Charlton Athletic 1 Northampton Town 1 '“ match review, player ratings and highlights
It's often said that all good things must come to an end, but those words do not seem to resonate with Northampton Town when it comes to not losing football matches.
Every time you think defeat must come, that the opposition will prove just too strong, they dig even deeper and call upon those huge reserves of battling qualities to defy the odds and turn any potential defeats into precious points; their unbeaten streak now standing at a remarkable 26 league games.
It’s a run which will inevitably end at some point, of course, and for long periods, it seemed that point would arrive on Saturday afternoon when they often found themselves on the back foot and under pressure against a much-fancied Charlton Athletic side.
But once again, that priceless and rare ability to keep calm, stand firm and repel the barrage shone through and ensured they started the new campaign with successive 1-1 draws.
A tactically-canny first-half had them leading at half-time through Alex Revel’s expertly-guided header that wrong-footed Addicks keeper Declan Rudd.
Content to contain Charlton by packing the midfield and then using the pace of Alfie Potter and Kenji Gorre on the break, Rob Page’s game plan worked to a tee in the first-half and it could have been even better at half-time had Harry Beautyman not missed the target with his free header from 12 yards.
Charlton probed and pressed but rarely carved open the well-drilled and well-organised visitors and Adam Smith’s workload was kept to a minimum thanks to some resolute defending from those in front of him, in particular Gabriel Zakuani and Zander Diamond whose partnership at centre-back continues to blossom.
Ricky Holmes menaced and threatened to repeat his heroics from last season on more than one occasion, three times trying his luck from distance, but David Buchanan played a staring role in nullifying his former team-mate.
Charlton’s marked improvement after half-time was inevitable and a 10-minute onslaught overpowered Northampton who were helpless to prevent their former Premier League opposition from levelling.
Andrew Crofts and Nicky Ajose came close but it was Johnnie Jackson who kept his cool when faced with Smith as he calmly slotted into the bottom corner.
That was a rare occasion where the Cobblers let their guard down but they quickly had it back up and Smith would be seriously tested just once more - and that came in the 93rd minute.
Before then, a switch by Page from 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2 helped Northampton get back on an even keel with Charlton unable to maintain their fast tempo.
A frantic, frenetic end to the game brought chances at both ends, and it was Northampton who could – and probably should – have snatched victory, but Potter’s deflected effort whistled the wrong side of the post.
A desperate goalmouth scramble could so easily have yielded a winner from the subsequent corner, and then back came Charlton for one final burst, but Ademola Lookman’s free-kick, well saved by Smith, was the closest they came.
Despite leading for so long, this will undoubtedly go down as a point gained for Page and his side, and it rounds of a positive first week for the new man in charge, particularly from a defensive viewpoint.
The fact that Smith has not had a great deal to do in these opening three games is an encouraging sign and that’s all down to the defensive organisation which looks as solid as it did at any point last season.
Whilst Chris Wilder’s more expansive style of football was refreshing, it did at times leave the Cobblers exposed in defence and opposing teams would fancy their chances of creating opportunities, but at the moment Page has focussed on building from the back and so far it has worked.
The arrival of Zakuani is a significant reason behind that new-found solidity. His authority, pace and ability to read the game has allowed the more composed Diamond to flourish and focus on his own game safe in the knowledge his partner will mop up any loose ends.
It does come at a cost, though, with that defensive resolve compromising attacking flair.
The balance of the side has been good but a lack of spark in the final third remains clear for all to see. Players who are capable of creating something out of nothing with a killer ball or wonder goal are like gold dust and when they do come along, it’s important to keep hold of them.
There wasn’t much Northampton could do when Charlton came in for Holmes, but though a like-for-like replacement will be almost impossible to find, someone with that game-changing ability would be the final piece of the jigsaw.
The building blocks are in place, now for that first win.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Fine save from Crofts kept Cobblers in front and then another deep into stoppage time preserved the point. Has also perfected the art of time-wasting without being booked... 7
Aaron Phillips - Continues to impress after a distinctly average pre-season. Perhaps caught out of position for the equaliser but made amends with a brilliant point-saving clearance in the dying moments. Also dealt well with Holmes when he switched sides... 7
Zander Diamond - Partnership with Zakuani is really blossoming and the two were commanding, heroic figures as they withstood the Charlton onslaught... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
Gabriel Zakunai - An absolute man mountain and seemed to win everything in the air. Quickly becoming Page’s best piece of business this summer... 8
David Buchanan - Came out on top in his battle against Holmes who was menacing but couldn’t get the better of his former team-mate... 8
John-Joe O’Toole - Carried out all his midfield duties in the type of box-to-box performance we’ve become accustomed to. Helped out defensively and got forward when possible... 7
Matthew Taylor - Strangely loose possession with some errant passes but managed the game well and toiled hard in front of the back four... 7
Harry Beautyman - Put in a shift but didn’t get himself into the game and looked to tire, hence his early substitution. Also missed a great chance at 1-0... 6
Alfie Potter - Surprise to see him start in the number 10 role but turned out to be a smart move. Provided the link between the midfield and Revell and always gave Charlton something to think about with his pace and willingness to run at the back four... 7
Kenji Gorre - Poor decision-making cost his side on several occasions. Evidently has the ability but it’s a case of style over substance at present... 6
Alex Revell - Terrific header put Northampton ahead and did not stop running as he gave Charlton’s back four no rest... 8
Sam Hoskins - 7
Marc Richards - 6