Not only did ginger haired Morton put in a red hot performance with a brace in the Cotswolds but Cobblers put paid to any concept of a two goal first leg lead meaning the tie is over in playoff matches.
Northampton threw the whole Wickes’ warehouse at Cheltenham after a timid 1st leg showing and put in a consummate in your face performance that in truth, few expected.
The tone was set as early as the 9th minute when Northampton were rewarded for a blistering start when Nicky Adams found space for a telling cross that targetman Vadaine Oliver measured to perfection to place a thumping low header past Owen Evans. The despairing Robins stopper had been the star of the show on Thursday night but Oliver set out his stall earlier than Fitzy the Northampton marker fruit seller and showed terrific movement to settle himself for the header.
This presented a conundrum for cool as a cucumber Cheltenham boss Michael Duff, who was a walking bottle of Sure antiperspirant in the first encounter but was now made to sweat by a Cobblers team up in the opposition’s grill. Northampton’s spine of Charlie Goode in central defence, Alan McCormack in midfield and Oliver up top gave Cobblers a strong basis to move forwards.
McCormack in particular was back to his growling best, firm in the tackle and able to help Northampton to a solid share of possession. Cobblers were playing with high-tempo, a high pressing line and giving everything to the cause and should have been 2-0 up when Goode sent in a pin-point cross for Oliver but the big striker could only head over.
A hoarse Keith Curle should have been reaching for the Lemsip at half-time with his directional barks being heard on the Cheltenham racecourse but his Town players were screaming to get out for the second period. In the 1st leg, Cobblers had few players worth more than a 7 out of 10 but this time, they had at least three on 9’s showing the drastic improvement from Thursday to Monday.
Robins boss Duff meanwhile, took off the ineffective Bermudan Jonte Smith with Cheltenham’s forward line unable to make the ball stick.
The second 45 proved to be a masterclass in forward play from 20 year-old Morton, nicknamed the Ginger Pele but putting in an endurance showing of Forest Gump mixed with a young Jurgen Klinsmann.
Morton knew little about his 57th minute header which gave Northampton a foothold in the game and the goal was all the sweeter for being set up by a misdirected clearance from ex-Cobbler Ben Tozer. Again the goal symbolised the complete turnaround of events in that the Robins scored from a corner in the first tussle but Cobblers imposing with their set pieces at Whaddon Road.
Now we really had a game on our hands and Northampton’s rousing was not one of the route one artillery that Town have been pilloried for. The comeback was one of total commitment, complete team harrying and a mixture of styles to leave Cheltenham floundering like a yoga enthusiast up against a mixed martial artist.
Northampton’s killer third was the culmination of everything they’d brought into the game, forcing Will Boyle into a nervous positional mistake, allowing Michael Harriman a shot on goal, to which Morton swept in on like a red kite on to a vole.
This was not just a man-of-the match performance from Morton, it was one to write him into Northampton Town legend and a quite extraordinary showing in such difficult circumstances.
It was a Cobblers performance of shock and awe and Keith Curle’s side withstood some sweaty late moments to book themselves a socially distanced trip up Wembley way. It was a comeback that the great 1998 Northampton side would have approved of.
Cheltenham fans meanwhile, surmising that their team threw the game away might just have to accept that few teams would have withstood Cobblers in that mood. Town were just not going to be denied and having beaten Exeter, their opponents in the final, 2-0 back in February, the playoff underdogs may well be the favourites to clinch promotion next Monday in North London.
Morton 10 Man Of the Match