Cobblers launch thrilling late fightback to peg back Gills and keep survival hopes alive

Edmondson and Horsfall score late on in dramatic finale at Priestfield

Saturday, 24th April 2021, 5:41 pm
Fraser Horsfall wheels away in delight after bringing Cobblers level. Pictures: Pete Norton
Fraser Horsfall wheels away in delight after bringing Cobblers level. Pictures: Pete Norton

Cobblers kept alive their hopes of staying in League One thanks to a stirring late comeback at Gillingham on Saturday as they scored twice in the final 12 minutes to rescue a dramatic 2-2 draw.

Town looked down and out and on their way back to League Two when trailing 2-0 with not long left at Priestfield, but they finished with a bang, not only scoring twice in a matter of moments but also so nearly grabbing the most unlikely of victories.

Northampton knew what was on the line at Priestfield but their League One status was hanging by a thread at half-time after Gillingham's direct football caused untold problems, with Vadaine Oliver predictably scoring against his former club.

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Vadaine Oliver scores against his former club.

Olly Lee's deflected effort appeared to have sealed Gillingham's victory midway through the second-half, but they did not count on a courageous late rally by the Cobblers.

Ryan Edmondson revived hope with a close-range finish, Fraser Horsfall then hauled the visitors level when heading home just four minutes later and the visitors piled forward in a chaotic final few minutes in search of all three points, and they were so close on several occasions.

However, whilst no-one could question Town's fighting spirit and willingness to fight until the very end, their League One status remains precarious. They will likely need to win both of their last two games - against top-six sides Blackpool and Sunderland - and hope Wigan or Wimbledon slip up.

There were a couple of surprises in the Cobblers team at Priestfield as Mickel Miller and Peter Kioso both passed late fitness test to make the starting XI.

Mickel Miller was a surprise starter.

Vadaine Oliver led the line for Gillingham and it took him just 10 minutes to strike against his former club. His 19th goal of the season was reward for the home team's dominant start as Cobblers failed to deal with Olly Lee's corner and Oliver was unmarked at the back post to score.

Jon Brady knew his team would face a physical examination against Steve Evans' play-off hunting team, but they were not up to the test early on as Gills bombarded Town's penalty box with a series of long throws, corners and crosses.

It would have been 2-0 only five minutes after Oliver's opener but for a magnificent save by Jonathan Mitchell who reacted brilliantly to deny Dominic Samuel after Lloyd Jones was robbed of the ball inside the penalty box.

Mitchell made another decent save from Kyle Dempsey's long-range piledriver, but for all Gillingham's pressure, they were very fortunate not to be pegged back midway through the half.

Alex Jones had all the time in the world to pick his spot when a weak back pass left him one-on-one with Jack Bonham, but he miscued horribly over.

Bonham was called upon later in the half when beating away Miller's well-struck effort from range, and whilst Lee and Robbie Cundy drew comfortable saves out of Mitchell, Cobblers had definitely improved and went close again when Sam Hoskins dragged a yard or two wide.

But they remained behind at half-time and were back defending their own goal after the restart as Gills pushed for a second, with Cundy heading over the crossbar and OgIlvie glancing wide.

Brady made some attacking changes, sending on Mark Marshall, Ryan Edmondson and Danny Rose within 15 minutes of the restart, and one of those was so close to levelling as Bonham saved superbly at full stretch to tip Edmondson's header around the post.

Bryn Morris then saw a shot deflect just wide as the game became stretched and open, but Town's brief rally was brought to a sudden halt midway through the second-half.

Lee latched onto Ryan Jackson's forward pass and drove into the penalty box before firing a crisp low shot into the far corner via a deflection.

The visitors refused to go away though and only a fabulous clearing header on the line prevented Marshall pulling one back with a fine curling attempt before Mitchell smothered at the feet of Oliver after Fraser Horsfall's misplaced back pass.

Cobblers set up a grandstand finish with 11 minutes to go when Edmondson swept into the bottom corner from Caleb Chukwuemeka's knockdown inside the penalty box.

And incredibly, within only four minutes, the game was all square. Marshall won a corner on the right and Mills' excellent delivery was flicked in by Horsfall.

With both sides needing victory for their respective causes, that set up a chaotic and frenetic finish to the game as Mitchell's terrific save prevented Gills from retaking the lead before Bonham then thwarted Rose at the other end.

The game resembled more of a basketball match in the closing moments with Samuel's fine effort crashing against the post and then Horsfall heading Town's final chance wide deep into stoppage-time.

Gillingham: Bonham, Jackson (McKenzie 88), Tucker, Cundy, Ogilvie, Dempsey, O'Keefe, MacDonald, Lee (Graham 87), Samuel (Sithole 87), Oliver

Subs not used: Bastien, Johnson, Woods, O'Connor

Cobblers: Mitchell, Kioso, Horsfall, L Jones, Mills (c), McWilliams (Edmondson 56), Morris, Watson (Chukwuemeka 74), Miller (Marshall 56), Hoskins, A Jones (Rose 45)

Subs not used: Woods, Harriman, Bolger

Referee: Carl Brook