Northampton Town 2 Crawley Town 1 '“ match review, player ratings and highlights
If teams were hoping for Northampton to ease off the acceleration pedal now the title's wrapped up, it appears they may have another thing coming judging by this utterly dominant and thoroughly deserved victory against an admittedly dismal Crawley Town outfit.
As much as everyone tried to give it the big build up, there was an inescapable feeling that this game could have an after-the-Lord-Mayor’s-show feel to it following Saturday’s title-winning euphoria.
And, at times, it did labour along, especially during the first half, but that was more down to Crawley’s reluctance to show any attacking ambition with the visitors content to sit back and frustrate in what, for the most part, resembled an attack against defence training game.
In the end, though, Northampton just had too much class and too much quality as eventually their pressure and dominance turned into goals and a deserved victory.
Bathed in glorious spring sunshine and set to welcome the newly-crowned champions, Sixfields was in buoyant mood ahead of kick-off and ready to enjoy a rare opportunity to sit back, relax and watch the champions strut their stuff.
With mission accomplished at the weekend, Tuesday’s game could have gone one of two ways: it might have taken the edge off their game or it could have allowed them to play with greater freedom.
It was, without doubt, the latter as Chris Wilder’s side barely broke sweat in dispatching the Devils.
There was to be no backing off, no easing up and whilst Northampton lacked the cutting edge to really put Crawley to the sword, they never needed to get out of second gear in strolling to one of their most straightforward three points of the season.
At times, some of their football was thrilling to watch as they fizzed the ball around with confidence, purpose and precision, orchestrated by midfield maestros Danny Rose and John-Joe O’Toole.
Ricky Holmes tormented the visitors throughout, constantly popping up in pockets of space to pull Crawley defenders out of position, allowing the ever-lively Sam Hoskins and Nicky Adams to drift across the front and support John Marquis up top.
All they lacked was a killer final ball in a first-half that yielded only half chances, the best of which fell to Marquis and Hoskins but neither were able to get a clear sight of goal against some frantic last-ditch Crawley defending.
A dominant first-half then made way for a more cutting edge second when the woodwork rattled on two separate occasions in-between the two all-important goals.
Most games have defining periods of play and this was no different.
Within minutes of the restart, Crawley’s Gwion Edwards raced through on goal and defied the acute angle to send a fizzing low shot arrowing towards the bottom corner corner, only for Adam Smith to react sharply and palm the ball away.
Cobblers then broke, worked their way up field and won themselves a penalty when Adams was bundled over in the penalty box.
Holmes emphatically dispatched home from 12 yards and within the blinking of an eye, Northampton had gone from potentially being 1-0 down to 1-0 in front.
That goal paved the way for an even more dominant spell during which Holmes and John-Joe O’Toole both struck the crossbar, however the latter was not to be denied when scrambling home a corner.
A fine free-kick from Edwards gave Crawley a glimmer of hope for what would have been the unlikeliest of comebacks but while the scoreline gave the impression of a tight game, it would be kind to describe Crawley’s late resurgence as a ‘rally’.
In any case, a needless and frankly ridiculous challenge from Andy Bond ensured there would be no fightback as he saw red scarcely 60 seconds after Crawley pulled one back.
Thereafter game rather petered out but the job, as it has been so often this season, was done and another three points had been chalked up.
The title may be theirs but it seems this Cobblers team don’t intend to slow down any time soon.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Top goalkeepers make big saves at important times and his excellent stop from Edwards 90 seconds before Holmes’ opener underlined his value to this team... 7
Josh Lelan - First start since November and did well. Has a tendency to panic on occasion but got forward whenever he could and displayed all the raw attributes of potentially a very good defender... 7
Zander Diamond - Was able to coast through the game as Crawley offered very little. Effectively and calmly dealt with everything that came his way... 7
Rod McDonald - Was well on his way to scooping the star man accolade after a near flawless 80 minutes but a clumsy and needless challenge offered Crawley hope late on.... 7
David Buchanan - Solid, efficient and error-free, as he always is... 7
John-Joe O’Toole - Controlled and bossed the game alongside Rose. Has developed a handy knack of being in the right place at the right time, which he demonstrated again to net his 12th for the season... 8
Danny Rose - Dictated the game with his laser-like passing and silky touches... 8
Nicky Adams - Always a bright spark and won the penalty, although tends to start games well before fading and that was the case again on Tuesday... 7
Ricky Holmes - Irresistible. Tormented the Crawley back four all evening with his movement, trickery and ability to find pockets of space. Emphatic penalty capped off a fine performance... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
Sam Hoskins- Very bright first half, going close twice and teeing up chances for others... 7
John Marquis - Got himself into some excellent positions but left his shooting boots at home... 7
Alfie Potter - Good to see him back. Looked sharp too... 6
Lawson D’Ath - 6
Ryan Cresswell - 6