Holmes stunner seals last-gasp win for Cobblers
Ricky Holmes scored one of his trademark wonder goals as Cobblers struck deep into injury time to snatch a dramatic 3-2 victory over Stevenage after coming from 2-0 down in an enthralling Sky Bet League Two contest at the Lamex Stadium.
It appeared Northampton were heading for their fourth draw in five games when locked at two apiece for much of the second half, but Holmes had other ideas as the winger curled in a stunning finish via the post to hand his side their 25th victory of the season.
Earlier on, Cobblers had produced arguably their worst 45 minutes of the campaign prior to half-time as Stevenage hassled and harried the league leaders into countless sloppy mistakes to take a deserved lead into the break.
Luke Wilkinson scored both goals, both from Dean Parrett free-kicks, and Northampton were fortunate not to be further behind before James Collins’ header brought them back into the game.
The second half was a far more even affair as John-Joe O’Toole scored the fourth goal from a set-piece shortly after the interval to bring the scores level.
Both teams had chances to claim victory but it was deep into injury time when Holmes had his say as Cobblers claimed another three points to move to the brink of promotion, whilst also extending their unbeaten run to 15 games and continuing their remarkable away form in the process.
Stevenage had not scored in any of their previous four games coming into this one, losing all four, but for much of this game there was no evidence of the chasm which separates these two sides in League Two.
It was only late on when Northampton really laid siege to the Stevenage goal, which came following a red card to Boro defender Fraser Franks, before Holmes won it.
Cobblers, who have now broken the 80-point barrier with nine games still to go, remain 11 clear of Oxford at the top and 17 clear of fourth place.
Manager Chris Wilder made one change from last week with Nicky Adams coming in for Lee Martin on the left side of midfield, but there was no place on the bench for Marc Richards despite the skipper returning to training this week.
Bizarrely, given what was to follow in the remainder of the half, Northampton had initially settled quickly and created a couple chances to test the home back four in a promising start, however it was Stevenage who were to get a foothold and take control from thereafter.
Michael Tonge got in behind the Cobblers back four but Wilkinson’s speculative volley was high and wide in the first threat to the away goal, and it wasn’t long until Boro broke the deadlock.
On 11 minutes, Dean Parrett swung in an inviting corner and Wilkinson rose highest to head home at the back post to give the relegation battlers a surprise lead.
Boro’s aggressive, tenacious start had knocked Cobblers out of their usual smooth rhythm when in possession with the visitors given no time on the ball, resulting in countless misplaced passes.
Joel Byrom was most fault as the normally reliable midfielder repeatedly gifted possession back to the home side which prevented Northampton from building any momentum and any pressure.
Stevenage might be languishing in 22nd in League Two, but they were the team making all the running and a second goal on the half-hour felt inevitable.
It was the same combination of Parrett and Wilkinson with the latter heading in his second after Clobbers goalkeeper Adam Smith made the fatal error of coming off his line to punch clear Parrett’s floated free-kick, only to get nowhere near the ball and allow the Boro defender a simple finish.
That could have acted as a wake-up call for Northampton, but instead they continued to be outplayed and overrun by the home side who threatened more goals with Parrett blazing over from 18 yards.
Remarkably, though, Northampton got themselves right back into the game five minutes before half-time with a goal completely against the run of play and it all came thanks to some from quick-thinking from Byrom.
Ricky Holmes won a free-kick down the left and Byrom caught the home defence napping when whipping in a quickly-taken cross that Collins, who was in acres of space due to some sloppy marking, headed beyond Jamie Jones.
That gave Northampton renewed hope and they came out second half with more intent although Stevenage could have had a third but for a terrific covering challenge from Luke Prosser when Greg Luer appeared through on goal.
And that challenge looked even more important less than 90 seconds later when O’Toole improvised brilliantly to acrobatically volley home Byrom’s corner.
Cobblers were fortunate to be on level terms given the balance of play until that point but now the away fans upped the volume and urged their side on to completing the comeback.
Prosser almost turned home another dangerous Byrom corner but Stevenage had responded well to being pegged back with Byron Harrison almost wriggling through.
One of Stevenage’s famous drinks breaks midway through the half then disrupted the momentum of the game as a scrappy spell ensued during which neither team could wrestle a stranglehold.
The Cobblers did, however, look the most likely and their hopes of snatching victory were boosted 12 minutes from time when Franks was sent off for pulling down Sam Hoskins when the striker was in on goal.
Holmes bent the subsequent free-kick narrowly over but then Stevenage, despite being a man down, almost retook the lead as Smith brilliantly denied Luer on two separate occasions.
The final 10 minutes were utterly dominated by Northampton but they appeared to have squandered the chance to take the points as Collins missed two excellent opportunities.
It would not matter, though, as Holmes popped up on the right, cut inside and unleashed a stunning left-footed effort from 18 yards which went in off the post, sparking wild scenes of jubilation among players and fans.
It was a goal worthy winning of any match and it duly won this one with barely time for the kick-off to take place.
Stevenage: Jones, Gorman, Franks, Wilkinson, Okimo, Cox, Tonge (c), Parrett, Kennedy (Johnson 80), Harrison, Luer (Conlon 90)
Subs not used: Whelpdale, Pett, Marriott, Day, Hedges
Cobblers: Smith, Moloney, Diamond, Prosser, Buchanan (c), Holmes (Taylor 90), O’Toole, Byrom, Adams (D’Ath 61), Collins, Marquis (Hoskins 52)
Subs not used: Clarke, McDonald, Rose, Martin
Referee: David Webb