Barnsley 1 Northampton Town 2 '“ match review and player ratings
If Cobblers fans were in need of some reassurance that all will be well after an unsettling summer of upheaval, they got just the tonic with this gutsy and impressive, if at times fortuitous, win and performance against Championship opposition in the EFL Cup.
Whilst one swallow doesn’t make a summer, this victory at Oakwell almost felt a throwback to last season when Chris Wilder’s side’s ability to dig deep and somehow find a way to win when all looked lost became a hallmark of their remarkable success.
And if there were any concerns that the Cobblers had lost their fighting qualities following all the changes in personnel over the summer, they were emphatically quashed on Tuesday evening with a tremendous backs-to-the-wall fightback, even if they were given a helping hand by their hosts.
This time it was Barnsley who fell foul of the Cobblers League Cup curse as they became the eighth higher-ranked team to be knocked out of the competition by Northampton in the last six years, following in the footsteps of Wolves, Blackpool, Cardiff, Ipswich, Brighton, Reading and, most famously of all, Liverpool.
It’s quite a record and the latest upset was achieved the hard way after Rob Page’s men fell behind midway through a first-half that was largely spent chasing red shadows.
But if you ever wanted an example of how one goal can alter the entire course of a football match, Adam Davies’ howler shortly after the restart provided it.
Having barely touched the ball all evening, Davies made a hash of what should have been a simple catch, dropping the ball into his own net under no pressure to gift the Cobblers an equaliser.
That visibly lifted the visitors who grew in confidence and attacked with greater regularity in a far more even second-half.
Page, too, deserves credit for a tactical tweak when he pushed John-Joe O’Toole further forward while the pace of substitutes Sam Hoskins and Lawson D’Ath gave Cobblers an increased attacking threat and meant Barnsley had to guard against the counter-attack.
And with the outstanding Zander Diamond and Grabiel Zakuani winning every tackle, header and interception at the other end, Northampton repelled anything and everything that Barnsley, and Adam Hammill in particular, could throw at them.
Missed chances didn’t help the home side’s cause with Marley Watkins spurning several openings, and their failure to convert came back to haunt them when John-Joe O’Toole crashed home the winning header in the second period of extra-time.
The League Cup has always been a much-maligned competition but being so early in the season, it does have its benefits, especially for sides like Northampton who have gone through major changes over the summer and are still finding their feet under a new regime.
This tie at Oakwell provided Page with the perfect opportunity to continue putting the pieces in place as he attempts to lay the foundation for a successful season, and the result will do their confidence no end of good.
A lack of a real creative force is something that still needs to be addressed because all too often in their first two games, Northampton have worked themselves into promising positions only for that promise to be wasted by a poor pass or bad decision-making.
But if that final piece of the jigsaw can be found, there’s every reason to be optimistic.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - One fumble aside, a fine evening between the sticks. Didn’t have a great deal to do in all honesty, but was always alert off his line and handled with ease all of the several long-range shots that came his way... 7
Aaron Phillips - His best game in Cobblers colours by far, even if he was guilty of losing possession at times, as he coped with the dangerous Hammill admirably... 7
Zander Diamond - Blocked, intercepted and headed almost everything in an inspired performance, intervening at crucial times on countless occasions... 9
Gabriel Zakuani - Another classy performance that underpinned Northampton’s fightback. Seemed to be in the right place at the right time all evening, repelling anything and everything Barnsley threw at him. Already becoming a real leader at the heart of the defence... 9 CHRON STAR MAN
David Buchanan - Sometimes out-numbered in a busy evening but never one to fluster and again, like his team-mates, coped well with the Barnsley onslaught... 7
John-Joe O’Toole - After the game passed him by in the first-half, he returned to something like his old self when given a free role as he got on the ball more and imposed himself on the game. Timed his run and header to perfection to send Town through... 7
Matthew Taylor - Disappointing set-piece delivery initially but remarkable fitness levels shone through as he marshalled the game brilliantly from midfield and then proved his quality with an-inch perfect cross for the winner... 8
Harry Beautyman - Little surprise to see him taken off after an energy-sapping performance during which he got up and down the pitch incessantly, including a couple of dangerous bursts into the box that may have ended better on another day... 7
Alfie Potter - Faded after a bright start and didn’t really have the impact he would have wanted, but good to see him back fit nonethless... 6
Kenji Gorre - Frittered in and out of the game in the first-half but really upped his level after half-time when he got on the ball more and drove at the Barnsley back four. Final ball needs work... 7
Alex Revell - Spent almost the entire first-half isolated and chasing lost causes. Received more support as the game wore on when his hold-up play brought others into play... 7
Sam Hoskins - Brought a new lease of life to the team with his pace and energy. Made smart runs and won the corner which led to the winner... 7
Lawson D’Ath - Another to have a real impact off the bench with his ball carrying relieving the pressure and initiating several break outs... 7