Tom Reed reacts to a stirring performance from Northampton Town…
It seemed as if the Cobblers crowd beat Plymouth as much as the players at Sixfields on Saturday. Perpetually relegation haunted Northampton Town versus playoff changing Plymouth, there was only going to be one winner. Unfortunately for Argyle, the shoe army had decided it was going to be them. Northampton people are the most stubborn in the country and with Cobblers ripe for the drop they decided “sod this we might as well stay up”.
Swaddled in spring warmth, a funfair whirled on the hill behind Sixfields stadium, while the fans in the North Stand fans’ village grooved to some vintage pre-match ska courtesy of the Sixfields Sounds DJ. Beers were supped of course. It didn’t feel like a wake for Northampton’s League 1 status, achieved tooth and nail, without pay by Chris Wilder’s class of 2015-16. Town are masters of escaping relegation, it’s second nature for a club where sporting success and promotions are rarely backed up with proper investment.
Cobblers have dodged the drop so many times that the theme to the Great Escape has become a background noise. ’92 at Shrewsbury was a good ‘un, where the Cobblers fans took over Gay Meadow after Town came back from 2-0 down to beat Salop 3-2 via a goal off Pat Gavin’s arse (as you do). They should have gone down to non-league a year later but survived limpet like due to Kidderminster Harrier’s ground being deemed not fit for league football.
So, beating Plymouth, bookies favourites and hovering around the playoff positions was no great shakes for Town. League 1 is much of a muchness and it appeared from the off that Argyle did not have the class of Charlton, for instance, who had done over Northampton a few weeks earlier.
Cobblers have some decent players in the form of Matt Crooks, Matt Grimes and John-Joe O’Toole and it was merely up to caretaker manager Dean Austin to wind them up and let them go. Town won the midfield battle within minutes as local lad Shaun McWilliams set about Plymouth with the aggression of a Northamptonian after 12 pints in a pub beer garden. Kings Heath lad McWilliams showed a heavy first touch to begin with, nervous probably with the ball bobbling on a hard pitch but the crowd stuck with him and he grew into the game. McWilliams proved a presence beyond his 19 years with strong acceleration through the no man’s land between centre circle and penalty spot.
Either that or he’d just plant a through-ball to Sammy Hoskins, a player reborn under the simple instructions of Austin. Too often stuck out on the wing, the move up front, playing on the shoulder of his defender breathed new life into the squat Southampton schooled striker and Hoskins should have given Cobblers the lead early on when pouncing on a bad Plymouth back-pass for a one-on-one with Argyle stopper Remi Matthews. Hoskins needs to work on his finishing undoubtedly with the striker unable to place the ball low enough to deceive the Plymouth goalie but it was still a good stop from Matthews.
Argyle were unable, however, to prevent a goal just shy of half-time from Cobblers cult hero John-Joe O’Toole. The languid Crooks had shown terrific wing work to screw a cross into the Plymouth box which eventually landed at O’Toole’s feet to stroke home from close range. O’Toole, troubled for some of his career has found himself at home in Northampton and added another drink to the tally of pints Town fans owe him with another crucial goal.
Town wrapped the match up a quarter an hour after the restart via two standout players on the day who have stepped up a level after the sacking of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. Maybe addressing games on the front foot has helped but something gave the cultured Swansea loanee Grimes some extra ping in his pitch traversing ball to Daniel Powell, the terrorising, powerful winger who’s cross was diverted in for an own goal by Sonny Bradley.
Sixfields rocked like it had done in the Ian Atkins days, the home fans growled and left the away side, frankly, intimidated. Northampton is often seen as football’s midlands ‘nowhere’ but the Cobblers players were everywhere leaving the 1500 Argyle fans in sweaty nylon silence.
Cobblers are two points from safety and going ‘hunting’ according to manager Austin. You better believe they are too with Town fans more than happy to cheese off relegation rivals Oldham, Rochdale and Walsall. Next Saturday could see a Northampton invasion of Walsall depending on matches in midweek with the Cobblers confident of slapping down the Saddlers.