Shrewsbury Town 1 Northampton Town 2 - Jefferson Lake’s view and player ratings

IMPRESSIVE PERFORMANCE - Ivan Toney led Cobblers' attacking the line well in the absence of leading scorer Marc Richards (Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)
IMPRESSIVE PERFORMANCE - Ivan Toney led Cobblers' attacking the line well in the absence of leading scorer Marc Richards (Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)

Such is the rapid progress the Cobblers are currently making, that the bar for assessment has to be raised on a weekly basis.

The rampaging 5-1 win at Accrington represented the club’s biggest win for 11 years and the first time they scored five away from home since a visit to Chester City in August 1987.

But the victory over Shrewsbury was even more satisfying than that; it came against one of the best (maybe the best) team in the division and was secured with a degree of comfort. It was Northampton’s best win of the season so far.

At no point did they look like losing and only when Shrewsbury were throwing everything they had at the Cobblers in the final 10 minutes of the game did they even look like drawing.

Chris Hackett took his goal brilliantly and the second, scored by Joel Byrom, was a superbly-executed plan of a free-kick which will have given Chris Wilder and his staff a deeply warm glow of satisfaction.

They might also have added more goals to their tally, with Ricky Holmes and Ivan Toney having chances to get on the scoresheet, and the defence imperious at the other end.

Special mention has to go to Lee Collins, who has recovered well from his costly error and subsequent public criticism at Hartlepool United in what is a demonstration of his strength of character. He was given the captaincy at Shrewsbury, his former club, on Saturday in what was a clear recognition of such resilience by his manager.

The armband was his because leading goalscorer Marc Richards was unavailable with a sore Achilles, although it speaks volumes about his personality too that he still travelled to the game and was on the bench with his team-mates.

To win at Shrewsbury, who have only lost at home to Chelsea this season, was impressive enough but to do it without your best attacking player (and with another pretty talented one, John-Joe O’Toole still serving a suspension) made it even more special.

Three of the players’ cars were stolen from the training ground on Thursday too but that had no effect on the team either, who were in pure business mode from the first minute until the last.

At this time of the season, with the evenings getting (very gradually) lighter and only 13 fixtures left on the list, every result is framed in the wider context of the league table.

For reference, Town are still 10th but now six points off the top seven; while that is still a sizeable gap, there are no tougher assignments ahead than the one they have just passed with flying colours - Burton, who they play in late April, are top but have been beaten at home on three occasions this season.

This has been an extreme turnaround for the team, who were close to the relegation zone at the end of January and their manager was under substantial pressure.

With the way they are currently playing, it would almost feel like a missed opportunity if this strange journey of a season did not end in a moment of absolute glory.

Player ratings

MATT DUKE

Didn’t really have much to do but completed all of his work well and his kicking was much more accurate than it has been recently ...7

BRENDAN MOLONEY

Was excellent in the first half and struggled a little when Shrewsbury attacked with pace down his flank in the second but still had a good overall game ...7

RYAN CRESSWELL

Does a lot of the unseen work and is a major presence in both boxes. Was also noticeably more animated in cajoling and organising his team-mates in this game ...8

LEE COLLINS

His block in the first half, with the score at 1-0, changed the course of the match and he was class in just about everything he did. Deserved to keep a clean sheet ...8 STAR MAN

EVAN HORWOOD

Got better as the game went on and made some crucial interceptions and clearances late in the game. A really good outing for the left-back ...8

JASON TAYLOR

Fetched and carried in his trustworthy style and definitely played a part in tilting the balance of the game in Northampton’s favour ...7

JOEL BYROM

A strong contender for man of the match - is so cool and calm in possession of the ball and then snaps into tackles with a real fire. Will be delighted with how he took the goal ...8

CHRIS HACKETT

His best performance since returning to the side and deserves a lot of credit for taking a first-time shot (before the keeper was set) to set the tone of the afternoon ...7

LAWSON D’ATH

Plays the number 10 role differently to O’Toole in that he looks for space across the pitch rather than staying centrally but he looked good in it on this occasion and provided plenty of inventive spark ...8

RICKY HOLMES

Is a very fluid runner with the ball and eats up a lot of ground with it but on three or four occasions he turned down passes and then lost the ball, so needs to use it better ...7

IVAN TONEY

Did not disappoint as the replacement for Richards and made it through his first 90 minutes in more than two months despite taking a hefty knock. Will feel he should have scored ...8

Substitutes:

DARREN CARTER (for Hackett 68)

Played his part with some crunching tackles and distributed the ball well in a more solid midfield five

ZANDER DIAMOND (for D’Ath 90)

Not used: Bodin, Jalal, Newey, Clifton, Warburton