If anyone ever wanted an example of how the destiny of a football match can hinge on one moment, this curious but mostly one-sided contest between two teams seemingly heading in different directions offered the perfect illustration.
Devoid of ideas, lacking a certain zest and struggling for inspiration, Northampton were far from their best in a sluggish first-half that painted neither side in the best light.
The Cobblers looked laboured, as if they were feeling the aftereffects of the razzmatazz of Wednesday, and while Southend edged proceedings, neither side had done enough to warrant anything other than a goalless half.
It seemed very much a case of after the Lord Mayor’s show following the glitz and glamour of Manchester United in midweek.
But then everything changed. One needless handball, one fortunate deflection, one questionable piece of goalkeeping and suddenly the game’s trajectory veered towards a very different destination.
What had threatened to become a long, frustrating afternoon for the Cobblers turned into a rout as they went through the gears, ruthlessly punished some charitable Southend defending and romped to an emphatic victory that was the perfect riposte to back-to-back defeats.
It was just the boost everyone needed. If Town are to survive and indeed thrive at this level they must pounce on any openings that come their way, which is precisely what they did, albeit only after labouring through the first period.
Thee phrase ‘a game of two halves’ very much springs to mind; a sluggish, lacklustre and tedious opening 45 minutes gave no indication of what was to come.
Southend shaded what life there was in the first-half as Northampton struggled to adapt to the blustery conditions.
That said, United’s approach of lumping hopeful balls into the box bore little fruit against the excellent Zander Diamond and Gabriel Zakuani who rekindled their promising partnership.
For Northampton, it was all about keeping themselves in the game until the second-half when they could use the tricky conditions to their advantage, and that’s exactly what they did.
Southend did themselves no favours and three abject, needless and costly errors virtually gift-wrapped victory to their gleeful hosts who were more than happy to accept.
Mark Oxley was first at fault, allowing John-Joe O’Toole to sweep home an opener, before Jason Demetriou’s bewildering decision to haul down Paul Anderson resulted in a red card and a penalty.
There was some confusion as to whether or not the foul warranted a red card under the new rules – Shrimpers boss Phil Brown felt particularly aggrieved afterwards – but because he made no attempt to play the ball, the referee’s decision was the correct one.
Alex Revell rolled home the penalty, Matty Taylor offered another remainder of his class with a sensational free-kick and Anderson put the gloss on a superb victory with a sweet finish late on, compounding Southend’s misery.
Northampton weren’t made to work hard for this victory but even so, it was an impressive one due to the ruthless nature of their second-half performance.
And now they rise to fifth, a position that ensures their solid start to life in League One becomes a mighty fine one.
No one was quite sure what to expect from Rob Page and his new-look squad this season, but few could have seen this start coming.
The season is still very much in its infancy of course and a couple of defeats can change everything, but carry on like this and talk of ‘doing a Burton’ won’t seem so premature.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Started as expected after Wednesday’s nightmare and this was just the game he needed, hardly troubled and comfortably dealt with what did come his way... 7
Brendan Moloney - Not as prominent as he sometimes is but that’s not to say he had a poor game. Was kept busy in the first-half, though seldom looked ruffled... 7
Zander Diamond - A comfortable 90 minutes for the Scotsman who always positioned himself well to mop up the danger and prevent threatening attacks from developing further... 8
Gabriel Zakuani - Coped well with the ariel threat of Southend and seemed to win everything. Cobblers defence always looks more robust with him in it... 8
David Buchanan - Keeps churning out the performances, sometimes flies below the radar but his importance is never unappreciated by the Sixfields faithful... 7
Jak McCourt - Screened the back four well and played his part in the crucial first goal, albeit largely thanks to a goalkeeping mistake. Wisely substituted at 3-0 having thrown himself around... 8
Paul Anderson - Flashed in and out of the game. Showed some nice touches and put the seal on a terrific victory with a excellent finish... 7
John-Joe O’Toole - Seemed to cover every blade of grass in a performance that evoked memories of last season. First-half was characterised by crunching tackles before being more influential at the other end, making the crucial breakthrough... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
Matty Taylor - After a subdued first-half, really came to the fore after half-time, the highlight being that fabulous free-kick... 7
Sam Hoskins - As vibrant as anyone throughout, his movement and pace always keeping Southend on their toes. Lovely pass created the space for Town’s fourth... 8
Alex Revell - Too isolated in the first-half but playing with the wind after half-time helped his cause. Scored his third penalty in four games and took his tally for the season up to six... 7
Harry Beautyman - 7
Marc Richards - 6
JJ Hooper - 6