Swindon Town 1 Northampton Town 3 '“ match review, player ratings and highlights
If you looked the bare facts of this game and nothing else, you'd reach the conclusion that Swindon were hard done by to walk away empty-handed.
They had more possession, they applied more pressure and they had more than three times as many attempts as their opponents, four of which came in a frenzied 20-second passage of play which incredibly failed to result in a goal.
Against most sides it would have been a comfortable three points.
But instead, this was just yet another example of the ruthless efficiency that has provided the bedrock of Northampton’s sensational rise over the last 12 months.
And even more pertinently, it was a mammoth defensive effort that laid the foundations for this impressive and gutsy 3-1 victory, a common theme in the Rob Page era so far.
That has unquestionably been the most impressive aspect of Page’s short reign: the speed at which he has forged such a formidable defensive unit that once again repelled another night of crosses, shots and heavy pressure.
At times it seemed impregnable, led again by Zander Diamond and Gabriel Zakuani, as the back four nullified Swindon’s threat and were on course for another clean sheet before Sean Murray’s well-placed strike.
Nevertheless, the Cobblers did ultimately prevail for three points that take them fourth in the table and with the defence looking rock solid and the attack clicking nicely into gear, these are exciting times.
It wasn’t so long ago when there were legitimate concerns over how the Cobblers would adapt to League One, whether they had enough quality to replace Ricky Holmes and Nicky Adams and if they had a manager who could follow in the daunting footsteps of Chris Wilder.
It seemed the impossible job, yet Page has barely put a foot wrong since coming in.
Both Page and his predecessor share similar principles, which is perhaps why the transition has been so smooth.
Their teams do the basics well, they work extremely hard out of possession and they’re ruthless in both boxes, not giving opposing sides an inch whilst always carrying a threat at the other end.
Although there is one notable difference.
Whilst last season will forever be remembered for the flair of Ricky Holmes and the excitement of Northampton’s thrilling attacking play, it seems any potential success this season will be built on a remarkably resilient defence.
That’s not to say Northampton aren’t capable of turning on the style when necessary but it’s the ease at which they have kept most teams at bay this season that has been striking.
On Tuesday it was the classic contrast of styles: a possession team against a counter-attack team, a team who like to have the ball against a team who are happy to defend and bide their time before going for the kill.
Swindon were all style over substance. Their pretty passing was pleasing on the eye and kept Northampton under sustained pressure at times but games are won and lost in both boxes and put simply, Northampton defended better and took their chances when they came along.
The twinkle toes of Paul Anderson helped Cobblers off to the dream start as he brilliantly teed up Harry Beautyman, and then it was over to the defence to do their thing and stave off Swindon’s search for an equaliser.
They did it too but only after surviving the most scrambled of goalmouth scrambles, Adam Smith at his brilliant best to deny Johnny Goddard and Conor Thomas in quick succession before Cobblers somehow cleared two follow-up attempts off the line.
Jon Obika also went close but Swindon’s threat seemed to fizzle out as the game wore on, only for substitute Sean Murray to fizz them back into life with a well-placed shot into the bottom corner that restored parity midway through the second-half.
With Swindon’s tails now up and a winner in their sights, this was another test of Town’s resolve and again they passed with flying colours.
A couple of shrewd Rob Page substitutions altered the flow of the game and two goals in five devastating minutes deflated the home side, John-Joe O’Toole and Kenji Gorre the scorers.
From then on it was a straightforward task to see out victory for a triumph of substance over style.
Bigger tests lie in wait – nine of Town’s 10 games so far have come against teams currently in the bottom half – and it remains to be seen if the Cobblers can sustain their performances for the rest of the season
But, for now, fans can revel in the fact their side climb to fourth, as high as they’ve been in nearly 20 years.
Just when you think things can’t get any better, when the Cobblers have finally reached their ceiling, they scale new heights. This team continue to do what they’ve done for 12 months: march relentlessly on.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Most of his saves were routine aside from a brilliant double stop in the first-half which kept Cobblers ahead. Possibly his best game of the season to date... 8
Brendan Moloney - Played his part in the defensive rearguard and also linked well with Hoskins down the right as the two always looked threat... 8
Zander Diamond - Outstanding again, winning headers and interceptions galore as he led the way on another impressive night for the Cobblers back four... 8
Gabriel Zakuani - There seemed no getting past him or Diamond until Murray’s strike, but that was the only blot on a tremendous, commanding performance which has very much become the norm since his arrival... 8
David Buchanan - Found himself overloaded on the left but coped admirably, aside from one defensive lapse that required Smith’s intervention... 7
John-Joe O’Toole - Seemingly back to his best with another terrific showing in midfield. Constantly got himself about the pitch and made his physical presence known. Well-timed run and header got his side ahead and it was his tackle which released Hooper for the third... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
Matty Taylor - Influence was somewhat subdued again but will always carry a threat with his set-piece delivery and he did so again here, whipping in a pinpoint corner for O’Toole to score... 7
Sam Hoskins - A livewire down the right all evening. Didn’t see as much of the ball as he would have liked but has adapted well to playing on the wing... 7
Harry Beautyman - Timed his run well to strike early, even if he did make a meal of the finish. Always buzzing around Revell, making the link between midfield and attack... 8
Paul Anderson - A persistent threat throughout the first-half, underlined by his superb assist. Defensively lax though, which eventually cost his side, before being taken off... 8
Alex Revell - Helped get Cobblers up the pitch and relieve the pressure. Fantastic dummy allowed Gorre a tap-in for the game-clinching third... 7
Kenji Gorre - Should only grow in confidence from his goal, which he took very well... 7
JJ Hooper - His introduction provided Town an extra presence up front as he helped finish the game off... 7
Lewin Nyatanga - 6