Northampton Town 2 Forest Green Rovers 1 – match review, player ratings and highlights

RELIEF! Andy Williams lets out his emotions after scoring Town's late, late winner against Forest Green Rovers on Saturday. Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds
RELIEF! Andy Williams lets out his emotions after scoring Town's late, late winner against Forest Green Rovers on Saturday. Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds

It was a scruffy goal to win a scruffy game of football but if Saturday’s dramatic and ultimately merited 2-1 victory over Forest Green Rovers proves the turning point of Town’s campaign – and it needs to be – it’s unlikely anyone will remember how the three points were achieved.

When the clock ticked past the 95th minute during this wind-swept affair against the unbeaten, high-flying visitors, it seemed as if the Cobblers were on course for a respectable point but nothing more. While it would have been seen as another step in the right direction, there’d be an element of frustration and a sense of an opportunity missed given the way the second-half unfolded.

Instead, though, Town turned a small step into a giant leap and we got confirmation that Keith Curle’s Cobblers are on an upward curve thanks to a dramatic, rousing finale.

It was a long time coming but Andy Williams at least had the good grace to make sure his first Cobblers goal was worth the wait, though so much of the credit belonged to the terrific work of Kevin van Veen deep into stoppage-time.

The 96th minute winner sparked an outpouring of emotion from all around the ground as fans, players and coaches erupted as one in celebration.

People might mock the extent of the celebrations. After all, this was Forest Green at home in mid-October. Do you really need a pitch invasion? Should coaches be jumping around deliriously on the touchline? Of course they should. Football is a game of emotion and this is a club, and a set of fans, who have endured so many dark days in recent times, so many low moments and what occurred on Saturday afternoon at 3.56pm was something to cherish. The overwhelming sense of relief was palpable.

The Cobblers have put in more polished performances and produced more fluent football in losing causes this season but pretty passing doesn’t always win three points in League Two, just ask Dean Austin and just ask Forest Green Rovers at full-time on Saturday.

What made the win extra sweet, and extra impressive, was the opposition. Mark Cooper’s Rovers are a team in fine fettle and under the guidance of a highly-respected manager. And for much of the first-half, the visitors played with the type of confidence that a 16-game unbeaten tends to bring.

But for the second time in four days, Town showed their resilience - a word not associated with them prior to Curle’s arrival - as Aaron Pierre’s bullet header and Williams’ dramatic finish kept Cobblers unbeaten under the new manager, who has two wins and two draws from his four games in charge.

Curle has not done anything revolutionary but he’s not needed to. He has the necessary quality at his disposal and it’s about harnessing that. Minor tactical tweaks, a return to the basics and his careful approach to man management has made a world of difference.

In some ways, the wind made for a curiously absorbing contest on Saturday.

Just as you should never judge a cricket pitch until both teams have batted, neither should you judge a windy game of football until both sides have had conditions in their favour. You could hardly get two more contrasting halves of football than here and that owed almost entirely to the stiff breeze sweeping across the ground throughout the afternoon.

In the first-half, Forest Green delivered something of a masterclass in how to nullify and thrive in such tricky conditions. They kept the ball down and passed their way around Northampton, who struggled to get out and spent far too much of the opening 45 minutes penned into their own half.

The visitors enjoyed the space they were given as David Cornell’s agility thwarted Dayle Grubb and Lloyd James while Liam Shephard only found the roof of the net after escaping the home defence.

Curle has not done anything revolutionary but he’s not needed to. He has the necessary quality at his disposal and it’s about harnessing that. Minor tactical tweaks, a return to the basics and his careful approach to man management has made a world of difference.

Rovers’ deserved half-time advantage arrived in controversial circumstances at the time but it turns out that Reuben Reid, rather amazingly for those who witnessed it live, timed his run perfectly when racing onto Reece Brown’s long pass and easily - too easily - beating Cornell.

