Northampton Town concluded their pre-season programme with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Sheffield FC at the Coach and Horses Stadium on Friday night.
After a slow start, the Cobblers had their chances in the first half - mostly through Nicky Adams - but Sheffield’s pacey attacking players also threatened, though neither side were able to make the breakthrough.
The second half was a different story as Marc Richards’ exquisitely-placed free-kick put the visitors ahead on the hour-mark before one of two Northampton trialists, the names of whom who the club withheld, made it 2-0.
Ricky Holmes then marked his return from injury with a brilliant first-time finish to seal the win.
It was another good workout for the Cobblers and the victory ensures they will go into their Sky Bet League Two campaign at Bristol Rovers next weekend on the back of four wins in seven pre-season outings.
Chris Wilder named a much-changed team from the one that beat Brackley Town with Ryan Clarke, Tom Newey, Chris Hackett and John-Joe O’Toole all coming into the starting line-up, while Rod McDonald started his first game since signing for the club.
As expected, Newcastle-bound Ivan Toney was not involved but there was a place on the bench for striker Holmes, who was making his return to injury.
It was a slow start from the visitors and they were almost punished as early as the second minute when James Gregory got clear on the left but Clarke did well to rush out and narrow the angle as he smothered the shot wide.
The Northern Premier League side were live early on but after that let-off, Town settled and they began to dominate possession with both Adams and Alfie Potter seeing plenty of the ball.
The Cobblers spent much of the first half probing for an opening and the breakthrough almost materialised on 17 minutes when Hackett fed Adams with incisive through ball but the winger’s low shot was turned over by the right foot of Sheffield keeper Jordan Greaves.
The ever-lively Adams again went close within minutes but Hafeez Hamzat volleyed clear his goal-bound shot before the same man had a free-kick deflected inches wide as Northampton cranked up the pressure.
The visitors then had the ball in the net but the whistle had already gone for an infringement on the goalkeeper, and that was followed by O’Toole skying an 18-yard effort well over.
For all their possession, Town were living dangerously at the other end as Sheffield’s pacy forward men regularly looked to get behind the visitors’ high line - their threat highlighted by John Lufudu on 32 minutes when he sprinted through on goal but Clarke was quick off his line to clear the danger.
There were other moments of concern for the Cobblers defence, while up the other end, the visitors continued to be thwarted by a resilient Sheffield as the sides went into the break on level terms.
Zander Diamond and one of the two ‘nameless’ trialists were introduced by Town in the second half, however the home side again caused problems with their pace up front with Lufudu once more sprinting beyond the defence and he looked certain to score, only for McDonald to catch him up and win the ball back with a perfectly-timed tackle.
The Cobblers took full advantage of that reprieve almost immediately when O’Toole’s ball over the defence released the player we wil call ‘Trialist A’, who was taken down by Greaves, and Richards slammed home the resulting free-kick from 25 yards.
Town quickly sought a second and went close through Adams’ headed that went the wrong side of the post, but they didn’t have to wait long to add to their lead through the player known as ‘Trialist A’, who neatly lobbed the onrushing keeper midway through the second half.
To their credit, Sheffield didn’t buckle and almost got themselves back into the game when Nathan Okoye let fly from 30 yards but Clarke flew to his left and tipped wide.
The Cobblers looked the likelier to add to the score, though, with Greaves denying the second trialist, or ‘Trialist B’ as he must be called, with an excellent save before Holmes put the rebound over.
The third goal came 10 minutes from full-time when David Buchanan played the ball into the path of Holmes, who unleashed a brilliant first-time strike into the corner.
Hackett almost added a fourth when he bent a free-kick but it remained at three until full-time.
Sheffield FC: Greaves, Hamzat, Turner, Glavin, Okoye, Ludlam (c), Gregory, Knowles, Igi-Ehon, Joblon, Lufudu
Subs: Zoko, Hall, Kray-Batousol, Dakwa, Archer, Kilner, Head.
Cobblers team: Clarke, Lelan, Cresswell (Diamond 45), McDonald, Newey (Buchanan 30), Hackett, Taylor (Bryom 55), O’Toole, Potter (Trialist A 45), Adams (Trialist B 67), Richards (Holmes 67).
Subs: Smith, McWilliams, D’Ath
Referee: Anthony Tankard