You get those matches at Northampton where everything goes right and Saturday’s caning of promotion hunting Plymouth Argyle proved to be one of them. Cobblers put in a once a decade showing in overwhelming the Pilgrims and sticking three goals past the side that started second in the division.
The match was reminiscent of the 5-1 Cobblers thrashing of Mansfield Town in the nineties and the fine 4-2 Stuart Gray win over Swansea in the noughties in which Town run riot and a goal looks like it is coming every five minutes.
Indeed, it took Ryan Watson just seven minutes to notch the opener via a penalty after referee Seb Stockbridge gave a spot-kick for a Callum McFadzean handball. The livewire Sam Hoskins, who had clearly had his Weetabix, smashed a right-wing cross at McFadzean with the debate of whether it had hit an arm or the defender’s face made redundant as soon as the referee whistled.
The assured Ryan Watson cooly stroked home in front of the sizeable Plymouth support in green who were feeling pig sick after Northampton’s strong start. It was somewhat ironic that “Mr 3-5-2” Keith Curle took Argyle boss Ryan Lowe’s five at the back tactics to pieces but Curle did exactly that, utilising the same high-pressing tactics that Colchester did last season in crushing Town’s wing-back system. It’s not exactly rocket science, use high pressing, a high tempo, marauding attacking midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 and you will cause issues for hesitant central defenders in a wing-back setup.
Of course, Cobblers, being Cobblers, they let Plymouth in for an immediate equaliser as Joe Riley rolled a cute free-kick under the Northampton wall and past Dai Cornell. The 1200 travelling fans were mistaken, however, if they thought that Argyle were to get back into the game as Cobblers continued where they left off. Northampton’s attacking midfield trio of Matt Warburton, Nicky Adams and Sam Hoskins buzzed about Plymouth like angry wasps defending a nest and it wasn’t long before Town delivered the sting with a second.
This was a second of sublime counter-attacking with Hoskins receiving a defence slicing one-two with Warburton before providing a perfect low cross for Andy Williams to prod home. Williams celebrated with a finger to the lips but the goal also silenced Hoskins’ critics in a man of the match showing from Town’s blonde midfield dynamo.
Plymouth were punished for complacency, thinking they could come to Northampton and just play them off the park. Argyle favoured playing out from the back and brought themselves under pressure from a Town team who were in no mood to mess about.
In fairness, a couple of games ago, Plymouth’s approach would have probably worked but whatever heart to heart the Northampton players have had seemed to have done the trick. They were also helped by Curle’s tactics finally coming together, high tempo, flood the box with crosses and open up two goal leads.
Cobblers went ape with a third which started from the strutting Adams, via the strong Shaun McWilliams and then Hoskins again with a good delivery which was volleyed by Williams into the ground and over the forlorn Alex Palmer.
The strike was lucky but Town deserve the fortune and had fans cooing over their half-time pints with a showing that makes you fall in love with the club all over again. Cobblers had been through the mill recently with Curle under pressure after some mixed results. He did himself no harm by bringing together a performance that continued into the second half and whichNorthampton fans love, beating a highly rated team and playing with the intent that punters pay money to watch.
Curle, roamed the technical area in a pair of Adidas Gazelle, out-cooling his opponent boss Ryan Lowe while categorically outthinking him. There’s no doubt that Curle puts everything into his job, shouting in husky tones to the final whistle and feeling his heart jump at a late scare as Byron Moore skied a simple tap in for the Pilgrims late on.
Cobblers head to Bradford City, another of the leagues heavyweights next weekend with renewed optimism and the shoe army departed with one of those rare Northampton expressions, a smile.
It was well deserved as no Northampton player put in less than a 9 out of 10. The standard has been well and truly set.
Hoskins: 10 Man Of The Match