Happy return for Page as Cobblers bounce back to form with thrilling Vale win
Rob Page enjoyed a happy return to Vale Park as the Cobblers arrested their alarming slump in form with a fully deserved 3-2 victory over Port Vale in Saturday's gripping Sky Bet League One clash.
On the back of four consecutive league defeats, it seemed Northampton would again be left to rue missed opportunities as they squandered a host of excellent chances, both at 1-0 and 1-1, but eventually they found their finishing touch to run out winners.
An entertaining and open first-half ended with Northampton one goal to the good thanks to Gabriel Zakuani's thumping header, but the visitors relied on some frantic last-ditch defending to deny Vale who also had their fair share of chances.
The Valiants then levelled through former Newcaslte United man Ryan Taylor and they seemed to have gained the upper-hand with a dominant spell thereafter, only to relinquish the initiative in the final 20 minutes.
Close-range finishes from Sam Hoskins and Paul Anderson sealed the three points, albeit only after an anxious final few minutes with Rigino Cicilia pulling one back for Vale.
There were times in this game when Northampton rode their luck and had to dig deep, but whilst the hosts impressed in general play, it was their visitors who carved out the game's best openings and after several chances went begging, they took advantage to become only the second team to beat the Valiants in their own back yard this season.
It's a crucial win for Page and alleviates several concerns, at least temporarily, after a horrid run of form had seen them plummet down the table, with this win lifting Town back up above their hosts and into 13th.
Page tweaked both personnel and his system for the trip to Stoke as he recalled skipper Marc Richards who partnered Alex Revell in a 4-4-2.
An enterprising, end-to-end start brought chances at both ends as Sam Kelly's low drive was held by David Cornell for Vale before Matty Taylor collected Revell's clever backheel and drilled in a dangerous cross that flashed across the face of goal.
Vale top scorer Alex Jones was an early menace for Northampton and he twice threatened when heading wide and then driving fiercely at Cornell, and the on-loan Birmingham man also teed up Paulo Tavares whose sweetly-struck shot was well-blocked by Lewin Nyatanga.
The game continued at a breathless pace when Jak Alnwick used his feet to block after Revell had found space inside the penalty area, and then it was Nyatanga's turn to go close as he tried to smother home Taylor's free-kick from close-range without success.
Such was the open nature of the contest, it felt a goal was only a matter of time and on 22 minutes, the Cobblers finally ended a 350-minute run without scoring when striking the first blow.
Paul Anderson did well to win his side a corner on the left and Taylor delivered a wicked cross that was powerfully thumped home by Zakuani.
Vale's threat had diminished in the period prior to Northampton's goal but they enjoyed a better spell after falling behind and it was another Taylor, this time Ryan, who was causing problems with his dangerous set-piece delivery.
Northampton just about fended off his initial free-kick before, from the subsequent corner, David Buchanan cleared Kelly's header off the line after Cornell failed to get the required distance on his punch.
The Valiants were in the ascendancy as half-time approached but they were almost hit by the sucker-punch when Hoskins produced a superb solo run that took him from his own half to the opposition penalty box, beating several players on the way, before being denied by Alnwick.
There was still time left for Kelly and Jones to blaze over for the hosts while Anderson curled one wide for Northampton, who retained their slender lead at the break.
And within three minutes of the second-half starting, the Cobblers carved out a golden opportunity to double their advantage when Hoskins worked his way to the byline before teeing up Richards who steadied himself and shot from eight yards out, but Vale got enough men back to block.
That miss felt a potential game-changer at the time and, four minutes later, it looked even more decisive.
Vale turned the heat up on their visitors and pushed for the equaliser, which arrived in fortunate fashion when Taylor's mis-hit attempt fell back to him and he made no mistake second time around, slotting beyond Cornell.
Now with the momentum on their side, Vale went on the hunt for an immediate second and they were quick to exploit the space left by the stretched and disjointed visitors who struggled to regain the initiative.
Northampton were at least able to take the sting out of the game and restrict Vale to half chances, none of which troubled Cornell, before they gradually turned the tide.
And the away side really should have been back in front on 70 minutes when Revell somehow conspired to miss the target with a free header six yards out, and that was followed by an equally presentable chance as Alnwick denied Richards, who had got clean through, before Revell's weak follow-up effort was cleared off the line.
The Cobblers were now the team on the front foot, but again it seemed their wasteful finishing would be their downfall, however with 12 minutes remaining, they finally converted a chance as Vale failed to clear a corner and from the ensuring goalmouth scramble, Hoskins poked home.
Vale inevitably piled on the pressure thereafter but Northampton comfortably repelled their threat and seemingly made the game safe when Anderson scrambled in from three yards out after Alnwick had expertly denied both Richards and Revell.
Ciclia had other ideas, however, when he headed beyond Cornerll in the first minute of four additional minutes to set up a tense finish, but much to the relief of the noisy travelling supporters, the Cobblers clung on to three precious points.
Vale: Alnwick, Taylor, Streete, Smith, Kiko, Amoros, Jones, De Freitas, Tavares (Paterson 81), Kelly (Shalaj 63), Cicilia
Subs not used: Santos, Knops, Hart, Mbamba, Turner
Cobblers: Cornell, Phillips, Zakuani, Nyatanga, Buchanan, Anderson, McCourt, Taylor, Hoskins, Richards, Revell
Subs not used: Smith, McDonald, Hanley, Byrom, D'Ath, Beautyman, Gorre
Referee: Graham Salisbury
Cobblers fans: 451