to glide past defenders at will; his sterling work for the second goal a perfect illustration of that. Shrewsbury were never able to keep tabs on him... 8
Alex Revell - Worked hard but frustration afternoon, highlighted by his fifth booking of the season which rules him out for the visit of Bury... 6
Lewin Nyatanga - 7
Marc Richards - 6