Northampton Town 1 Blackpool 0 '“ match review, player ratings and highlights
This was not the free-flowing, swashbuckling type of performance that allows us to officially declare the Cobblers are back for good, at least not yet, but their refreshingly stress-free passage to victory in a tight game against top 10 opposition was cause for optimism all the same.
A deeply unhappy Gary Bowyer may have described his side’s defeat at Sixfields on Saturday as ‘90 minutes wasted’ in a remarkably candid post-match interview, but for Northampton, the opposite could not have been more true: this was a hugely productive and beneficial afternoon’s work.
The victory admittedly came at the expense of a dismal Blackpool side who served up about as bad a 90 minutes as anyone at Sixfields this season – and that includes the home team – but you can only beat what’s put in front of you, something Town have not done enough of this season.
And, irrespective matter how bad they were on the day, let’s not forget that Northampton were not up against a struggling team destined for relegation; this is a Tangerines side who won promotion last term and went into the game sitting in the division’s top 10, within a point of the play-offs.
So the three points were impressive as they were welcome, all the more so given Town’s ongoing predicament at the bottom of Sky Bet League One, and the ease at which they protected their narrow lead from 20 minutes on is an indication that, slowly but surely, they are turning a corner and that they do have the capacity to drag themselves out of trouble.
There was always a sense that the fist goal in this game, played between two teams of similar style – organised and solid in defence but short of a spark in attack – would be vital to the outcome, and so it proved.
And thanks to the quick-thinking and nifty footwork of Sam Hoskins on 20 minutes, neatly directing Matt Grimes’ wayward shot into the bottom corner, it was the Cobblers who crucially got their noses in front and from there, they never looked back.
Content to sit deep and protect their position, the onus was then on Blackpool to take the game to their hosts but whilst much of the second-half was spent waiting for them to turn the screw and crank up the pressure, the expected onslaught never materialised and Northampton, who managed the game well, allowed Sixfields to breathe relatively easy, although it would have been even easier had Hoskins converted a golden late chance.
Nevertheless, Blackpool’s impotence in front of goal let Hoskins off the hook and meant the Cobblers were comfortable in seeing out back-to-back wins for only the second time this season.
You can see that recent results and performance have breathed new life and, more importantly, confidence into this team. Players are playing with new-found belief, and that was evident in some impressive individual performances within an excellent collective display on Saturday.
In particular, it could be argued that Matt Grimes, Daniel Powell and Aaron Pierre all had their best games for the club.
Grimes was influential in the middle of the park, both doing his job defensively whilst having a key role in Town’s attacking play, and Daniel Powell, clearly boosted by last week’s goal at Gillingham, offered more flashes of his potential, particularly in the first minute when driving at the heart of Pool’s defence and forcing a good save from Ryan Allsop.
Pierre has not always looked at ease in Town’s back four, his shakiness accentuated by the fact he’s been alongside the often excellent form of Ash Taylor, but he was as good as his partner on Saturday, using his height and strength to nullify the away side’s threat.
The game’s outstanding performer also came in defence in the shape of young Shaun McWilliams at right-back. The teenager was simply superb in everything he did, whether it was crunching into tackles, showing strength to hold off his man or staying composed under pressure.
His determined, exuberant attitude rubbed off on his team-mates and he was rightly named man of the match at full-time, giving Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink a headache for when Brendan Moloney is ready to return.
What’s more, a first clean sheet in seven games and only a third of the season will do wonders for the back four who all played their part in ensuring Matt Ingram enjoyed his quietest 90 minutes since signing for the club – even if he himself lacked some of his usual composure.
The shortage of chances and creativity in the final third remains a long-term concern but with each win comes confidence, and with the gradual return of key players, things are looking an awful lot better for a team who were well on the way to being cast adrift and written off two weeks ago.
Seven points from nine is certainly a mighty fine return following back-to-back home defeats and a run of seven games without a goal.
Next up, the FA Cup.
How they rated...
Matt Ingram - Blushes were spared inside 90 seconds when he dallied on the ball and got away with it. That set the tone for an unusually shaky performance, and yet he was scarcely troubled in keeping a rare clean sheet... 6
Shaun McWilliams - Outstanding at right-back for the second game running. Has such a refreshingly exuberant and tenacious approach to his football, as shown by his love for a tackle and the fact he gives everything to the cause. Moloney might struggle to get his place back on this form... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
Ash Taylor - Faultless at the heart of a very solid and untroubled back four, not that he was ever put under much strain by the toothless visitors. Headed and kicked away anything that came into the Town box, restricting his goalkeeper to simple catches from harmless, aimless crosses... 8
Aaron Pierre - Arguably his most impressive outing of the season to date as he produced a towering yet composed performance at centre-back, the highlight of which was heading off the line after Ingram was caught out of position... 8
David Buchanan - Played his part fully in an overdue clean sheet, keeping tabs on the visitors down the left side and also trying to support his team in attack when the opportunity arose... 7
Regan Poole - Guaranteed to put a good shift in and did so again here; offers balance, energy and a physical presence to Town’s game, allowing others to flourish as a consequence. Grimes in particular seems to thrive when the two are partnered together... 7
Matt Grimes - Another one to really step up and enjoy one of his best games for the club. Added an assist to last week’s goal, albeit in slightly fortuitous fashion, and should have had another late on when setting away Hoskins as he contributed in both attack and defence... 8
John-Joe O’Toole - Another important 75 minutes under his belt. Looked fired up from the word go, getting into the faces of opposing players, as well as the referee’s. Inching closer to full match sharpness which can only be a good thing for his team... 7
Sam Hoskins - Quick-thinking and improvisation to get his first goal since returning from his long injury lay-off, brilliantly directing Grimes’ shot into the bottom corner to wrong-foot Allsop. Knows he should have made it two with a superb late chance... 7
Daniel Powell - Was clearly buoyed by his goal at Gillingham, playing with more confidence and purpose highlighted in the very first minute when weaving into the box and forcing Allsop into action. Great work ethic again... 7
Chris Long - Isolated at times up front and needed more bodies in support of him but can’t fault his endeavour or willingness to run for the team... 6
Marc Richards - 6
Dean Bowditch - 6
Billy Waters - 6