Jacobs cracker condemns Cobblers to narrow defeat at Wigan Athletic
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's unbeaten start to life as Cobblers manager came to a spirited end on Tuesday evening when his side were edged out 1-0 by title-chasing Wigan Athletic at the DW Stadium.
It was always going to be a tough ask for the rejuvenated Cobblers against the in-form and high-flying Latics but they battled hard throughout a low-key contest and so nearly nicked a point, eventually beaten by a superb second-half strike by former Town man Michael Jacobs.
Northampton had already soaked up plenty of pressure when Jacobs fizzed a shot into the bottom corner on 56 minutes, a goal that proved enough to inflict a first defeat on Hasselbaink's Cobblers.
But there was enough in his side's performance on Tuesday to suggest that, with a few tweaks and a bit more spark in attack, they are heading in the right direction.
Hasselbaink sprung a few surprises with his team selection, and it was the inclusion of Raheem Hanley in a wide left role which raised eyebrows in particular as the former Swansea City and Blackburn Rovers man made his first Cobblers start, 15 months after signing.
Regan Poole, given a midfield role, was another notable starter while captain Marc Richards also came in up front with Chris Long and Alex Revell both dropping to the bench, where they were joined by fit-again Sam Foley.
On the other side, Wigan's squad included former Town midfielder and player of the year Jacobs, who started in midfield, as well as Ivan Toney among the substitutes.
The Latics, who went into Tuesday's game on the back of successive 3-0 wins, bossed much of the early play and threatened a quickfire opener when former Wigan man Leon Barnett's miscued clearance fell straight to the feet of Gavin Massey who, thankfully for Barnett, was unable to hit the target.
Ash Taylor then had to be on his guard to prevent a dangerous cross from reaching Will Grigg, who was unmarked, before a late offside flag denied the Wigan striker a 22nd minute opener after he got behind the Town defence and confidently beat Matt Ingram.
A solitary corner on 25 minutes was just about all the visiting fans had to cheer in a dogged yet attritional opening half from their side, but it came to nothing as the Cobblers, playing 4-1-1- with Matt Grimes behind Richards, were kept on the back foot by the impressive if toothless hosts.
Wigan gradually lost their way as the first-half wore on and that allowed Northampton to grow in confidence and stature, but Richards lacked support up front and therefore home goalkeeper Jamie Jones remained untested.
In fairness, Jones' counterpart Ingram was also rarely called into action as the Cobblers went into half-time on level terms having limited their in-form hosts to few clear sights of goal.
Showing more urgency and playing at a greater tempo, Wigan were utterly dominant in the opening exchanges of the second-half, pinning their visitors back and forcing them into some last-ditch defending.
A string of corners and free-kicks came to nothing before Barnett produced a goal-saving block to deny Roberts, but eventually Northampton's resistance was broken.
There was little they could do about the goal when it eventually arrived as Jacobs, against the club he made his professional debut at, took aim from all of 30 yards and found the bottom corner with a stinging strike that left a diving Ingram grasping at thin air.
Lee Evans almost scored an identical second goal within moments but this time Ingram got across and made the save, and Hasselbaink responded by bringing on Chris Long for Yaser Kasim.
Although in theory that was an attacking change, as was the subsequent switch to 4-4-2, Wigan remained the more threatening side and they nearly had what would have been a delightful second but Dan Burn got his shot all wrong after a slick one-two sent him through on goal.
Having failed to create a chance in the first 73 minutes, Town then had a glorious opportunity to peg their hosts back. The chance fell to Barnett who, from three yards out, was denied by a fabulous reaction save by Jones.
Suddenly the Cobblers now had belief that they could sneak something out of the game, and with six minutes left they seemed to have a valid penalty shout for handball, only for referee Anthony Backhouse to bizarrely award a free-kick the other way.
The visitors were given four minutes of added time to salvage a point but Daniel Powell sliced his first-time effort horribly over and that was just about that, with Wigan somehow denied a late second by frantic last-gasp defending.
That didn't matter, however, as Jacobs' goal was enough to send Town to their first defeat under Hasselbaink.
Wigan: Jones, Byrne, Dunkley, Burn, James, Morsy (c), Evans, Jacobs, Massey (Colclough 75), Roberts (Power 84), Grigg (Toney 75)
Subs not used: Sarkic, Elder, Perkins, Bruce
Cobblers: Ingram, Moloney, Barnett, Taylor, Buchanan, Kasim (Long 62), Poole, Grimes, Powell, Hanley (Bowditch 75), Richards (Revell 68)
Subs not used: Cornell, Pierre, Foley, Waters
Goal: 56m : 1-0, Jacobs
Referee: Anthony Backhouse
Cobblers fans: 292