Northampton Town 3 Southend United 1 '“ match review, player ratings and highlights
The final scoreline was deceptively comfortable but, as far as importance goes, these three points were about as precious as they come and the fact Northampton earned them alongside a much-improved performance, in the second-half at least, suggests they are not done with this season just yet.
A few nerves had been shredded by the time Alex Revell swept a precise finish into the bottom corner in the final minute, finally consigning Southend United to another defeat and allowing Sixfields to breathe easy, but despite an edgy, unconvincing finale, Town had done more than enough to merit their victory.
It would not be a stretch to say that defeat here, against the most out-of-form team in the league, would have left the situation almost irretrievable. Already five points from safety, and with trips to promotion-hunting duo Bradford and Blackburn ahead, victory was a necessity, not an option.
In the first-half, they played like a team shackled by the pressure – both teams did, in fact – but Matt Grimes’ well-taken penalty, slammed beyond Mark Oxley, released those shackles and it was the impressive way Town did not sit on their lead, instead seeking to extend it, that made for a refreshing change from the norm.
They should have put the game to bed a lot sooner than they did but the Cobblers have hardly done wins this season let alone routine wins and this was never going to be any different as Southend did just enough in the moments prior to Revell’s clincher to make life uneasy for an increasingly agitated Sixfields crowd who knew the importance of victory.
But for all the anxiety, Matt Ingram’s goal remained intact and comfortably so too. Anthony Wordsworth crashed two long-range efforts just off target, David Buchanan flung himself at a goalbound shot and a couple of balls into the box caused alarm but that’s all United could muster in their desperate attempts to salvage a point.
Going into this crunch contest against a Shrimpers team who were in desperate need to stop the rot themselves after losing six of seven, it was never going to be one for the purist and though that was the case for 45 minutes, Town’s significantly improved second-half showing meant that few of their fans will care how this victory came about.
And when you get yourself into the position the Cobblers have this season, third-from-bottom and falling increasingly out of touch with the teams just above, how you perform is not relevant. Points, and wins, are the be all and end all. Points lead to confidence which leads to better performance and therefore more chance of winning games.
And that’s just as well because, for 45 minutes at least, Saturday’s encounter was about as scrappy and as low-quality as you will likely to get from any League One game all season. Passes went astray, touches were loose and tackles were mistimed.
Of what good play there was, most of it came from Southend. Aside from John-Joe O’Toole’s opportunistic finish that came about in comical fashion, United edged proceedings as Jason Demetriou punished Ash Taylor’s misjudgement from the spot before Michael Kightly dragged one just wide.
Even so, 1-1 was a fair reflection of a poor game at half-time. Then, with the aid of their own spot-kick, came a vast improvement as Town suddenly appeared to realise two things: how desperately they needed to win this and how they actually have good players who can help achieve it.
They also seemed to realise they were playing a team who were there for the taking, and once Grimes confidently dispatched his penalty, it should have become a question of how many as the Cobblers impressively went on the hunt for more goals.
Stepping on the throttle, they caught Southend out time and again. Matt Crooks and Chris Long often led the charge, and only wayward finishing set up an anxious finish as the visitors frantically launched balls forward but the outstanding Regan Poole, in perhaps his best game for the club, led the Cobblers resistance and meant Ingram only had simple catches to deal with.
The introduction of Hildeberto Pereira, already establishing himself as a cult hero, lifted the crowd and the team and he provided flashes of Portuguese flair. His first involvement was to shoot wide, his second was to hit the bar with a glorious chance following another swift Town breakaway and his final act set up Revell’s well-placed third.
Pereira has pace, trickery and skill, all of which were demonstrated by his powerful run upfield that teed up Revell. With him on one flank and a fit Daniel Powell on the other, all of a sudden Northampton look a much more threatening and dangerous team to play against.
Fellow debutant Shay Facey also impressed at right-back. He’s clearly short on match fitness and therefore didn’t bomb on as much as he might have done but he was exceptionally composed and disciplined for a player of his age on debut, as well as strong in the tackle and showing an eye for a pass.
All of the positives from this win should be taken with a pinch of salt. Partly because of the opposition but mostly because the Cobblers have provided this type of promise previously this season only for them to immediately take several steps back and return to square one.
Bradford away is a tough next assignment but a good performance, if not result, at Valley Parade will continue momentum and confidence into the following week when the visit of MK Dons signifies another vital game.
Northampton’s season started on Saturday. Victory over Southend was a good start but, still in the bottom four, what happens next will decide their destiny.
How they rated...
Matt Ingram - Few heart in mouths when he missed Facey’s cushioned header but that was the only time he came under undue strain, which is credit to those in front of him. Didn’t get close to Demetriou’s penalty... 6
Shay Facey - Overcame an early wobble, when Ingram musjudged his back header, to enjoy a very composed and promising debut. Strong in the tackle and positionally sound. Will no doubt venture forward more as he finds his feet and builds up his fitness... 8
Regan Poole - Without doubt his best performance since moving to centre-back. Authoritative and commanding in the air, despite his comparative size, and always seem to be well-placed to hack away any danger that came into the box. Very accomplished all-round display... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
Ash Taylor - Let United back in the game when mistiming his attempted header and colliding with McLaughlin for the penalty, but returned to his dependable self in the second-half, winning headers galore to ease the pressure that was growing on his team ... 7
David Buchanan - Got away with a hesitation at the back post when he thought a cross was heading out of play during Southend’s late barrage, however immediately made amends when brilliantly throwing himself to block a goal-bound effort. That in itself epitomised Town’s determination not to surrender their lead... 7
Matt Grimes - Was ponderous in possession first-half, having the ball nicked off him several times, but his well-taken penalty significantly lifted his influence on the game as he took control of the midfield and in turn helped Town keep Southend at arm’s-length. Set-piece delivery much better too... 7
Matt Crooks - His ability to drive forward from deep and provide another option in attack was on display in the second-half as Town created several promising openings. Now needs to do that consistently... 7
Sam Hoskins - Became frustrated first-half when his surges upfield came to nothing, often due to having no options available, but stuck at it and plugged away, with his pace constantly keeping Southend on their guard... 7
Sam Foley - Never going to be one to skirt past defenders and whip in crosses but makes the most of his ability, even out of position on the left flank, by working hard and doing what’s necessary for the team... 7
John-Joe O’Toole - Such a crucial cog in Hasselbaink’s system. In the right place to stab in his first goal of the season and get his side moving. Picked up good positions between the lines and won countless heads and flick-ons. Instrumental in winning the penalty too... 7
Chris Long - Mirrored his team in that he was a different player in the second-half, perhaps the biggest reason for their overall uplift in performance. Great work to win the penalty and could easily have had a couple of goals himself. Energy and movement up front was crucial in Town’s improvement... 7
Hildeberto Pereira - Type of player who will get fans off their seats and only needed a brief cameo to do just that. Shot wide in his first involvement, hit the bar in his second and then a fantastic driving run from deep, started by a delicious piece of skill, created Revell’s clincher. Hopefully a sign of things to come... 7
Alex Revell - Well-taken goal allowed Sixfields to finally breathe easy. Was keen to remind Hasselbaink of his qualities in an exuberant celebration ... 7
Brendan Moloney - 6