Page starts with a draw as Cobblers are held by Fleetwood
The Rob Page era at Northampton Town began with an encouraging if slightly frustrating 1-1 draw with Fleetwood Town as a sun-kissed Sixfields kicked off the new Sky Bet League One season on a glorious Saturday afternoon.
The frustration stems from the fact the Cobblers had this game under control from the moment they had taken a nine-minute lead through Chris Neal’s own goal.
But their failure to kill Fleetwood off when in the ascendancy came back to bite them as Victor Nirennold’s second-half header ensured the Cod Army left Sixfields with a share of the spoils.
Nonethless, there was plenty to be encouraged about and the point does at least extend Northampton’s unbeaten run to 25 league games.
A decidedly unconvincing pre-season campaign had given some cause for concern coming into Saturday’s curtain-raiser but there was nothing concerning about Northampton’s first-half performance.
The home side dominated large periods and could have gone into half-time with a more comfortable advantage if they had been more ruthless in the final third, while the performances of all six debutants were promising, particularly the hard-working Harry Beautyman and classy Matthew Taylor in midfield.
But Fleetwood improved after half-time and earned what was probably a deserved draw, albeit only after weathering some late pressure from the home side.
Of the nine summer recruits, Aaron Phillips, Gabriel Zakuani, Taylor, Beautyman, Kenji Gorre and Alex Revell were all handed their debuts by Page, who himself was taking charge of his first competitive game as the Northampton manager.
Taylor started in a midfield two alongside John-Joe O’Toole with Gorre and Beautyman the two wide men behind Revell and captain Marc Richards as the home side lined up 4-4-2.
There were no chances to speak of in a frenetic opening eight minutes but Northampton required only one opportunity to break the deadlock.
The season’s opening goal arrived on nine minutes and came in slightly fortuitous fashion when Fleetwood failed to deal with a corner.
The ball dropped to Revell on the edge of the area and his well-struck low effort cannoned off the post, onto visiting goalkeeping Neal and back into the net.
The nature of the goal mattered not to the 5,000 home fans packed into Sixfields and with their tails now up, the Cobblers got themselves on the front foot and dominated possession.
Chances remained few and far between despite some well-worked passages of play from the home side, while Ashley Hunter almost got on the end of a loose ball for Fleetwood who also had a penalty appeal turned down.
Slowly but surely, Fleetwood gained a foothold in the game and they came close again through David Ball who dragged a shot into the side-netting.
Cobblers remained a constant threat, however, and Gorre’s slick footwork won a free-kick on the left and Taylor’s subsequent delivery appeared certain to yield a second goal but Nathan Pond somehow scrambled off the line in a crowded penalty box.
With the tide turning back into Town’s favour after a brief lull, the home side again came desperately close to doubling their lead on the brink of half-time but Gorre could only spoon over Beautyman’s fizzzed cross after a flowing move which also involved Revell and Taylor.
The lead remained at one going into the break, and Fleetwood came out in the second-half with renewed impetus and they were level within six minutes of the restart.
Right-back Conor McLaughlin was the architect as his pinpoint cross found its way through to Nirennold at the back post, and nodded beyond Adam Smith and into the far corner.
Northampton responded well to the setback with Zander Diamond poking Taylor’s free-kick over the crossbar before Richards fired straight at Neal after a one-two with O’Toole.
But Fleetwood had improved since half-time and they were starting to pose more problems for Northampton as the game wore on, particularly through lively substitute Devante Cole, with Ball almost putting the visitors in front but he could only shoot straight at Smith.
Either side looked capable of taking away all three points and it was Northampton who perhaps had the clearest opportunity to do so, but Richards - of all people - sent a tame shot too close to Neal after the ball had fallen kindly to him inside the penalty area.
That was to be the game’s final chance despite some late Northampton pressure as the Cobblers kicked off the new campaign with a draw.
Cobblers: Smith, Phillips, Diamond, Zakuani, Buchanan, O’Toole, Taylor, Beautyman (Potter 65), Gorre (Hoskins 77), Revell, Richards (c)
Subs not used: Cornell, McDonald, Taylor, D’Ath, Byrom
Fleetwood: Neal, McLaughlin, Bell, Pond (c), Eastham, Jonsson, Ryan, Nirennold, Grant (Duckworth 84), Ball (Amadi-Holloway 75), Hunter (Cole 65)
Subs not used: Cairns, Bolger, Kip, Haughton
Referee: Andy Haines