Holmes screamer sends Cobblers top after seven-goal thriller

Marc Richards celebrates his goal. Pictures by Liam Smith
Marc Richards celebrates his goal. Pictures by Liam Smith
  • Cobblers top the table for first time in 25 years
  • Luton strike early but Northampton hit back for deserved win
  • O’Toole, D’Ath, Richards and Holmes on target

Northampton Town are the new Sky Bet League Two leaders following an exhilarating 4-3 win over Luton Town in a pulsating affair at Kenilworth Road.

Paul Benson’s acrobatic ninth-minute goal had Luton ahead early on but the Cobblers proceeded to dominate the remainder of the half with a ruthless display of counter-attacking football, aided by some questionable Luton defending.

A superbly-worked free-kick routine saw John-Joe O’Toole level 10 minutes after Benson’s opener before Lawson D’Ath and Marc Richards had the visitors into a deserved 3-1 lead at the break.

All three goals were assisted by Alfie Potter, who was instrumental in a fine first half performance from the Cobblers that had seemingly put them in control.

But it all changed after the break as Benson stabbed in his second to give the home side hope of a comeback, and with the home crowd now urging their side forward, the Hatters were soon level through Danny Green’s spot-kick on 65 minutes.

The momentum seemed to be all with Luton at this stage but instead it was Northampton who then went forward and a sensational goal from Ricky Holmes, who had only been on the pitch a matter of moments, saw the visitors go back in front.

And the Cobblers held on for a seventh straight win that sees them top the table by two points after both Plymouth Argyle and Oxford United failed to win.

Chris Wilder made just the two changes from last week’s win over Northwich, with Richards and O’Toole back in for Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Jason Taylor.

Given the respective form of the two sides coming into this game, it was perhaps a surprise that Luton were the team who made the more purposeful start.

A couple of long balls over the Cobblers defence caused problems, and they were the prelude to the opening goal which came on nine minutes when Ryan Cresswell conceded a needless free-kick just outside the penalty box.

Danny Green swung in the cross and Cobblers failed to clear their lines as a scramble in the area ended with the ball falling to Benson, who acrobatically turned home from close range.

Northampton were struggling to get a foothold in the game in these early stages with passes going astray and promising positions being wasted.

But that changed in an instant when, on 20 minutes, they got themselves right back into the game through a brilliantly-worked training ground routine.

Having won a free-kick 25 yards from goal, the visitors opted not to shoot and instead go for a pre-planned routine. Nicky Adams passed into Alfie Potter who then slid through O’Toole with a first-time pass and the midfielder made no mistake, coolly slotting into the bottom corner.

It was a brilliant way to level the scores, and Northampton continued to enjoy the bulk of possession with Adams’ dangerous cross well cleared by Scott Griffiths under his own crossbar, though the visitors had to be careful at the back as Luton found plenty of space on the counter-attack.

But it was Luton’s defence who were once again exposed as some statuesque defending allowed Cobblers to go in front.

Potter chested a ball from Richards into the path of D’Ath and though the tight angle appeared beyond him, the Cobblers attacker somehow sneaked the ball past Mark Tyler.

Northampton were a constant threat every time they ventured into Luton’s half and their lethal counter-attacking football almost brought a third but Potter somehow managed to balloon well over the crossbar after Cresswell’s speculative overhead-kick inadvertently put the winger through on goal.

Luton threatened sporadically at the other end and Smith had to be alert to keep out Alex Lawless’ tame effort.

But most of the action continued to come at the other end and it was little surprise when the visitors took a 3-1 lead courtesy of more shocking Luton defending.

A corner was swung in and the home defence failed to clear their lines on several occasions before the ball fell kindly to Richards, who poked home from close range.

As excellent as Northampton had been going forward, they owed much to Luton’s poor defending and the home side were fortunate it was not more at the break, and the home crowd made their feelings known with loud boos in the direction of Hatters boss Jon Still as the teams left the pitch for half-time.

The second half began in much the same vein and Town almost had a fourth when Sean Long nearly chested Adams’ cross into his own net.

Luton, though, hauled themselves right back into the game with a goal that came out of the blue.

It all started with a superb crossfield ball from defender Magnus Okuonhae from which Lawless’ cross-shot was deflected into the path of Benson, who stabbed home his second of the afternoon.

That goal completely altered the atmosphere inside Kenilworth Road and suddenly the home faithful were now roaring their side on as Luton surged forward in search of an equaliser.

Northampton seemed to have weathered the Luton storm, but with 25 minutes remaining, the home side were gifted an equaliser.

O’Toole cheaply conceded possession in midfield and Craig Mackail-Smith was played through on goal. Cresswell initially seemed to have pushed the striker wide but he then went diving in and conceded a penalty, from which Green sent Smith the wrong way.

But instead of Luton now pushing on forward, it was Northampton who immediately went in search of restoring their lead as O’Toole fired into side-netting before D’Ath was denied by a flying Tyler save.

Wilder then introduced Holmes, who had an immediate and sensational impact on what was becoming a exhilarating game.

Having been on the pitch for just 20 seconds, Holmes picked up the ball on halfway, drove forward and unleashed a stunning 25-yard effort that flew into the top corner and left Tyler helpless.

Remarkably, Northampton continued to surge forward in search of a fifth goal and they almost got it but D’Ath’s overhead kick was held by Tyler.

Although the fifth goal ultimately proved beyond them, the Cobblers comfortably withstood anything Luton could throw at them in the final few moments, plus four minutes of injury time, as they held on to go top of the table for the first time in 25 years.

Luton: Tyler, Long (Hall 88), Griffiths, Wilkinson, Okuonghae, Smith (c), Lee, Lawless (Marriott 75), Green, Mackail-Smith, Benson

Subs not used: O’Donnell, McGeehan, McQuoid, Musonda, Justham

Cobblers: Smith, Moloney, Cresswell, Diamond, Buchanan, O’Toole (Calvert-Lewin 90), Byrom, Potter (Taylor 87), D’Ath, Adams (Holmes 69), Richards (c)

Subs not used: Clarke, McDonald, Lelan, Hoskins

Referee: Mike Jones

Attendance: 8,792

Cobblers fans: 1,032