Northampton Town 2 Notts County 2 '“ match review, player ratings and highlights
The champagne was placed back on ice for another week at least as Notts County played the role of party poopers at a sun-drenched Sixfields on Saturday when Cobblers were forced to delay their celebrations after performance where they threatened to reach top gear but instead flattered to deceive.
With Sixfields bathed in glorious spring sunshine, the new East Stand finally open for business and a free-falling Magpies side in town, the scene was all set for a party but, in reality, promotion on Saturday always felt an unlikely scenario given that both Bristol Rovers and Accrington Stanley had winnable home games.
As it happened, the results of those games were rendered futile by Northampton’s inability to beat a spirited Magpies side whose performance belied their lowly league position.
Coming into this game on the back of two points from their last nine games, County did not perform like a side short on confidence, even if they were overrun by a rampant start by their table-topping hosts.
Instead, led by the impressive Stanley Aborah in midfield, the Magpies looked a side boosted by the arrival of a new manager with fresh ideas and they can count themselves a fraction unfortunate not to have come away with more than just a point.
It takes an almighty effort to beat this gutsy Cobblers team though, as they once again gritted their teeth and battled back to move a point nearer their target.
After a fast start promised so much and delivered so little, Northampton struggled to ever find their groove for a fifth successive game as County became the latest side to adopt the tenacious approach and press Northampton hard and regularly, forcing the league leaders into sloppy mistakes.
That’s the reality of being a side who’ve outperformed everyone else so emphatically; every team wants to be the one to stop Chris Wilder’s rampaging Cobblers, whose unbeaten run now stands at 18, just three short of the club’s record.
But Northampton can scrap and fight their way in games too, which is another reason behind their phenomenal success this season.
You almost have to physically bully them off the pitch to get a result and while a run of disjointed, out-of-sorts performances would normally give cause for concern, this Cobblers side have built up enough credit in the bank to get away with more than the odd off day.
In truth, you cannot realistically expect any team at any level to maintain such a high level of performance across a gruelling nine-month, 46-game campaign, especially towards the back end of a remarkably successful season when bodies become weary and minds turn to party time.
Although, with that said, Wilder will be keen to ensure his side continue their momentum until the end of the season and into next.
On Saturday, Northampton came out flying but struggled to pick the lock of a resolute County rearguard and they appeared to have frittered away their early momentum, only to regain it in sensational fashion as Ricky Holmes threw away the key and smashed the door down in typically outrageous fashion.
The little magician has time and again mastered how to control a dropping ball on the wand that is his right foot, and that was exemplified on 32 minutes when adding to his vast array of individual screamers by sending a sweet first-time volley crashing into the bottom corner from 20 yards.
That’s when you felt Northampton would grab the game by the scruff of the neck and really assert themselves as the superior team, a feeling supported by the chasm which separates these two in the League Two table.
Instead of retreating into their shells, however, County responded admirably and four minutes later, they were back on level terms.
Their equaliser was a contentious one; Nicky Adams appeared to be fouled in the build-up before Liam Noble looked suspiciously offside, but Thierry Audel’s goal stood despite Adam Smith’s best efforts.
Thereafter, County seemed to take confidence from pegging back the league leaders and enjoyed the better of the next 30 minutes, culminating in Jon Stead’s penalty after a rare Rod McDonald error.
That put Northampton behind in a home match for the first time in 2016 but it would not last long – barely three minutes in fact – as Holmes won a suspiciously soft penalty at the other end, converted by the man himself to take his tally into double figures for the season.
With County now shutting up shop and happy to take a point back to Nottingham, there was only one team who showed any intent on trying to win it.
Northampton should have done too, only John Marquis will know how he blazed so far over when eight yards out with the goal at his mercy.
Ultimately, it’s another point and another step closer, one which means they now have their destiny in their own hands next Saturday when, in front of what could well be a Sixfields record crowd, a win over in-form Bristol Rovers will clinch promotion and possibly the title.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Pulled off a fine stop from Noble, only for the rebound to be turned in, and Stead gave him no chance with the penalty. Only had routine saves aside from those.... 6
Brendan Moloney - Great going forward, including one brilliant mazy run, but got sucked in for the first County goal, even if there was a suspicion of offside... 7
Zander Diamond - Tends to have a panicky moment in every game and this was no different, however that went against the grain in a largely tidy performance... 7
Rod McDonald - Virtually error-free for 70 minutes when his terrible header resulted in the penalty. Shame as he had looked so secure before that... 7
David Buchanan - Back to his usual dependable self and was best of the rest after Holmes... 7
Ricky Holmes - Another star performance. Wonderful volley for the opener followed by a well-taken penalty. Almost won it too had someone gambled on his lethal cross in stoppage time... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
John-Joe O’Toole - Superb first-half, winning tackles, making line-breaking passes and getting back to help his defence, but had less of an impact after half-time.. 7
Danny Rose - Conceded the penalty but was one of few blots in an excellent midfield performance. Passing and positioning excellent all afternoon, should have teed up the winner too... 7
Nicky Adams - Looked up for it from the word go and caused early problems before his threat gradually diminished... 6
Marc Richards - Put himself about and held the ball up well at times but that’s clutching at straws on a day where he had little joy.... 6
James Collins - Seems to have gone off the boil since his day at the races, none more so than this totally ineffectual display. Only notable contribution was nearly inadvertently deflecting home Moloney’s shot... 5
John Marquis - Made a real impact off the bench, but did miss a last-minute sitter... 7
Lawson D’Ath - Less said the better... 4
Sam Hoskins - 6