Rochdale 2 Northampton Town 2 – match review, player ratings and highlights

FINALLY! Ash Taylor heads in for Town, ending their seven-game wait for a league goal and igniting hope of a comeback. Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds
FINALLY! Ash Taylor heads in for Town, ending their seven-game wait for a league goal and igniting hope of a comeback. Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds

An unlikely comeback inspired by the unlikeliest of players; if the Cobblers were waiting for a moment of inspiration to kick-start their spluttering season once and for all, it arrived in thrilling if unexpected circumstances on Tuesday night.

For 70 minutes of this slow-burner of an encounter at Spotland, it was the same old story. The Cobblers had not been outplayed, far from it in fact, but they found themselves in a familiar position: on the back foot, behind on the scoreline and heading for a seventh straight league game without scoring.

Given what’s gone before, even the most optimistic and ardent of fans would have been foolish to expect anything other than another tame defeat once Ian Henderson’s two goals put Rochdale in command and seemingly on the way to three points.

But Dale didn’t count on one thing, and it’s something which we haven’t seen this season: a gritty Cobblers fightback.

On every previous occasion Town have fallen behind this season, they’ve gone on to lose.

Not this time.

Ash Taylor ignited hope of a comeback when heading in from close-range, finally ending Northampton’s 670-minute goal drought, as one of Matt Grimes’ corners came to fruition.

A frantic finale ensued, one which could have swung either way, but with 11 minutes remaining, the Cobblers hauled themselves back on level terms with a sweet finish from, of all people, David Buchanan.

The popular left-back, on his 123rd appearance for the club, finished first-time, via the post, following persistent work by Daniel Powell for only his third ever professional goal in nearly 500 matches, and first for six years.

Now back level and with 10 minutes remaining, both sides fancied a winner.

Not all heroes wear capes: Buchanan celebrates the equaliser

Not all heroes wear capes: Buchanan celebrates the equaliser

Not since Stevenage away 18 months and 79 games ago have Northampton rallied from a losing position and gone on to win a game. They so nearly did here, but John-Joe O’Toole’s penalty was kept out the sprawling Josh Lillies.

The irony, of course, is that Town have shown themselves to be brilliant penalty-takers this season, emphatically scoring all nine of their spot-kicks in the two Checkatrade Trophy ties. Yet, when one comes along that matters more than any of those, at a crucial stage of a crucial game, it goes by the wayside.

Nonetheless, the Cobblers showed spirit and character in abundance to claw their way back into this game. Lesser teams in their situation would have crumbled, but Town didn’t thanks to 20 potentially season-defining minutes.

Season-defining. That’s what the Cobblers must ensure last night becomes. They’ve been handed a lifeline when all seemed lost, now they must grab it with both hands and use this terrific comeback as a platform for bigger and better things.

Season-defining. That’s what the Cobblers must ensure last night becomes. They’ve been handed a lifeline when all seemed lost, now they must grab it with both hands and use this terrific comeback as a platform for bigger and better things.

In truth, the way they fought back was totally out of keeping with their season as a whole, especially in more recent times when they’ve barely been able to muster any sort of response when conceding the first goal, yet they were worthy of their point and arguably more on Tuesday.

The Cobblers had actually played well in patches prior to their late flurry. They had the best chance of an even first 25 minutes, Sam Foley’s header fortuitously blocked by an unknowing defender, before then starting the second-half in the ascendancy, again missing a clear opening when Aaron Pierre’s goalbound shot was cleared away by his own man.

So this was by no means solely a smash and grab job. Yes, at times Town were indebted to goalkeeper Matt Ingram, who made two vital stops from Brad Inman in Dale’s rampant passage of play in the period immediately after Henderson’s opener.

They also lived dangerously in the moments after Henderson made it two – though that second goal came with a hint of controversy after referee Darren Drysdale pointed to the spot – as Pierre’s crucial touch prevented a third before Callum Camps, whose sensational raking pass assisted Dale’s opener, shot into the side-netting.

But those two spells aside, this was an even game, and in the end, it was Rochdale who were thankful for a point.

Individually, there was also encouragement. Foley’s drive and athleticism in midfield, as well as his eye for a pass, hinted that there’s more to come from him, while Billy Waters was a constant nuisance down Town’s right side, not giving Dale’s defence a moment’s peace.

John-Joe O'Toole

John-Joe O'Toole

Chris Long received too little quality service to really flourish but the mere presence of an out-and-out striker gave Northampton a focal point and allowed them to get up the pitch and always carry some kind of attacking threat.

It’s now on to Gillingham where the Cobblers must prove Tuesday was no fluke. A positive performance and positive result would reinforce the belief that their comeback at Spotland is a turning point.

The fact they claimed a draw and the way in which they achieved it shows there is plenty of heart and spirit among this group of players, as well as enough quality to haul themselves up the table.

In most seasons there’s a defining moment. The Cobblers must make sure Tuesday was theirs.

How they rated...

Matt Ingram - Rendered helpless by Henderson’s crisp finish for the first and then got unlucky with the penalty having kept out the initial effort, however made three crucial saves at various stages of the game to keep Town in it and allow for the late comeback... 7

Brendan Moloney - Caught out once or twice as the home side caused problems in the channel between him and Taylor, but wasn’t too troubled aside from that and made some telling defensive contributions after the break as Dale threatened on the counter... 6

Ash Taylor - His goal ignited hope of a comeback and finally ended Town’s barren run. It was the least he deserved for his form this season, and he produced another solid display at the back here... 7

Aaron Pierre - Shaky first-half as he struggled to contain Andrew but improved after the break when he came close to scoring before his crucial intervention, back-heeling off the line at 2-0, kept Town in the game... 6

David Buchanan - His first ever Cobblers goal – and only third in his career - couldn’t have come at a better time. And what a strike! Just when his team needed it... 7

Regan Poole - Recalled to the team, he provided bite and physicality in the middle and got around the pitch well, although there were times when Dale were afforded too much space between Town’s midfield and defence... 6

Matt Grimes - Set-pieces gave the hosts problems in the second-half, creating a great chance for Pierre before assisting Taylor. Argument that he should have stepped up for the penalty given he is the designated taker, but O’Toole took responsibility... 6

Sam Foley - Involved in two key incidents in the seconds prior to Henderson’s opener, having a goalbound header somehow blocked before his loss of possession allowed Dale to counter. Nevertheless, he was neat and tidy and showed an eye for a pass as well as his ability to drive at defenders in a display that hinted at more to come... 7

Daniel Powell - One terrific driving run aside, he lacked end product and barely featured in the second-half until showing good persistence in the lead up to the equaliser... 6

Billy Waters - His best game for the club. A constant thorn in Rochdale’s side down the right flank, proving a pest for the home defence and always offering an outlet. Now, like the team, needs to perform consistently... 7 CHRON STAR MAN

Chris Long - Provided his side with a focal point up front, something they’ve not always had. Didn’t get much joy in the way of clear-cut chances but his mere presence helped Town to get up the pitch and play more in the final third... 7

Substitutes

John-Joe O’Toole - Won the penalty and took on the responsibility to step up, but it wasn’t to be. Still, his positive influence as a second-half substitute was undeniable... 6

Sam Hoskins - 6

Billy Waters had one of his best games for the club

Billy Waters had one of his best games for the club

Sam Foley can't believe he's not scored with this first-half header

Sam Foley can't believe he's not scored with this first-half header

Striker Chris Long returned from injury on Tuesday

Striker Chris Long returned from injury on Tuesday