The FA Cup is famed for underdogs defying the odds and upsetting the form book, but at Sxfields on Saturday, Northampton played the role of party poopers to perfection by dishing out a lesson in how to avoid being the victims of a famous cup shock.
Harrow Borough rocked up at Sixfields with aspirations of causing a seismic upset but from the moment of Paul Anderson’s superb seventh-minute opener, hopes of a famous cup shock drastically diminished before being extinguished completely in a one-sided second-half.
It’s something of a no-win situation for sides in Northampton’s position going into Saturday’s tie because they’re such overwhelming favourites to progress.
But Rob Page’s men dealt with that tag expertly to waltz into round two, producing a thoroughly professional and competent performance to make it three wins on the spin.
Harrow’s approach was admirable, if risky. Instead of sitting back and putting men behind the ball, they took the game to Northampton and played with a refreshing sense of freedom and enterprise.
And that was reflected in the fact they created genuine chances and arguably shaded the first-half in the period between Northampton’s second goal and the half-time whistle.
But the Cobblers seldom looked rattled and always retained an element of control, even if they did become a bit sloppy and perhaps a fraction complacent after flying into a 2-0 lead.
An early goal is always key for higher-ranked teams in games like this and that’s exactly what Town got here through Anderson’s first-time stunner, and there was then the added bonus of Marc Richards’ second within five minutes.
That could have taken the punch out of Harrow’s big day out but to their immense credit, the Ryman League side didn’t let those early blows burst their bubble, with the home side always having to be on their guard.
A few near misses here and there may have given the game a very different complexion going into half-time, and then Marc Charles-Smith spurned Harrow’s clearest opening when meekly firing too close to Adam Smith having got clear of the Town defence.
Still, only two behind and fighting at half-time, there was no disgrace in Harrow’s performance.
However, once Richards nodded in his second shortly after the restart, the second-half quickly descended into a case of how many Northampton fancied scoring, and they eventually settled on six, leaving those hoping for a cup shock disappointed.
John-Joe O’Toole poked home a fourth, Matty Taylor delivered a trademark free-kick and the mercurial JJ Hooper capped off a job thoroughly well done when he bundled in a stoppage-time sixth.
And so the free-scoring Cobblers continue on their merry way, taking their tally to a mighty impressive 13 goals from three matches and romping into Monday’s second round draw.
Tougher opponents than Harrow lie on the horizon but a winning habit is a handy knack to have, and with six goals, a clean sheet and a place in the second round, this was the perfect example in how to negotiate a potentially tricky hurdle.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Not his busiest afternoon between the sticks and though he wasn’t a complete spectator, he easily dealt with what little work did come his way... 7
Brendan Moloney - Charged forward regularly, the first goal stemming from one of his bursts, and had few troubles defensively... 7
Zander Diamond - Got the wrong side of Charles-Smith for Harrow’s best chance of the game but had little else to do... 6
Gabriel Zakuani - Was always well stationed to make a timely intervention, both with head and feet, on the rare times Harrow did threaten... 7
David Buchanan - Peach of a cross teed up Richards for his major influence of a comfortable day at the office... 7
Jak McCourt - A low-key first-half was followed by a very short second when forced off through injury... 6
Matty Taylor - Controlled the game with his vision and ability to pick a pass, capped off by a trademark free-kick - the fourth he’s scored already this season and it’s not even December... 8
Sam Hoskins - Another vibrant performance. Was a menace for Harrow throughout, always seeking the ball and looking to drive at defenders. Put in a real defensive shift too... 8
Paul Anderson - Stunning strike got Cobblers up and running and that set the tone. Involved in plenty of Northampton’s good play... 8
JJ Hooper - Such an enigmatic character. Infuriating at times with his final ball and decision-making but can be such a threat with his pace and strength. Finally got his first Cobblers goal late on... 7
Marc Richards - Now has four goals in two games after another brace here, both were typical of a goalscorer too as got in the right place at the right time to prod in from close-range... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
John-Joe O’Toole - Got himself straight into the action with an excellent cross for the third and then bagged a goal himself... 7
Alex Revell - 7
Alfie Potter - 6