Slick Fleetwood too strong for below-par Cobblers

John-Joe O'Toole gets away from his man in Saturday's game at Fleetwood. Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds

John-Joe O'Toole gets away from his man in Saturday's game at Fleetwood. Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds

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Cobblers have been dragged back into the mix for relegation after their defensive woes returned on Saturday when beaten 3-0 by an impressive Fleetwood Town outfit on a blustery afternoon at the Highbury Stadium.

There seemed little to be concerned about from a Northampton perspective after a competitive and keenly-contested first 40 minutes, especially as it was the visitors who created the better chances, but three goals either side of half-time decisively swung the game Fleetwood’s way.

Northampton’s collapse all stemmed from a defence mix-up that allowed Devante Cole to fire the hosts ahead shortly before half-time and from that moment on the destiny of the three points was never in doubt.

Bobby Grant’s fine individual goal and David Ball’s excellent finish inflicted more misery on Northampton who at least recovered enough to see out the remaining 30 minutes without suffering any further damage.

As well as this defeat, results elsewhere, specifically wins for Bury, Gillingham and Swindon, have brought Northampton back in danger of relegation in what is an increasingly congested bottom half of Sky Bet League One.

Despite the result, it was not all bad for the Cobblers who take encouragement from the fact they had their high-flying hosts under pressure for large parts of the first-half, creating three excellent chances in the process, however in contrast to Town’s wastefulness, it was Fleetwood’s clinical finishing, helped by the away side’s questionable defending, which proved the difference.

The defeat only heightens the important of Northampton’s next two fixtures, both at home, first to Oldham Athletic on Tuesday and then Charlton Atheltic on Saturday.

On a horribly windy and bitterly cold afternoon on the west coast, Justin Edinburgh named an attacking line-up to face in-form Fleetwood, opting to recall Keshi Anderson at the expense of Hiram Boateng, who dropped to the bench.

Reverting to the midfield diamond with Anderson in the free role behind Marc Richards and Michael Smith, the Cobblers adapted quicker to the difficult conditions and were first to go close to an opening goal.

It was a fine chance too and arrived to at the feet Smith who was slipped in by strike partner Richards but despite making good contact, his half volley thundered against the crossbar and away from danger.

The Cobblers maintained their strong start thereafter, aided by a swirling wind in the first-half, and they again carved open a clear sight of goal, with this time Richards denied by a fine save from Alex Cairns after being fed through on goal by Anderson.

Having been second best, Fleetwood gradually got to grips with both their opponents and the weather, working their way into the game with a sustained spell of pressure around the 20-minute mark during which Zander Diamond produced two timely blocks to thwart Bobby Grant and Kyle Dempsey in quick succession.

The home side had turned the tables and were now enjoying the majority of possession, but Northampton always carried a threat in attack, evidenced by Matty Taylor’s fiercely-struck free-kick that sizzled a whisker wide.

And that was swiftly followed by the home side’s third big chance in the opening half, and once again it was squandered. After brilliantly taking down Adam Smith’s long clearance and wriggling free inside the penalty area, Smith dragged his off target in another let-off for the home side.

For the first 40 minutes, Northampton were giving as good as they had against a team chasing automatic promotion, however a moment of madness on the cusp of half-time undid all their hard work.

Neal Eardley failed to put enough power on his header back to Smith, and with the Cobblers goalkeeper and Lewin Nyatanga leaving it to each other, Cole nipped in and scored at the second time of asking after David Buchanan had initially cleared off the line.

That was sufficient to hand the hosts a half-time advantage, despite doing little to warrant it, before a bright start to the second-half from Northampton culminated in winning a free-kick right on the edge of the area, only for Taylor to blast straight into the wall.

Straightaway, David Ball shot wide from an acute angle before Cian Bolger headed over as Fleetwood pressed for a second.

There was a sense the next goal would prove vital in the context of the match, and unfortunately for the visitors, that goal arrived 10 minutes after the restart and went the way of Fleetwood.

Having picked up the ball 20 yards from goal, Grant drove into the box, waltzed through the Northampton defence and rifled a fine rasping finish into the top corner to double the lead.

And if that didn’t put the result beyond doubt, what happened four minutes later most certainly did.

With the Cobblers falling apart, Ball was set free down the left and as Smith rushed out to close him down, the Fleetwood man produced a wonderfully-judged dinked finish over the Town goalkeeper and into the net, ending all hope.

With the game now over as a contest, it became a question of how many Fleetwood fancied scoring in the remaining half-hour, most of which they dominated without overly testing Smith.

Edinburgh rang the changes in a desperate attempt to change the course of the game, bringing on Boateng, Paul Anderson and Jak McCourt, but there were few signs of a comeback even if Taylor did force a good low save from Cairns.

Fleetwood: Cairns, McLaughlin (c), Bell, Eastham, Ball, Grant, Bolger, Glendon (Nirennold 67), Dempsey (Brannagan 81), Davies, Cole (Hunter 71)

Subs not used: Neal, Ekpolo, Schwabl, Maguire

Cobblers: Smith, Eardley, Diamond, Nyatanga, Buchanan, K Anderson, O’Toole, Taylor (McCourt 83), Wylde (Boateng 61), Smith, Richards (c) (P Anderson 65)

Subs not used: Cornell, Phillips, Zakuani, Beautyman

Referee: Andy Haines

Attendance: 3,361