If it’s true that all the best teams grind out results when not at their best, then the signs bode well for Northampton Town following a second come-from-behind victory in the space of four days.
The Cobblers never reached top gear in either of their home games against Carlisle United and then Stevenage, falling behind in both, but they held their nerve, stayed patient and ground out two excellent victories that take them to within a point of second place in Sky Bet League Two.
Saturday’s encounter followed a familiar pattern to the game four days earlier as a laboured, disjointed first half display, which saw the home side go into half-time deservedly trailing 1-0 to Steven Schumacher’s opener, made way for a more fluent, dominant second half performance that culminated in a well-earned victory.
Northampton have been good frontrunners this season – once they get ahead, they tend to stay ahead because it forces the opponents to show more adventure which, in turn, allows Town to play on the break and open teams up with greater regularity through the pace and creativity of players like Nicky Adams, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Sam Hoskins.
John-Joe O’Toole and Joel Byrom, who seem to be building a good understanding in the centre of midfield, were key to Saturday’s win, both kept things simple and laid the platform for the attacking players to thrive.
It’s no accident that Northampton’s turnaround in form has coincided with O’Toole’s return to the side with the powerful midfielder now off the transfer list and on a run of seven straight starts.
O’Toole brings a different dimension to the team, he’s a driving force in midfield and is excellent at keeping hold of the ball with simple yet penetrative passes that allow Northampton’s more creative, flair players to do their thing, and he has become an integral cog in Wilder’s system.
Saturday’s victory maintains Town’s excellent run of form, making it four wins in five league games and just one defeat in nine.
Northampton fans have not always been universally supportive of Chris Wilder but surely no one can deny the quite remarkable job he’s doing given the trying circumstances.
He’s got the supporters on side and the players playing for each other, and that combination is giving fans plenty to smile and shout about irrespective of the mounting problems away from football.
To put it into context, this is Northampton’s joint-highest points tally (27) after 15 league games since the 1990/1991 Division Four campaign when they had 28 points at this stage.
Town have twice had 27 points after 15 games – in Division Two in 1997/98 and then again in the same division three years later – but never more than that prior to 1990.
So steering Northampton to fourth, a point off second, is a very fine achievement and one which would be lauded even if the club weren’t embroiled in a never-ending saga off the pitch.
And those problems only serve to illustrate just what a sterling job Wilder is doing and if the Cobblers ever manage to resolve their off-field problems, he is just the man to take the club forward and onto bigger and better things.
“This is Northampton’s joint-highest points tally (27) after 15 league games since the 1990/1991 Division Four campaign when they had 28 points at this stage.”James Heneghan
The 2-1 victory over Stevenage also means it’s now 75 games and 603 days since Northampton were last involved in a goalless draw, which came at home to Bristol Rovers on March 1, 2014.
And judging by the evidence of this season, you can see why it’s been so long with Wilder prepared to sacrifice defensive solidity for attacking flair and provide supporters with entertainment, even if it does mean some heart-in-mouth moments at the back.
That was again evident on Saturday and at times the Cobblers could have been punished for their tendency to over-commit men forward, but they weren’t and they earned another good victory, one which puts them top of the League Two form table with 17 points from their last eight games.
Now for a trip to Wales.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Deflection rendered him helpless for Boro’s goal. Commanding from corners but had little to do otherwise... 7
Darnell Furlong - Cobblers’ best player in a laboured first half display. His driving runs forward seemed the most likely source of a goal... 7
Shaun Brisley - Forced off after just 10 minutes... 6
Zander Diamond - Recovered after a wobbly first half. Led the back line superbly to keep Stevenage at bay in the second half... 7
David Buchanan - Excellent at both ends of the pitch. Created the first goal with a pinpoint cross and made several crucial interventions to prevent a couple of dangerous Stevenage crosses from reaching their target... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
John-Joe O’Toole - Another excellent performance in the heart of midfield which is becoming something of a regular occurrence these days. The less said about his long-range shooting the better... 7
Joel Byrom - A fine display from the midfielder, one of his best this season. Demonstrated his all-round contribution with some crunching tackles and incisive passing. Manufactured the second goal with a deft outside-of-the-boot ball down the line to Adams.... 7.5
Nicky Adams - One of his quieter days although did play a big role in the second by sliding through Calvert-Lewin... 6.5
Sam Hoskins - A standard tenacious performance from the former Stevenage man. Played a key part in the equaliser… 7
Dominic Calvert-Lewin - On the fringes of the game for large parts but displayed a typical striker’s instinct to divert Hoskins’ shot into the net to bring Town level... 7
Marc Richards - Got more into the game after half-time. Will be disappointed to not have come away with at least one goal... 6
Rod McDonald - Doesn’t fill fans with confidence but did relatively well given he’s only just come back from injury. Does bring some much-needed pace to the centre of defence... 6
Alfie Potter - Brought renewed impetus and energy to the side as a second half sub and made an instant impact with his goal... 7
Ryan Watson - 6