Rochdale 1 Northampton Town 1 '“ match review, player ratings and highlights
Even when destined to finish in the obscurity of mid-table, life is seldom dull when the Cobblers are in town.
Whether it’s late goals for or against, on the road or at home, under Rob Page or Justin Edinburgh, this season has been far from the standard stress-free stroll towards a mid-table finish most teams experience.
But the journey to mid-table is irrelevant. All that matters is the destination and they now seem certain to finish comfortably above water this season, all the more so following Saturday’s dramatic draw at Rochdale which was achieved in spectacular fashion.
Considering the glum atmosphere at Sixfields on the night of Northampton’s damaging defeat to Oldham only four weeks ago, it is remarkable how swiftly and impressively they’ve turned their fortunes around, something only illustrated by this well-earned draw at Spotland.
It was both the manner and the consequences of that defeat against the Latics which seemingly left the Cobblers staring down the relegation barrel and facing a long and arduous fight to preserve their League One status.
But three wins, two draws and one unfortunate yet spirited defeat later – conceding only five goals in the process – and suddenly the picture has drastically changed and surely now they find themselves in a position that ensures their season will be viewed as a success come May.
From conceding late goals to scoring them, and from away day mauling to gutsy performances and hard-earned points, Town’s transformation was evident in its entirety on Saturday when they left Spotland with the point their accomplished display merited.
The fact they even went into a game like this with genuine belief they could emerge with a positive result was an achievement in itself bearing in mind previous away day experiences in 2017.
And as it turned out, that new-found belief proved justified.
Of course, it’s true that Rochdale’s form has dropped off alarmingly since New Year’s Day, but nevertheless their home record remains impressive – just one defeat since August – and they remain a free-scoring team who have put three or more goals past the likes of Millwall and Sheffield United in recent weeks.
They also went into Saturday on the back of scoring 13 goals in their last four home games, including three 3-3 draws, helping make them the highest home scorers in the division.
The Cobblers have had their struggles on the road this season but after the win at AFC Wimbledon and the performance at Bolton Wanderers, there was hope they’d continue that distinctly upward trend at Spotland on Saturday.
They did so in a first-half that constantly threatened to burst into life without ever doing so as excellent defending at both ends kept attacks quiet and left strikers frustrated, leaving the two goalkeepers nothing more than mere pedestrians.
It was clear Dale possessed quality and flair in attack having several times come close to finding that killer pass, and in Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, they had the game’s most dangerous player.
Both the scorer and the manner of Rochdale’s opener came to the surprise of very few inside Spotland; Mendez-Laing brilliantly curling beyond Adam Smith, but that only triggered an impressive period for the Cobblers.
Instead of crumbling, as they have done previously, they rallied and immediately threatened to strike back through Paul Anderson who twice hit the woodwork in a matter of moments during a livelier and open second-half.
They lost their way thereafter and the game seemed to be petering towards a Rochdale victory, but as has so often been the case in Northampton matches this season, there was a twist in the tail.
Adam Smith booted clear, Dale’s defence went walkabouts and Anderson, almost to his disbelief, somehow found himself clean through on Conrad Logan’s goal.
There was no panic from the Cobblers man, who enjoyed perhaps his best game for the club, as he deftly lifted over the onrushing Logan and into the net, nicking a dramatic but important and not entirely undeserved point for the Cobblers.
In similar fashion to recent fixtures, Saturday’s encounter was not one for the purist but pragmatism and robustness are two important qualities in football and both have been decidedly absent for much of this season.
Not so at Spotland where Northampton combined both to blunt Rochdale’s lethal strike force and restrict Smith to just a single save throughout the 90 minutes, all while carrying a threat that eventually paid off.
No team in League One has been involved in more goals in the final 15 minutes than Town (33), scoring 17 and conceding 15. Remarkably, nine of those goals have come in the 90th minute or later.
Next up? A certain Chris Wilder.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Came into this game in good form but didn’t really get the opportunity to build on that. Aside from the goal, for which he had no chance, he was not once forced into strenuous action. Had a say in the late drama when his clearance set away Anderson... 7
Aaron Phillips - Brilliant acrobatic clearance prevented a certain goal in the first-half but was caught up the pitch and out of position for Rochdale’s opener. His departures are getting earlier by the game... 7
Zander Diamond - Timely header and then tackle were key to blunting a period of Dale pressure in the first-half. Was unfortunate in the way the Rochdale’s goal came about having initially done well, though this was still another excellent outing for the Scot... 8
Lewin Nyatanga - Continues to impress at the heart of defence, was commanding and assured throughout tin helping restrict Dale to very few clear opportunities and reducing Smith’s workload. Brings an element of calmness to the back four... 8
David Buchanan - Suppressed Mendez-Laing’s threat so effectively that the Rochdale man had to switch sides, a move which paid off for the hosts. Nevertheless, despite little protection and little threat in attack, the Cobblers left-back formed a key part of an all-round solid defensive effort... 7
Jak McCourt - Began brightly as he won crucial tackles and made important blocks with his usual no-nonsense, all-action approach to midfield duties. But that same approach can get him into trouble and it did here, one brainless foul leading to a blatant booking and that may have contributed to his early withdrawal... 6
Matty Taylor - Wasn’t the style of match, not to mention pitch, that suited his strengths and his usually pinpoint set-pieces were below-par, while he couldn’t get on the ball in the right areas to hurt Rochdale... 6
Paul Anderson - Deserved his goal for one of his best displays in Cobblers colours. Tidy first-half when he put two or three enticing crosses into great areas, and after twice hitting the woodwork, he adjusted his radar to brilliantly beat Logan for the equaliser... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
John-Joe O’Toole - Groin niggle still appears to be hampering him and was the reason he departed early. Had got stuck in prior to that without causing Dale too many problems... 6
Michael Smith - Was well marshalled by Dale’s back four for the majority but there were times when he wriggled free and played a key role in Town’s build-up play, teeing up a couple of half chances that came to nothing... 7
Marc Richards - For all his hard work and endeavour, he fed on only scraps and half chances throughout... 6
Hiram Boateng - 6
Shaun McWilliams - Brought on for his professional debut and didn’t shirk his duties, always making himself available even if it didn’t always come off. Hopefully the start of something special... 6
Brendan Moloney - 6