Northampton Town produced an utterly dominant performance at a rain-drenched Sixfields this afternoon as they blew away a toothless Barnet outfit 3-0 to keep hot on the heels of leaders Plymouth Argyle in Sky Bet League Two.
This was a much improved Cobblers performance from Monday’s below-par win over Accrington as Sam Hoskins, Ricky Holmes and Marc Richards all scored in a comfortable win, and it would have been more but for an excellent performance from Barnet’s on-loan goalkeeper Ian Lawlor.
The early signs were ominous for Barnet, league two’s worst travellers, as a fast start from the Cobblers was rewarded on just five minutes when Hoskins marked his return to the side with a scruffy finish into the bottom corner from Lawson D’Ath’s cut-back.
Many inside Sixfields would have expected the home team to push on and build on that early goal but despite dominating, the lead remained just one at half-time thanks to a combination of good goalkeeping and poor finishing.
But Northampton took complete command after the break as the excellent Homes made it 2-0 with a fine finish before skipper Richards rounded off an excellent day for his side when converting first time following a precise through ball from Holmes.
It could have been more for the home side but they were several times denied by Manchester City loanee Lawlor, who was comfortably Barnet’s best player despite the final scoreline, indicative of just how one-sided this game was.
The result means Cobblers stay second, three points adrift of leaders Plymouth having played a game less, and the two sides meet in a top-of-the-table clash in their next league game on January 12, while fellow promotion rivals Oxford United and Portsmouth also both won.
After expressing his disappointment with Monday’s performance against Accrington, Chris Wilder did indeed freshen things up for this game as Holmes came in for his first start of the season while Hoskins also returned to the starting XI, with Nicky Adams dropping to the bench and Alfie Potter missing out through injury.
With Wilder keen for an improved display from Monday, the early signs were promising as Northampton immediately found their groove with a fifth-minute opener.
Brendan Moloney’s cross from the right was over-hit but Joel Byrom picked up Richards’ pass and slipped the ball to the left where D’Ath delivered a low cross which was turned home by Hoskins.
Such was the dominance of their start, Northampton could have been out of sight inside 10 minutes, and they might have been but for a brilliant double save from Bees goalkeeper Lawlor, who first palmed away Holmes’ low effort following a mazy solo run before he got up quickly to deny D’Ath he seemed destined to turn in the rebound.
Barnet, too, were threatening, albeit sporadically, with top scorer John Akinde looking dangerous, and it was his header which called Adam Smith into action for the first time as the Cobblers keeper comfortably collected.
Lawlor remained the busier of the two keepers, though, as he watched Holmes’ long-range attempt sail over before collecting D’Ath’s dangerous corner which had momentarily caused panic in the Barnet penalty area.
Although the game had now settled down after an entertaining first quarter, Northampton continued to dictate proceedings as the home side produced some free-flowing football, though an end product was lacking despite both Hoskins and Holmes causing problems.
John-Joe O’Toole was running the show in midfield as Town dominated both possession and territory but the lead remained at just 1-0 going into half-time after Richards skewed Holmes’ cross well wide in the final moments of the half.
The second half had started sluggishly but then, out of nothing, Northampton had the second goal their first half performance had warranted.
It all stemmed from an error at the back as a brilliantly-timed sliding challenge from Richards saw the ball fall kindly to Holmes, who raced through on goal and calmly placed a right-footed shot into the bottom corner.
Now 2-0 down, there was a renewed sense of urgency about Barnet’s play and for the first time in the match they had a sustained spell of pressure but all they could muster was a series of corners, which ultimately came to nothing.
There was an element of inevitability about Town’s third goal as the home side continued to attack at will, David Buchanan flashing a shot wide, and the Cobblers did put the game to bed with a slick third.
Richards was the scorer, finishing well first-time into the bottom corner, but much of the credit went to creator Holmes, who drove forward and then fed the striker with a perfectly-weighted through ball.
A now rampant Cobblers sensed further goals and D’Ath should have made it four immediately but he could only fire straight at Lawlor when unmarked before the Bees keeper tipped away Hoskins’ curling shot.
Despite the scoreline, Lawlor had been excellent in the away goal and he was called into action again moments later, doing well to tip over Holmes’ close-range attempt, before then denying Moloney whose fizzing 30-yarder headed for the bottom corner.
With Barnet accepting their fate and Northampton happy with the three goals, the game rather petered out in the final 15 minutes as a raft of substitutions and the continual heavy rain made for a scrappy finish.
No matter, Northampton had done more than enough to secure another fine victory, their ninth in 10 games, to maintain the pressure on leaders Plymouth and set up that Home Park humdinger in 10 days’ time.
Cobblers: Smith, Moloney, Diamond, Cresswell, Buchanan, O’Toole, Byrom, D’Ath, Hoskins (Calvert-Lewin 82), Holmes (Adams 75), Richards (c) (Taylor 86)
Subs not used: Clarke, McDonald, Lelan, Calvert-Lewin, Horwood
Barnet: Lawlor, Gambin, Dembele, N’Gala, Johnson, Yiadom (c), Togwell, Champion (Hoyte 58), Weston (Odoffin 73), McLean (Batt 58), Akinde
Subs not used: McKenzie-Lyle, Lisbie, Muggleton, Gash
Referee: Ross Joyce
Barnet fans: 398