Collins strikes late as champions Cobblers sink Pompey
Cobblers signed off their 2015-16 campaign in winning style as they extended their unbeaten run to a remarkable 24 games with a dramatic but deserved 2-1 win over 10-man Portsmouth at a sun-drenched Fratton Park on Saturday afternoon.
It looked as if Northampton would have to settle for a point on their final outing of this title-winning season but James Collins came off the bench to net an 81st minute winner and take Town up to 99 points - the same tally achieved by Graham Carr’s 1986/87 title-winning team.
A lack of goalmouth action didn’t dampen an enjoyable opening 45 minutes during which Northampton always appeared to hold the upper-hand and they led at the break thanks to an early Jack Whatmough own goal .
For all Portsmouth’s possession, the pre-season title favourites offered little in the final third and struggled to carve open their hard-working and disciplined visitors who deservedly held the advantage at half-time.
But a red card to Kieron Freeman immediately after half-time appeared to galvanise the home side who then quickly levelled through Kal Naismith’s screamer.
Cobblers regained their composure, though, and bagged the winning goal through Collins to finish their season in the perfect fashion.
The result also means Northampton have officially won the Sky Bet League Two title by a comprehensive 13 points over Oxford United, who will join the Cobblers in League One alongside Bristol Rovers.
Chris Wilder made just the one change for his side’s final outing of the season as Lawson D’Ath came in for Sam Hoskins, who dropped to the bench.
In front of an electric atmosphere at Fratton Park, created largely by the boisterous 3,000-strong away following, Cobblers made the sharper and more confident start, albeit without causing much alarm for the home defence.
Portsmouth settled and enjoyed their own spell of possession but again Adam Smith had little to be concerned about aside from Adam McGurk’s header which drifted harmlessly wide.
Then arrived the opening goal and as it has done so often this season, it came the away of the newly-crowned champions when, on 13 minutes, Whatmough could only inadvertently divert Nicky Adams’ teasing cross into his own net.
Portsmouth maintained their grip on possession in spite of going behind but Cobblers remained disciplined and organised and showed all the signs of a team who are still desperate for the points despite having already wrapped up the title.
The visitors pressed their hosts high up the pitch while also carrying a threat on the break, highlighted on the half-hour mark when John Marquis spooned over with his left foot after Ricky Holmes had done well to dig out a cross.
The only time Smith was called into action in the first-half stemmed through his own mistake when a poor clearing kick invited Pompey forward, but even then the home side couldn’t capitalise as Smith recovered in time to make a tremendous close-range stop from Kal Naismith who was somehow unable to scramble in the rebound.
Gary Roberts then latched onto a hopeful long ball and attempted an audacious chip from a tight angle but Smith back-peddled to gather and that was all a toothless Portsmouth side could conjure up before half-time.
There was still time left for Northampton to go close again when Josh Lelan crossed for Adams who caressed a volley narrowly over as the away side comfortably kept their slender lead intact at half-time.
Any hopes of a Portsmouth fightback in the second-half seemed to have been dealt a severe blow barely 90 seconds after the restart when Freeman was dismissed for a reckless two-footed challenge on John-Joe O’Toole.
But that only served to inspire the home side who were level a minute later through a moment of brilliance from Naismith, who picked up the ball from 30 yards and unleashed a rocket of a shot which flew into the net, although Smith will feel he could have done better.
That brought the home fans to life and Northampton struggled to regain the control they had earlier in the game, although they were a whisker away from going back in front with Marquis just unable to reach Danny Rose’s cross.
Marquis went close again when Brian Murphy beat away his low shot while Portsmouth, galvanised by that red card, were looking more of a danger than they had with 10 men.
Cobblers carried the greater threat, however, as several times a poor final ball spurned chances to catch Portsmouth on the break before the hosts were carved open by a wonderfully-crafted move but again the final ball was found wanting.
But as the clocked ticked into the final 10 minutes, there were signs that Northampton had just gained the ascendency and had Portsmouth on the back foot.
And that was confirmed when the visitors restored their lead on 81 minutes as substitute Collins darted to the near post to meet David Buchanan’s cross and applied a deft finish to beat Murphy.
Naismith had another go from range immediately afterwards but this time Smith was equal to it and that was all Portsmouth could create in what time remained as Northampton easily saw out stoppage time to finish a truly memorable season in fitting style.
Portsmouth: Murphy, Davies (c), Whatmough (Wilkinson 69), Barton, Haunstrup (Tollitt 77), Close (May 60), Freeman, Evans, Roberts, Naismith, McGurk
Subs not used: Jones, Stevens, Doyle, Oxlade-Chamberlain
Cobblers: Smith, Lelan, Diamond, Prosser, Buchanan, O’Toole, Rose, Holmes, Adams (Potter 62), D’Ath (Hoskins 80), Marquis (Collins 67)
Subs not used: Clarke, Cresswell, Byrom, Taylor
Referee: Mark Brown
Cobblers fans: 2,807