If there were any concerns that Tuesday’s FA Cup disappointment might derail Northampton’s promotion charge, they were quickly extinguished by this highly polished performance that yielded three more precious points against Morecambe on Saturday.
Bar a mad 10-minute spell midway through the second half, this was as an emphatic and dominant performance as you are likely to see all season with the destiny of the three points rarely in doubt.
Though Tuesday’s defeat was hardly alarming given the quality of the opposition – and indeed the manner of the result – there may have been a few concerns that the Cobblers could begin to feel the effects of a demanding run of games during the past month.
But those concerns were misplaced and instead Northampton kept rolling on as goals from James Collins, John-Joe O’Toole and Rod McDonald earned them a deserved and convincing three points, even if there were a few jittery moments late on.
And there was the added bonus of a return to the League Two summit with previous leaders Plymouth only able to salvage a late point from their trip to fellow promotion chasers Bristol Rovers.
That result, coupled with Oxford’s win at Portsmouth in another key game in the promotion race, means Town now hold a commanding 11-point lead over fourth place.
But results elsewhere will matter not if the Cobblers keep on winning and keep on playing like this.
In a season of free-flowing, swashbuckling football that has yielded goals galore, Saturday’s first half performance was as good as anything that has been served up at Sixfields this term.
With the hosts dominant from the first whistle until the last, Morecambe could barely muster an attack of substance throughout the entire half as they were pinned back by wave after wave of Northampton pressure, with conductors Joel Byrom and John-Joe O’Toole pulling the strings in another supreme midfield showing from the Cobblers pair.
Whilst those two laid the platform, the movement, pace and directness of Ricky Holmes and Lee Martin combined with the strength and presence of Marc Richards and James Collins up front never gave the visitors a moment’s rest.
Having made all the running, the breakthrough eventually arrived on the half-hour mark and it came in opportunistic fashion.
Quick thinking was backed up by a moment class as Byrom’s exquisitely-taken short free-kick found Collins who marked his home debut with a characteristically classy finish, sweeping into the bottom corner first-time.
O’Toole then added a second, his sixth of the season, when diverting in Holmes’ cross-shot following another period of Cobblers supremacy during which there we chances for more.
It could have been more than two at half-time but just six minutes of the second half had passed when Martin swung in a deep corner and McDonald headed in his second Cobblers goal and Northampton’s 49th of the season to effectively kill the contest off, though not without a mini scare.
For 70 minutes of this game, it seemed just a matter of how many Northampton would score but Paul Mullin’s goal 20 minutes from time caused an uncomfortable finish.
A crazy 10-minute spell ensued during which Morecambe time and again had the opportunity to catch Northampton on the break with the home side caught between defending their lead and adding to it.
The Cobblers were indebted to Morecambe’s lousy decision-making and poor final ball, otherwise this game could have ended very differently had the visitors made better use of several three-on-two situations with the hosts guilty of over-committing men forward and leaving spaces at the back to be exploited.
But Northampton regained their composure as their ability to keep possession for long periods took the sting out of the game and saw little drama in the final few moments.
Aside from the result itself, a particularly pleasing aspect of this win was the performance of Lee Martin.
The Millwall man slotted seamlessly in; his direct, sharp, lively style of play tailor-made for Wilder’s system with him and Holmes constantly switching sides and linking up to devastating effect.
With a busy February coming up, it will be no surprise to see Martin’s one-month loan deal extended, especially after the 28-year-old hinted he’d be keen on a longer stay at Sixfields following the match.
But whether Martin stays or go, there seems to be no halting Northampton’s promotion charge with the Cobblers now the Football League’s leading point scorers across all four divisions.
This incredible season is showing no sign of abating.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Made one important stop from Fleming just after Town took the lead. Unlucky with Morecambe’s goal having saved the initial effort... 7
Brendan Moloney - Overlapping runs down the right allowed Holmes to run riot, even if that did give Morecambe a sniff at the other end... 7
Zander Diamond - One of his less eventful afternoons. Hardly put a foot wrong in a performance where he was rarely threatened bar a late flurry from the visitors... 7
Rod McDonald - Rose well to head home the third but at fault for Morecambe’s goal. Should have done more to cut out a long ball over the top... 7
David Buchanan - Excellent for the first hour but guilty of getting caught too high up in the closing stages which gave Morecambe space to exploit on the break... 7
John-Joe O’Toole - Once again ran the show alongside Byrom. In the right place at the right time for his sixth goal of the season... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
Joel Byrom - Smart thinking and perfect execution created the opener for Collins. Passing was sublime all afternoon... 8
Ricky Holmes - A constant threat, whether that was from the left, right or through the centre. Could have had three or four assists with better finishing from team-mates... 8
Lee Martin - Has slotted in seamlessly. Looked lively from the off with his direct running and clever movement. Could and probably should have scored two goals early on before setting up the third... 8
James Collins - Took his goal superbly, finding the bottom corner with a first-time finish. A handful all afternoon... 8
Marc Richards - Looked up for the fight from the first whistle. Involved in plenty of what Northampton did well. Will be frustrated not to have scored from a couple of decent chances... 7
Jaston Taylor - 6
Nicky Adams - 6
Sam Hoskins - 6