THE Cobblers’ reputation as Carling Cup kings was torn to shreds by Wolves at Sixfields last night as they were eliminated from this year’s competition with consummate ease.
As is the expectation – but in three ties last season was not the case – the higher-level side were better than their league two counterparts in just about every department.
Gary Johnson’s men enjoyed a good first 20 minutes but the game was over as a contest as soon as the away side took the lead. From it, they never looked back.
It’s almost a statement of the blindingly obvious but Wolves were faster, sharper, fitter, more organised, and passed the ball to each other with more accuracy, speed of thought and intention. It had started pretty well for the hosts, with Arron Davies lining up a volley as the visitors failed to clear a corner three minutes in, his stinging shot deflecting off Sam Vokes and just wide of the target.
But Wolves should have taken the lead soon afterwards. A perfectly-threaded pass from Adam Hammill put Sylvan Ebanks-Blake clean through but Sam Walker was off his line smartly to foil the one-on-one attempt with Paul Turnbull mopping up the loose ball.
Town retaliated with a good chance of their own, Adebayo Akinfenwa driving over after Byron Webster flicked on Ben Tozer’s throw.
It was Wolves, though, who drew first blood, Kevin Foley arcing a ball into Ebanks-Blake who had stepped off his marker but was still given far too much time and space to rattle home a left-footed shot.
Although the game had started at a frantic pace it had cooled significantly by that point, and Northampton must have thought they had done enough to go in at half-time with honours even.
They had a stroke of luck when Ebanks Blake beat Walker to a ball down the left wing only for his early shot to dribble wide with the goalkeeper in no man’s land.
Nenad Milijas, with a free-kick from fully 25 yards, made no such mistake in a moment that underlined the visitors’ class with brutal clarity. As is generally the case with players with international honours and multi-million pound transfers to their name, Milijas is pretty handy, and proved his quality by whipping the ball into the net before Walker even had time to blink.
Lewis Young saw a close-range shot of his own saved as time ran out in the first half and then made an instant impression as soon as the second period of play began, creating a corner and then forcing Dorus de Vries into a save with a volley from it.
The visiting keeper then did well to palm away a Turnbull chance that had been created by Akinfenwa, who showed glimpses of the hold-up man this team will need him to be this season. He made way for Austrian teenager Lumbardh Salihu at more or less the exact moment Wolves scored their result-sealing third goal.
Michael Kightly made a strong run down the left and crossed for Ebanks-Blake, who got in between two defenders to head powerfully home. Sam Vokes timed his run to similar perfection with two minutes to go to meet Matt Doherty’s right-wing cross and convert in style.
After that there wasn’t much to report. Wolves gave debuts to two players off the bench, and Webster continued to make strong challenges.
Going out of this competition, though, will not cause Gary Johnson too many sleepless nights.
The old cliché about the league being the priority is entirely apposite right now, because – as everyone who watched this team last season knows – form, and great results, in the Carling Cup are worth nothing if the good are not produced on a Saturday.