Luckassen makes instant impact as 10-man Cobblers hold Rovers to draw
Kevin Luckassen made a stunning start to his Cobblers career when scoring with his very first touch to earn his new club a valuable 1-1 draw at Bristol Rovers on Saturday.
Named on the bench at the Memorial Stadium, just two days after signing for Northampton as a free agent, Luckassen had an instant impact when nodding home Brendan Moloney's high cross just after the hour-mark to cancel out Kyle Bennett's first-half opener and keep Town one place and one point outside the relegation zone in Sky Bet League One.
The Cobblers more than played their part in an open and enterprising game, and even had the first two chances of an enjoyable first-half, both of which were missed by Chris Long, but it was Bennett's close-range finish which had the home side ahead at half-time.
The hosts could and should have wrapped the up the points in a dominant spell at the start of the second period but Luckassen's intervention pegged them back and Rovers ere unable to get their noses back in front despite Town having Matt Crooks sent off with 15 minutes remaining.
Crooks' red, his third of the season, will see him ruled out for three games and that is a big blow for manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink but it's somewhat offset by the debut performance of Luckassen, who gave the Cobblers an extra dimension for the 30 minutes he was on the pitch on Saturday as he played his part in a stout defensive rearguard that kept Rovers at bay as they battered on the door without success.
After a week off due to the snow, Hasselbaink stuck with the same team that drew with Oxford United as Kevin van Veen again missed out through injury, but fellow Dutch striker Luckassen, signed earlier this week, made the bench.
In glorious Bristol sunshine, a stark contrast to the conditions seven days earlier, the first save of Saturday's encounter came just a few minutes in and it was made by home goalkeeper Sam Slocombe who comfortably kept out Long's low effort in a lively and action-packed start to the game.
Slocombe was a busy man in the early stages, also punching away Gboly Ariyibi's deflected effort on seven minutes, but Rovers were just as dangerous and they went as close as anyone a few moments later when Liam Sercombe's delightful long-range attempt clipped the top of the crossbar.
The fast-paced, open nature of the game continued and Long had a second opportunity to give his side the lead midway through the half with a chance all of his own making but, having won the ball back and ran through on goal, Slocombe foiled him again with a smart save low to his right.
As the half progressed, Rovers wrestled a stranglehold and their obvious tactic of continually targeting Town's left-hand side almost paid dividends on the half-hour mark when Rory Gaffney cut inside and blasted just over the angle of post and bar from 18 yards.
But that was a warning shot that the visitors did not heed. Just four minutes later, the home side's persistence of attacking down their right and trying to expose Joe Bunney at left-back had its reward when Bennett poked them ahead on 34 minutes. It was shoddy defending all round by the visitors who paid the price for failing to clear their lines several times with Bennett lifting over Richard O'Donnell after the Town goalkeeper had superbly denied Ellis Harrison.
O'Donnell thwarted Harrison for a second time, just about getting enough on his curler from range to shovel it around the post, as Rovers easily maintained their advantage at the break with Northampton's threat having fizzled out towards the latter stages of the opening 45 minutes.
One could so easily have been two for the home side in the early stages of the second-half when Town's two centre-backs came to the rescue for the visitors as Ash Taylor flung himself at Gaffney's shot and then Jordan Turnbull did superbly to race back and hack Sercombe's shot off the line.
Hildeberto Pereira had come on at half-time for the Cobblers and then Luckassen was introduced for his debut on the hour-mark but even Hasselbaink must have been stunned by the incredible impact his fellow Dutchman made.
Within 90 seconds of coming off the bench, and with his very first touch in Town colours, Luckassen hauled the visitors level when out-muscling two defenders to rise high and nod Moloney's right-wing cross into the bottom corner, beyond the diving Slocombe.
The Rovers response was impressive as Bennett lifted a shot over and then Harrison somehow conspired to clear the crossbar from inside the six-yard box, and the home side's hopes of claiming all three points were given a sizeable boost with 15 minutes remaining when Crooks was given his third red card of the season after picking up two bookings.
Rovers had their chances to snatch a late win, substitute Dom Telford going closest of all when brilliantly kept out by O'Donnell's fine low save, but Town dug their heels in and refused to surrender, meaning they returned to Sixfields with an extra point on their total and still just outside the bottom four.
Rovers: Slocombe, Partington (Clarke 70), Lockyear (c), Craig, Brown, Sercombe, Lines, Sinclair (Moore 75), Bennett, Gaffney (Telford 75), Harrison
Subs not used: Smith, Nichols, Broadbent, Mensah
Cobblers: O'Donnell, Moloney, Taylor (c), Turnbull, Bunney, Crooks, Grimes, Hoskins, Ariyibi (Luckassen 60), O'Toole (Pereira 45) Long (Facey 77)
Subs not used: Cornell, Barnett, McWilliams, Powell
Referee: Eddie Ilderton
Cobblers fans: 346