Portsmouth 1 Northampton Town 2 '“ match review, player ratings and highlights
It ended the way it had all begun nine months ago; wearing pink, in front of a packed house, on a glorious summer's day and, of course, with victory.
That win at Bristol Rovers on the opening day – which feels a lifetime ago – was mirrored on Saturday as the Cobblers rounded out a truly unforgettable campaign by doing something they’ve become rather good at: winning.
The opposition has changed every week but the manner of Northampton’s approach remains the same and this time it was Portsmouth who were on the receiving end of their latest accomplished performance which capped off a glorious campaign in appropriate fashion.
What amazes you most about this team is their relentless determination to win every game, make every tackle and complete every pass.
Since winning the title, there’s not been a hint of easing off or downing tools, if anything they seem to have just gone up another gear over these last four games.
Often when a team is crowned champions with time to spare, there’s a natural and understandable downturn in form because the edge is taken off the performance.
But that could not be further removed from the reality in Northampton’s case as Chris Wilder and his players just keep churning out the results, racking up the points and re-writing the history books.
Speaking of which, yet more club records were broken courtesy of Saturday’s win.
Just two away defeats all season – both of which came before mid-October – is a quite staggering feat, as is the fact they’ve only lost five games in all throughout the entire campaign.
Not only that, it’s the quality of the teams which they’ve dispatched.
Bristol Rovers, Oxford United, Portsmouth, Wycombe Wanderers, Leyton Orient and Carlisle United all finished in the top 10 yet all succumbed to home defeats to the Cobblers.
They perform in the big games, and they did so again on Saturday.
While the statistics may paint the picture of a tight, closely-fought contest, the reality told a different story, one which Northampton always held the edge.
And this is the thing: Northampton always seem to control and dictate games, even when they don’t necessarily have control of possession.
Saturday’s first-half at Fratton Park was the prime example. Portsmouth saw plenty of the ball but Cobblers rarely looked under too much pressure or in any real danger, particularly after taking an early lead.
In fact, throughout the whole game, Portsmouth’s only real sight of goal stemmed from a Northampton mistake, even Kal Naismith’s sensational equaliser was a speculative long-range effort.
It highlighted Northampton’s game management perfectly. They know what do to, when to do it and how to carry it out, both with and without the ball.
Curiously, though, their only wobble in the game, which coincided with Portsmouth’s best spell, came immediately after the home side had been reduced to 10 men as Kieron Freeman saw red for a terrible lunge on John-Joe O’Toole.
That seemed to galvanise and inspire Portsmouth who, helped by Naismith’s goal moments later, rocked their visitors and posed more of a threat with 10 men than they had with 11.
But the Cobblers haven’t cantered to the title by panicking in sticky situations and after riding out the storm, they regained control and only a poor final ball prevented them from cutting through and restoring their lead.
The pressure built and built and finally it told as James Collins deftly converted David Buchanan’s cross to spark more wild scenes of celebration and jubilation among the superb travelling fans, who have become rather accustomed to celebrating this season.
There were some amusing comments that emerged later on Saturday, most notably from Oxford boss Michael Appleton when he suggested his side are the best team in the division.
While Oxford may have scored more goals, conceded less and play the most pleasing-on-the-eye football, Northampton have won the league thanks to their adaptability and capacity to win all types of games in all different ways across a 46-game season.
Whether that’s through attractive football, grinding teams down or by competing physically.
If there were two or three points between the teams, you could argue either way, but 13 points is a comprehensive, conclusive margin and there can be surely no argument that Northampton are this season’s cream of the crop.
Because the fact of the matter is, they are.
Since December 19, Northampton have played every team in the division and not lost a single game.
They haven’t just pipped their rivals, they’ve obliterated them.
The season might be over but the memories will last a lifetime.
A season for the ages.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Terrific reaction stop denied Naismith first-half but will be disappointed not to have denied the same man after half-time, even if it was a ferocious hit... 7
Josh Lelan - Bar a few panicky moments, this was another confident and steady performance from the young defender who may have done enough to earn a contract for next season... 7
Zander Diamond - Sloppily gifted possession away more than once in a shaky start but recovered and was rarely put under much pressure from the home side... 7
Luke Prosser - Positioned himself well to clear the danger in one of his more composed displays in a Cobblers shirt... 7
David Buchanan - Gave the ball away for Pompey’s leveller but that was a rare blip in a brilliant debut season and he soon made amends when delivering a perfect cross for the winner... 7
John-Joe O’Toole - Less influential on the ball than normal but disciplined when out of possession and put in some crunching tackles... 7
Danny Rose - Competed well at both ends of the pitch. Showed good defensive awareness first-half before offering more of an attacking threat after half-time, architect of several well-worked passages of play... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
Lawson D’Ath - One of his better days of a troubling end to the season but remains short on confidence and couldn’t impact the game in the way he would have wanted... 6
Nicky Adams - Bright start and it was his teasing cross which forced Whatmough to divert into his own net before his influence waned... 7
Ricky Holmes - With a point to prove against his former club, he almost tried too hard at times as Pompey kept him closely guarded with a few rough challenges... 7
John Marquis - Clinical edge still missing, scooping over one good chance early on, but held the ball up well... 7
Alfie Potter - 6
James Collins - 7
Sam Hoskins - 6