The Cobblers, for the second time in a week, required a rousing half-time turnaround. It took a little time but Curle eventually got his wish. It was only in the second-half when it became apparent just how big an impact the conditions were having.

From being penned back, Town became the ones doing the pinning. They needed a goal and got one through a corner for the second Saturday running.

It’s clear that Curle has focused on improving Northampton’s output at set-pieces and they already look a much greater threat from corners and free-kicks. Having not scored from one corner during Austin’s tenure, Pierre made it two in a week when he followed John-Joe O’Toole’s goal at Swindon by heading David Buchanan’s delivery, via Jordan Tunrbull, into the bottom corner.

Then Cobblers chased a winner and it was someone off the bench that added impetus.

In addition to the increased solidity in defence, the set-piece threat and the general improvement of various individuals, it’s about time Northampton had a manager who made positive, game-changing substitutions and Curle’s now demonstrated that ability twice in a week.

After Jack Bridge’s influential cameo at Oxford United in midweek, this time it was van Veen. Taking off Matt Crooks and moving Sam Hoskins into a deeper role wasn’t necessarily the most obvious of moves but it could hardly have worked out any better.

Van Veen and Williams were handful for the Rovers back four while Hoskins twice came agonisingly close to winning the game itself. In the end, it was left to the heroics of Williams to snatch three oh-so precious points.

This victory must now be used as a springboard for bigger and better things. One win, as thrilling and as dramatic as it was, counts for nothing in the grand scheme of things. With momentum now on their side and confidence returning, Cobblers must seize the moment.

How they rated...

David Cornell - Showed good agility to get down smartly and keep out shots from Grubb and James but made it a little too easy for Reid to round him and score. Far quieter second-half... 6

Shay Facey - Looks at ease in his new role in the back three. His pace and power allow him to cover ground quickly and fill the gaps when the team-mates, especially those at wing-back, are out of position... 7

Jordan Turnbull - Struggled as much as anyone in the difficult conditions before half-time but carried out his duties competently thereafter, winning several timely tackles to halt dangerous counter-attacks. Got up brilliantly to set up the equaliser... 7

Aaron Pierre - All the focus will be on his second goal in two games – and it was an emphatic finish to get Cobblers level – but his defending shouldn’t be overlooked. Calm and composed and a real powerhouse when required... 8 CHRON STAR MAN

Billy Waters - Did too much defending and not enough attacking in the opening period, which doesn’t play to his strengths at wing-back, but was far more influential after the break. Had three opportunities in all, snatching at one and denied by Sanchez and a desperate block for the other two... 7

David Buchanan - His best game to date in the wing-back role. Displayed both sides to his game, defending in the first-half and finding advanced positions in the second. His set-pieces created chances, not least Town’s leveller... 7

Sam Foley - Was mostly chasing shadows as Forest Green bossed the first-half but his battling, gritty qualities were important in a scrappier second 45 minutes as Town wrestled the momentum. Was regularly seen in the thick of the action.. 7

John-Joe O’Toole - Stepped off the visiting midfield at times, creating the space for Rovers to play their passing game. Better in the second-half when he got tighter and more involved... 6

Matt Crooks - Any hint of Town scoring in the first-half came through his breaks out of defence but his passes didn’t hit their targets frequently enough. Involved in a nasty clash of heads and that may have impacted him prior to his withdrawal... 6

Sam Hoskins - Sent in a couple of testing crosses in the early stages and then came close to winning it when moved into a deeper role late on. Denied by Sanchez from a clever free-kick and then shot fractionally wide in stoppage-time... 7

Andy Williams - Worked tirelessly on a tough day for strikers and got his rewards at the very end, picking up the perfect position to score his first Cobblers goal and grab a dramatic win. Hopefully the first of many... 8

Substitutes

Kevin van Veen - Game-changer. Forced the corner which led to Pierre’s leveller and then did brilliantly to nick possession back and tee up the winner... 8

Jack Bridge - 6

Daniel Powell - 6