As far as opening day games go, a trip to newly-promoted Bristol Rovers was far from the easiest start, however three points and a clean sheet later, Chris Wilder was understandably delighted with how his Northampton side kicked off their new campaign.
It was hardly a vintage performance but few could argue that the visitors were full value for their victory as although the game lacked quality and was constantly punctuated by mistakes, the Cobblers carried more of a goal threat, illustrated by the final shot count, and were rarely troubled defensively.
Statistics seldom paint the full picture but in this instance they were a fair reflection of a game that saw Northampton enjoy more of the ball and create the better chances with Steve Mildenhall the busier of the two keepers – though not by much in a game short on clear-cut chances – as he saved well from Marc Richards and then Ryan Cresswell, both in the second half following a rather forgettable opening 45 minutes.
The home crowd, celebrating Rovers’ first game back in the Football League after one year in the Conference, were buoyant and created a boisterous atmosphere throughout as they urged their side forward, however while the hosts showed plenty of endeavour, they lacked an end product and any real quality to slice through the Cobblers defence. Indeed, it says a lot that Bristol’s best chance of the game came via a Northampton mistake when Cresswell’s ill-judged back header fell straight to Matty Taylor, who spurned the opening.
As for the debutants, Adam Smith was solid in goal and impressively quick off his line to mop up dangerous balls over his defence, young Josh Lelan looked assured at right-back, David Buchanan produced an excellent all-round display as he set up the winning goal with a brilliantly improvised volleyed cross, Nicky Adams showed glimpses of his pre-season form, although it was a quiet day for Alfie Potter.
The lack of pace in central defence is a potential concern, especially when playing a high line against quick forwards as Bristol demonstrated when they looked to exploit the space in behind and that almost proved Town’s undoing on several occasions, though Smith was quick to clear the danger.
And, of course, this was a sweet day for John-Joe O’Toole. Having been loudly booed every time he touched the ball, the former Rovers man kept his cool and responded in the best possible way when netting the winning goal with a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner, giving Mildenhall no chance.
The key for O’Toole now is to kick-on, put the troubles of last season behind him and rediscover the form that persuaded Wilder to bring him to Sixfields.
But, for now, both O’Toole and Northampton can enjoy a highly satisfying start to the new season.
Adam Smith – Aside from a couple of wobbly moments, looked solid and comfortable in goal on his debut. Was quick off his line to see off any danger from long balls over the top. Saved well from Harrison late on to preserve the points - 7
Josh Lelan – Assured defensively and a threat going forward although caught out positionally once or twice - 7
Ryan Cresswell – Dominant presence in the air, winning almost every aerial ball that came into into his penalty area and recovered well following a poor back header that played in Matty Taylor - 8
Zander Diamonds – One mix-up with Smith almost allowed Jermaine Easter to capitalise but otherwise solid and helped his centre-back partner see off the aerial bombardment late on - 7
David Buchanan – Excellent throughout. Coped with anything defensively and got forward well. Set up the winning goal with an improvised volleyed cross - 8
Joel Byrom – Northampton’s best player. Used the ball well, broke up play effectively and played a key role in the goal when setting free Buchanan down the left - 8.5
Jason Taylor – Not his best day. Got himself about as ever but didn’t look comfortable in possession - 6
Nicky Adams – Drifted in and out of the game and showed glimpses of his talent with a few dangerous balls into the box that could have come to more on another day - 7
Alfie Potter – Subdued on his debut before being taken off. Struggled to get into the game but always looked to make something happen and was a threat on the break - 6
John-Joe O’Toole – The former Rovers man was greeted with a chorus of boos every time he touched the ball but had the last laugh as he bagged the winning goal with a superbly-placed header. Quiet first half but grew into the game and visibly lifted his performance after the goal - 8
Marc Richards – Led the line well and held the ball up effectively, though missed a couple of gilt-edged chances he’d normally bury - 7
Ricky Holmes – Impressed in his 25 minute cameo. Almost set up a goal with a delightful chipped ball over the defence into Richards - 7
Sam Hoskins – 6
Paul Corry – 6