The way a team bounces back from adversity can say a lot, and if Northampton’s 1-0 win over Oxford United on Saturday is anything to by, the signs bode well for the foreseeable future.
It wasn’t the prettiest of wins, nor was it the most convincing, but sometimes the gritty, hard-fought performances can tell you much more about a side than anything else.
Northampton came into this game as firm underdogs. Not only was there the distraction of the ongoing off-field issues and the planned protest, but they also came up against an excellent and in-form Oxford side on an unbeaten 14-game league run.
In sharp contrast, the Cobblers were tumbling down the Sky Bet League Two table having taken just one point from their previous four matches.
But Chris Wilder’s side displayed all the qualities you want from a team. They dominated possession early on, scored an excellent goal and after they were reduced to 10 men, the Cobblers showed character and resilience to thwart the visitors in their attempts to get back into the game and cling onto the points.
If last week’s defeat to Dagenham was bereft of any fight and determination, this victory was anything but.
Down to 10 men for over half the game, Northampton looked firmly up against it but Adam Smith’s penalty save from Danny Hylton sparked a tremendous show of defiance and resilience to grind out a much-needed and long overdue victory.
Wilder admitted afterwards that he had worked on the team’s shape and focussed on being more rigid in the lead up to Saturday, and that work certainly paid off.
In truth, for all Oxford’s possession and tidy build-up play, they never once managed to carve open the home side as they failed to create a single clear-cut chance in the second half.
But everything that Northampton lacked in the defeat to Dagenham was present on Saturday as the Cobblers produced a magnificent defensive rearguard to restrict the visitors to very few efforts on goal.
Smith was once again heroic in goal, this time pulling off a fine penalty save plus two excellent other stops. At this rate, when the new East Stand is finally built, it’ll have to be renamed the Adam Smith Stand.
The two loan signings also played a key role with both Darnell Furlong and Shaun Brisley helping to shore up the defence and see off Oxford’s second half pressure.
There’s still a long way to go but after a string of unconvincing performances, this was much more like it. Roll on Morecombe.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Admittedly it’s a harsh call not to give him man of the match but he can’t get it every game, can he? Got down well to keep out Danny Hylton’s penalty and made two excellent saves from open play to preserve the points... 8.5
Darnell Furlong - Caught the eye from kick-off. Always eager to get forward and looked solid defensively. His performance belied his young age... 7.5
Ryan Cresswell - Outstanding and his best game of the season. Saw off any threat that came into his and once again a man mountain in the air... 8
Shaun Brisley - Another debutant and slotted in seamlessly. Brought a sense of calm and assurance alongside Cresswell... 7.5
David Buchanan - Superb at left-back. Had to cope with two and sometimes even three Oxford players but never stopped running all day... 8
Joel Byrom - Put himself about more than he has done previously this season but could have kept the ball better. Was taken off midway through the second half... 6.5
Jason Taylor - Played a pivotal role in the goal but needlessly got himself sent off. Seemed harsh but unnecessarily gave the ref a decision to make... 5
Nicky Adams - Always a threat with his delivery into the box and proved so again with a delightful cross for Hoskins to head home... 7.5
Lawson D’Ath - Carried out his defensive duties well and provided valuable cover for the two full-backs... 7
Sam Hoskins - The goal was no less than he deserved for his tireless work-rate and terrier-like chasing all game. Eventually ran out of gas and was taken off to a standing ovation... 8.5 CHRON STAR MAN
Marc Richards - Led the line superbly and held the ball up effectively to give his side some much-needed and valuable respite from Oxford’s pressure... 8
Ryan Watson - On at half-time and gave the Cobblers some energy and bite in midfield... 7
Alfie Potter - Played a key role as a second half substitute as he helped drag his side out of danger with some driving forward runs... 7
Paul Corry - Helped the team keep the ball better and waste valuable seconds in the dying minutes... 7