Southend United 2 Northampton Town 2 – match review, player ratings and highlights

THAT MAN AGAIN: John-Joe O'Toole scored in four straight league matches for the first time in his career. Pictures: Sharon Lucey

THAT MAN AGAIN: John-Joe O'Toole scored in four straight league matches for the first time in his career. Pictures: Sharon Lucey

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Such has been the swift progress made by Justin Edinburgh at Northampton that this gutsy away performance and hard-earned point came to the surprise of very few.

Scarcely six weeks ago, a trip to someone like Southend, a team enjoying good form and one who boast a fine home record, would have been a foregone conclusion and surely ended in defeat, even more so after conceding an early goal.

Instead, the Cobblers did something which they’ve only done once before this season: recover from a losing position and collect a point.

In fact, they did that twice. Once at 1-0 and then at 2-1, both in the first-half. It’s difficult to imagine them having the same character and belief towards the end of the Rob Page era, especially bearing in mind the abomination at Bristol Rovers and the second-half horror show against Bradford City.

But this is now a very different team, highlighted in both Saturday’s performance and result. Not since Scunthorpe United in October have the Cobblers fought back from a losing position to get anything out of a game.

Considering how many times they’ve trailed during that period, that’s certainly not a statistic to be proud of.

It is, however, something which they can rectify under Edinburgh. Providing, of course, they maintain the same work-rate, intensity and at times quality they displayed at Roots Hall on Saturday.

In the classic game of two halves, this was a thoroughly enjoyable tussle fought out between two teams who showcased enterprise in attack and vulnerability in defence.

The first-half was all-action and non-stop, swaying one way and then the other with Northampton twice responding impressively to falling behind, first through Marc Richards’ exquisite finish and then John-Joe O’Toole’s fifth goal in four games.

It must be said that there was an element of luck to their second equaliser after referee John Brooks left many in Roots Hall mystified when awarding the visitors a free-kick for what seemed very little, though even Southend fans could not have begrudged Northampton going into half-time on level terms.

The second was more attritional but in the face of increasing Southend pressure, the Cobblers stood firm and thanks to a combination of stubborn defending and excellent Adam Smith goalkeeping, kept their hosts at bay to earn a commendable away draw.

Credit must go to Smith who has struggled to repeat the heights of last season this time around, even finding himself dropped at one point, but he was in terrific form at Roots Hall, three times pulling off excellent and important saves.

And talking of good performances, is there a more in-form player in League One at the moment than John-Joe O’Toole? Yet another goal in yet another hard-working, tenacious midfield display should have him on course for February’s Player of the Month award because he, as much as anyone, has been responsible for dragging Northampton’s form around.

It was his fifth goal in four league games that ultimately earned a precious and important away point on Saturday, made all the more important by results elsewhere.

Is there a more in-form player in League One at the moment than John-Joe O’Toole? Yet another goal in yet another hard-working, tenacious midfield display should have him on course for February’s Player of the Month award because he, as much as anyone, has been responsible for dragging Northampton’s season around.

Though the draw at Roots Hall saw Cobblers climb two places, thoughts of relegation cannot be completely banished just yet.

In a congested bottom half, only six points separate Northampton in 14th and Port Vale in 21st, and with the Valiants having played two games less, it remains all to play for.

Back to Saturday and in many ways, this result was more impressive than those which preceded it because of the quality of the opposition and the troubles Northampton have endured on their travels of late.

The fact is, they’ve only won two games against top 10 sides this season, and facing a team very much on the up and with eyes on promotion, this was a significant step up in both quality and difficulty compared to previous opponents.

What they produced bodes well, and a top half finish remain within reach.

But such is the competitiveness in the lower reaches of League One, the Cobblers cannot afford to slack off for a moment. Unable to shake off the trouble which lurks just beneath, two bad results in succession would send them back into the thick of a relegation battle, with several of those teams below waiting to pounce on any slip.

The fact that there are 10 teams below them should act as a comfort but not when six have games in hand and will soon have the opportunity to tighten the bunch even more.

Northampton and Edinburgh, however, can only focus on themselves and with more performances like this one at Roots Hall and the previous three at Sixfields, all will be well come May.

How they rated...

Adam Smith - Despite conceding twice, he played the biggest role in earning Northampton a point at Roots Hall, and of his three fine saves, the one from Ranger’s header stands out as the best. His finest display of the season... 8 CHRON STAR MAN

Neal Eardley - There was a feeling of after the Lord Mayor’s show here following his impressive outing against Swindon. Struggled against McGlashan who had the beating of him on several occasions... 6

Zander Diamond - In the right place at the right time to hack the danger away when required. Took one for the team when booked for a cynical but extremely important late tackle that prevented a Southend break... 7

Lewin Nyatanga - Place in the team is under increased pressure due to Zakuani’s return but did his chances no harm with a steady showing on Saturday, even if he was somewhat culpable for United’s second... 7

David Buchanan - Made a brilliant block to deny Cox, only for the ball to kindly fall at McGlashan’s feet. Nonetheless this was a much-improved display from the left-back who kept the hosts quiet down his side... 7

Matty Taylor - Started on the left side of midfield and was influential in both goals. Cracked a shot inches wide in an early warning which Southend did not heed as, just before half-time, his peach of a free-kick led to O’Toole levelling... 7

John-Joe O’Toole - His remarkable goalscoring form continued by netting in a fourth straight league match, the first time he’s achieved that in his career. Was typically industrious and workmanlike in midfield... 8

Hiram Boateng - His withdrawal around the hour-mark came as little surprise after a below-par performance. Seemed lethargic and was loose in possession... 6

Gregg Wylde - Given a rare start and played on the right side of a 4-4-2, however he switched off for Southend’s first and didn’t do enough in attack to make amends... 6

Marc Richards - Took his goal superbly when curling a beauty into the top corner. Became a peripheral figure the more the game wore on with Southend gradually seizing a stranglehold on proceedings... 7

Michael Smith - Not one to dodge the ugly side of the game as he ran his socks off and didn’t shirk his defensive duties. Barely had a sniff in front of goal though... 7

Substitutes

Paul Anderson - 6

Jak McCourt - 6

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