Northampton Town 2 Oldham Athletic 1 '“ match review, player ratings and highlights
Their route to three points was less enjoyable and much more tense but, in many ways, Town's backs-to-the-wall performance and subsequent victory over Oldham Athletic on Saturday was both more impressive and gave greater satisfaction than Tuesday's big win at Macclesfield Town.
While it was all plain-sailing for the Cobblers at Moss Rose, here they had to do things the hard way. They were hampered by an incompetent referee, they battled awful weather conditions and had to make do with a player less for nearly an hour, and yet Keith Curle’s resurgent men still came away with all three points.
Tuesday’s resounding win showed what they can do when they play well. We already knew that, even if good days have been rare of late. On Saturday, they showed they can win in tough circumstances and when the odds are against them, displaying the type of traits Northampton teams have not always possessed in recent times, chief among which were resilience, character and a downright refusal to be beaten.
All three played a role during their heroic second-half rearguard when Oldham Athletic, with a man advantage after Sam Foley’s hotly-disputed red card, utterly dominated the ball but failed to make much headway with it.
It says a lot for Curle’s impact that his team can play with such desire and discipline less than a month into the job. Teams under previous managers have been too flaky and too prone to conceding soft goals, but that looks to be a thing of the past. Town have conceded five goals in their seven games under Curle compared to 12 in the seven prior to his arrival. That is a significant improvement and has been key to almost tripling their points tally.
We cannot go any further without commenting on Charles Breakspear, who produced an officiating performance for the ages – and not in a good way. It is often said that the art of refereeing is to go unnoticed but clearly the memo has yet to reach Breakspear. Even victory did not save him from being roundly booed by home supporters at full-time.
He came to the PTS Stadium on Saturday with a reputation for creating drama and controversy and he did not disappoint. Having dished out eight reds in just 16 games already this season – and having sent off five players in his last three visits to Northampton – he added another to his tally on 42 minutes as he took it upon himself to spark a low-key, incident-free first-half into life.
After John-Joe O’Toole’s headed opener, which came somewhat out of the blue, he sent off Foley. Foley was late and strong on Oldham’s Christopher Missilou but no more. It was a yellow at worst. Breakspear saw it differently, brandishing red and stunning most those inside the ground.
Losing a man – a man in good form – made Town’s task far harder, but it was then instantly made easier again as Breakspear struck for the second time in a matter of moments, seeing something very few others did and awarding the home side a penalty. Kevin van Veen coolly converted and Cobblers were two to the good at half-time.
Breakspear’s bizarre officiating continued into the second-half, the highlight of which was his decision to not only penalise but, incredibly, caution O’Toole for a brilliantly-timed tackle right under his nose. It caused outrage in the stands and was one of many contentious free-kicks awarded to Oldham, though fortunately the hosts still clung on.
Despite their numerical advantage and overwhelming dominance of possession, the Latics mustered just two shots on target throughout the second-half. Robert Hunt scored a contender for scrappiest goal of the season but, that aside, home goalkeeper David Cornell was not tested once, at least not seriously.
And for all the away side’s pressure, the best two chances of the second period fell to Matt Crooks as he chipped wide when sent through by Sam Hoskins and was then denied by a spectacular goal-line clearance in the closing stages.
Fortunately, those misses were forgotten when six tension-riddled minutes of stoppage-time passed and the full-time whistle sounded, allowing everyone to breathe a sigh of relief before venting their anger at the man in the black.
Much of the credit for this win must go to a defence that has developed a new-found resilience under Keith Curle. Hakeem Odoffin did an excellent job after coming on at half-time while David Buchanan blocked Oldham to death, and in Jordan Turnbull and Aaron Pierre, the Cobblers have stumbled on a reliable centre-back pairing.
Pierre has been especially impressive in the last few games. He wins plaudits for his physical attributes but his positional sense is excellent and he also loves going on marauding runs forward, which helps to relieve pressure.
Everyone put in a terrific shift. O’Toole and Shaun McWilliams continually harried in midfield, Crooks never stopped running while Hoskins and van Veen were both effective on the wing in Curle’s innovative – and certainly mysterious – but effective 4-5-0 formation during the second-half
The Cobblers have now illustrated three different sides to them in the space of four games. There was the last-gasp win over Forest Green Rovers, the emphatic dispatching of Macclesfield and now this gritty, resolute victory at the expense of Oldham Athletic.
From disciplined organisation to sturdy determination, there was so much to admire about Town’s display on Saturday. They were unrecognisable from the team that, only last month, wilted at home to struggling Cheltenham Town and fell to pieces on the road to Mansfield.
It is a refreshing and welcome change, and much of the plaudits belong to Keith Curle.
How they rated...
David Cornell - Didn’t have a meaningful save to make despite Oldham’s second-half onslaught. Handling was secure in tricky conditions, aside from one errant punch. Kicking could be more accurate... 6
Shaun McWilliams - Moved from right-back to central midfield after the half-time reshuffle and relished the challenge. Never stopped running, pressing or closing down, crucially nicking the ball back whenever the opportunity arose... 8
Jordan Turnbull - Perhaps a tad fortunate not to be penalised for handball during Oldham’s strong start but was a commanding, calming presence at the back. Has quickly developed into a leader since his return to the side... 8
Aaron Pierre - Exuded authority as he played an integral role in repelling Oldham’s bombardment. Aerially dominant, as ever, and positionally secure as the crosses rained in. Also embarked on two or three of his now trademark lung-busting forward runs... 8
David Buchanan - In his element as Town desperately defended their goal, blocking and tackling Oldham to death. Threw his body at numerous shots and crosses. Both goals stemmed from his free-kicks too... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
Sam Foley - Was on course for another good game until his red card. Late and strong on Missilou but can consider himself unfortunate to be facing a three-game ban, though you’re asking for trouble when you go in like that and Breakspear’s around... 6
John-Joe O’Toole - Back in the goals with his second of the season, well-placed to turn in van Veen’s header. Another to put a real shift in, typically pugnacious in midfield. Also fell victim to Breakspear’s buffoonery when booked for a perfectly-timed tackle... 8
Matt Crooks - Total contrast to Tuesday’s performance but his contribution was no less important to the overall result. Got through so much work in midfield and was key in relieving pressure with his breaks forward. Missed two good chances to wrap it up... 8
Jack Bridge - Didn’t see much of the ball in the first-half and was then sacrificed as Curle reorganised at half-time after Foley’s red card... 6
Sam Hoskins - Great work to win the free-kick which eventually led to Town’s first. Was always going to be a tough slog with 10 men but didn’t shirk his defensive responsibilities and was constantly a willing runner back and fourth. Fine pass should have ended in a third, only for Crooks to miss the target... 7
Kevin van Veen - Made himself a real pest for Oldham’s defenders, doing excellently to tee up O’Toole for the first. Notched his sixth of the season with a calm spot-kick as Iversen was sent the wrong way. Risked a red card at times but did a fine job on the left-wing in the second-half... 8
Hakeem Odoffin - Came on to shore up the defence and did a superb job... 7
Daniel Powell - 6