Chris Wilder revealed two-goal hero Ricky Holmes almost didn’t play against MK Dons on Saturday after the winger failed to train the day before, while the Cobblers boss also had praise for young defender Rod McDonald.
Holmes spent much of Friday in bed with flu-like symptoms but there was no stopping him scoring both Northampton goals in Saturday’s 2-2 draw in another man of the match display on only his second start of the season.
His first goal was one of exquisite class as he curled a delightful side-footed effort into the top corner before, eight minutes later, another precise finish put the Cobblers ahead.
Holmes was then withdrawn on the hour-mark and admitted himself that he was “struggling” just before being replaced by Lawson D’Ath as MK Dons salvaged a replay with a late equaliser.
“Ricky nearly didn’t play,” revealed Wilder afterwards. “He didn’t train on Friday but he came in (on Saturday) and wanted to start so that was the reason he came off after 60 minutes – because he wasn’t feeling too well on Friday.
“We’ve done great without him but now we definitely look a better team and a better group with him available for selection, so we’re delighted because he can set up and he can finish.
“We still think he’s finding his feet a little bit because he’s been out for a long time but he’s certainly a talent and if we can keep him and the other players fit, with Collo (James Collins) to come back in on Tuesday, we need to carry on and show the same belief for the rest of the season.”
Though he starred after half-time, Holmes and his team-mates struggled to get going in a laboured first half as Dons keeper Cody Cropper remained largely untroubled, and Wilder revealed he had some harsh words at the interval.
He added: “We talked to Ricky and told him we needed to up the standard because we had enough of the ball.
“When we got into the final third, our quality wasn’t good enough and I believe we should have been up at half-time with the amount of ball we had but the quality of the final pass and the finish wasn’t good enough.
“Sometimes it’s difficult, especially the way MK Dons play because they really open the game up and push the full-backs high up the pitch, so you have to go get the balance right.
“If you go steaming in too many times they’ve got good enough pace, good enough movement and good enough belief to play around you and pick you off, so we had to make sure that we picked the right time.
“But it’s a cup tie and that’s what we said at half-time – we’ve got nothing to lose so let’s have a real go at it and see if we can win it, which we almost did.
“They’re good players but sometimes when you get among good players you force them into rushing stuff and we managed to do that.”
McDonald, meanwhile, marked his first start for almost two months with an assured display as he replaced Zander Diamond at the heart of the Cobblers defence.
Despite impressing earlier in the season, McDonald has spent the last seven games watching on from the bench with Wilder favouring the experience of Diamond and Ryan Cresswell.
But the Cobblers manager was full of praise for the 23-year-old after Saturday’s excellent performance.
“We’re pleased with Rod’s performance,” he added. “He’s got that bit of pace and he lacks a little bit of experience but he has to play in these games to be a better player and I thought he was outstanding.
“What everybody has to do, defenders more often than not, is get other players out of trouble. Dave (Buchanan) lost the ball in a crucial area and Rodders got him out of trouble with a great tackle and that’s what we need to do.
“If we make a mistake, it’s about who can rescue the situation and Rodney did that so we were pleased with his performance and he was one of a number of really good performances.”