Football is a simple sport really. You just turn up, score more goals than the opposition and then go home. At least that’s how Northampton Town are making it look at the moment.
It is, of course, rarely that straightforward, and it certainly wasn’t as plain sailing as it appeared against Exeter City on Saturday. On the face of it, 3-0 looks convincing and for much of the first half, Chris Wilder’s side were full value for their lead.
However, as Wilder alluded to in his post-match interview, there were times when the Cobblers had to ride their luck against a strong Exeter side who could well end up challenging for promotion.
The visitors had their chances, particularly in the second half when Northampton took their foot off the gas, and only a combination of wayward finished and sharp goalkeeping kept them at bay.
But good sides, as they say, win scrappy and grind out results when not at their best. And let’s not forget, this was by no means a poor Northampton performance. They scored two excellent goals – a fabulous Jason Taylor volley and a swift counter-attack finished off by Marc Richards – and had other chances with Nicky Adams central to several well-worked moves.
The final 3-0 scoreline was perhaps a harsh reflection on the visitors who played their part in an entertaining and keenly-fought contest and it could quite easily have been a different story had they taken one of their two first half chances, but it wasn’t to be and the Cobblers held out for a third win in a week.
Despite that, though, Wilder was not a happy man afterwards and you can see where his frustration stems from. Though they were excellent before half-time, the Cobblers will need to cut out error-strewn periods of play, such as the second half on Saturday, if they are to mount a serious promotion push.
Wilder is a hard taskmaster who expects the very best from himself and his team and that can be no bad thing for a side who have lofty ambitions. Some managers may have been content with a 3-0 win, irrespective of the manner of the victory, but Wilder is someone who values the performance as much as the result and is always striving to improve, and there will certainly be no let-up for his players this season.
On an individual front, Adam Smith is yet to put a foot wrong in the Northampton goal and already looks at home in the number one jersey after another fine display against Exeter.
At just 22, he has all the attributes to be a top class goalkeeper. His speed off his line is a valuable asset for any team but especially one which doesn’t possess the greatest amount of pace in central defence, and he’s also a commanding presence in the air.
His shot-stopping ability, though not properly tested yet, has also stood up to all challenges so far, with Smith making one excellent save with his feet at a crucial time on Saturday.
It remains too soon to be certain but the early signs seem to indicate that the Cobblers have bought extremely well over the summer. The likes of Adam Smith, David Buchanan and Nicky Adams have all slotted straight into Wilder’s system and look excellent acquisitions, while Alfie Potter, Paul Corry, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Sam Hoskins have shown glimpses of what they can offer.
The bench on Saturday also looked strong and that’s further testament to Wilder and co’s summer transfer policy. Strength in depth and squad rotation will play a pivotal role in the next few weeks with six games coming up in a hectic 18 day period.
The signs of progress are there for all to see. The last time the Cobblers had six points after two league games was in 2004 and it took them until the very end of August – five games into the campaign – to reach six points last year. This time round it’s a different story. The key now is to find consistency.
“Some managers may have been content with a 3-0 win, irrespective of the manner of the victory, but Wilder is someone who values the performance as much as the result and is always striving to improve, That can be no bad thing.”James Heneghan
How they rated...
Adam Smith - The former Leicester man continues to impress between the sticks. Has all the attributes to become a top keeper and showcased them against Exeter. Was quick off his line, made one vital reaction save to keep it at 2-0 and was a commanding presence when any crosses came into his penalty area. Arguably Wilder’s best signing of the summer... 9 CHRON STAR MAN
Josh Lelan - A real mixed back from the youngster. Had a couple of rash moments and sometimes gets caught out positionally, but strong, quick and offers an attacking threat. Produced one goal-saving challenge at a crucial time with the Cobblers 1-0 up... 7.5
Zander Diamond - Cobblers looked more solid when he was on the pitch in the first half. Taken off at half-time as a precaution after tweaking his groin... 7.5
Ryan Cresswell - Commanding in the air but a few shaky moments alongside McDonald in the second half. Displayed his aerial prowess by heading home the second goal... 8
David Buchanan - Another summer signing who’s settled exceptionally well. Hardly put a foot wrong. Looks like he could run up and down the left wing all day long... 8
Joel Byrom - Couldn’t get into the game as much as he would like. The midfielder is an integral cog in Wilder’s wheel but had a rare off day, especially in the second half, and it showed in the team performance... 6.5
Jason Taylor - Does the ugly side of the game very effectively. Industrious, worked hard and won the ball back on numerous occasions. Scored a wonder goal to put Town ahead... 8.5
Alfie Potter - His direct running and pace will cause teams problems throughout the season. Linked up well at times but still seems to be finding his feet in Wilder’s system. Missed an open goal just after half-time which would have eased the nerves and killed the game off... 7
Nicky Adams - Pulled the strings in the number 10 role and was at the heart of almost every Northampton attack. Could have had more than the one assist had his team-mates finished better... 8.5
Lawson D’Ath - Seems to have built up a good understanding with his fellow attackers Potter and Adams. All three are a handful with their interchanging and fluidity. Could have had a couple of goals on another day... 7.5
Marc Richards - Hold up play wasn’t as sharp as it can be but offered good movement and wrapped up the win with a late third... 8
Rod McDonald - On for his debut at half-time and looked understandably hesitant at times. Has potential but will take time for him to adjust to this level... 6.5
Ricky Holmes - Again looked a threat off the bench. Gave Town a different attacking outlet and instrumental in the clinching goal... 8
Sam Hoskins - Only on for the final 10 minutes, during which time he was presented with one chance that was blocked... 6.5