Rarely has the phrase goals change games been more pertinent than it was in this topsy-turvy League Two clash on Tuesday evening when Northampton Town fought back from a goal down to beat Carlisle United 3-2 and move into the play-off places.
Leading 1-0 just before half-time, the Cumbrians appeared in total control of this contest as they created several presentable opportunities to score what surely would have been a game-clinching second goal, with former Cobbler Derek Asamoah particularly threatening up front.
It was Asamoah who struck the post as Carlisle continued to make all the running in the lead up to half-time, but moments later and with seconds of the first half remaining, Northampton’s teenager loanee Dominic Calvert-Lewin headed in Nicky Adams’ corner and completely changed the course of the game.
Football is so often a game of fine margins and Tuesday’s encounter was another prime example.
From the moment Calvert-Lewin headed Town level, only one side looked like winning with Sam Hoskins then benefiting from a welcome slice of luck to complete the turnaround just after the restart.
Calvert-Lewin added his second of the day midway through the half, sweetly volleying low into the bottom corner from another Adams corner, and though Charlie Wyke set up a tense finish with a stoppage time strike, the Cobblers held on for all three points.
Reflecting on the game as a whole, this was ultimately a deserved victory for Northampton, who dominated the first quarter and then most of the second half, but it was the 20-minute spell towards the end of the opening period that will give most cause for concern.
It was a fine victory against an excellent side but it should not detract from the fact that there were some worrying moments for the Cobblers, who rode their luck at times.
Carlisle’s strong 20-minute spell in the first half followed a pattern in keeping with a familiar theme this season for Northampton, who enjoyed more possession but when they lost the ball, Wilder’s side again looked susceptible at the back with Carlisle, and Asamoah in particular, a constant menace for the home defence.
Once again they were indebted to Adam Smith who pulled off a pivotal save when Asamoah was through one-on-one at 1-0. Score that and it’s a very different game.
In addition, Northampton’s tendency to play out from precarious positions was almost the making of their own downfall on several occasions as they failed to learn from Joel Byrom’s hesitant play on the edge of his own penalty area which led to Alex Gilliead’s opener.
But they say the best teams find a way to win when perhaps not at their most fluent best and once Calvert-Lewin pulled Town level, the home side found their stride and deservedly took the spoils.
It was a masterclass in how to get your timings right and score goals at crucial moments.
That’s now six goals for the season for Calvert-Lewin, just two shy of his elder statesmen and vastly more experienced team-mate Marc Richards, and on this evidence, there’s absolutely no reason why the 18-year-old can’t catch the Cobbers skipper.
Nicky Adams was just as crucial in this victory as he once again demonstrated his importance to Northampton, particularly in the absence of Ricky Holmes, as he delivered two pinpoint set-pieces to take his assist tally to nine for the season.
And manager Chris Wilder also deserves a huge amount of credit for the way he continues to defy the odds and grind out results in these traumatic times for supporters and players alike. It’s that determination and spirit that will serve the Cobblers well going forward.
Tuesday’s win had it’s hairy moments but there’s no doubting that Northampton supporters have been long overdue a bit of luck.
Let’s hope it’s a sign of things to come.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Was well beaten for the first goal but pulled off what proved a match-winning save from Asamoah when Carlisle were leading 1-0... 7
Darnell Furlong - Another fine showing from the young full-back. Began the move that led to the third goal with a superb break down the right... 7
Shaun Brisley - Has helped shore up the Cobblers defence but they continue to look vulnerable against pace and long balls over the top. Much better after half-time... 6
Ryan Cresswell - Forced off after only 18 minutes due to injury... 6
David Buchanan - Another no thrills performance as he quietly went about his business at left-back... 7
Joel Byrom - Robbed of possession after dilly-dallying on the ball for the first goal. Partially made amends by teeing up Hoskins and did improve in the second half... 6
John-Joe O’Toole - A bit too casual in possession at times and was fortunate to get away with one sloppy pass in the first half but like his midfield partner, much better as the game progressed... 7
Sam Hoskins - Moved out wide to accommodate Calvert-Lewin. Always a willing runner and was rewarded for his hard work with a fortunate goal. You can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket... 7.5
Nicky Adams - The one Northampton player that looked capable of making something happen. His delivery into the box repeatedly causes teams problems and Carlisle had no answer... 8
Dominic Calvert-Lewin - Took his two goals very well, particularly the second. Has a big future on the evidence of this season... 9 CHRON STAR MAN
Marc Richards - Outshone by his young strike partner on another subdued performance from the striker... 6
Zander Diamond - Had one or two shaky moments having come on as an early sub but looked more assured as the game wore on... 6
Alfie Potter - 6
Jason Taylor - 6