Hatters defeated by table-topping Cobblers
The Hatters were consigned to a second consecutive 4-3 defeat at Kenilworth Road as a frantic first half proved the difference for Northampton in Bedfordshire.
Paul Benson had opened the scoring with an excellent overhead kick, but goals from John-Joe O’Toole, Lawson D’Ath and Marc Richards had the visitors 3-1 ahead by the interval.
Benson fired in his second, and Danny Green’s penalty levelled the encounter to set up a frantic finish.
But substitute Danny Holmes unleashed an excellent drive to win the game, condemning the Town to a fourth successive defeat in all competitions.
John Still elected to start Benson after his three-game suspension, joining Scott Griffiths and Green for recalls as the Hatters opted for a 4-4-2 formation. Youth team captain Frankie Musonda, celebrating his 18th birthday, was given a place on the bench.
The setup worked wonderfully early on as Green and Benson exchanged well in the opening stages, alongside Craig Mackail-Smith to give the Hatters the best of the early proceedings.
It was from that combination where the Town took the lead. Benson’s neat hold up play saw the striker win a free-kick on the right hand side which Green whipped in. The initial ball was dealt with by Zander Diamond, but only as far as Luke Wilkinson, who in turn nodded back into the danger zone for Benson to unleash his acrobatics and put the hosts in the lead.
The Hatters looked confident in the advantage, continuing to link up well down the flanks, but some excellence from Northampton levelled the game. Nicky Adams instigated the training-ground move from a central position, setting the ball off to the edge of the area before O’Toole was slipped in to slot past Mark Tyler.
Despite the setback, the Town still posed a threat on the break when stand-in skipper Jonathan Smith released Mackail-Smith down the right, but his ball in was deflected out with Benson lurking potently close to the penalty spot.
But the Cobblers were ahead on the half-hour mark. A long ball over the top was chested down by Alfie Potter, and while the Hatters defence were seeking an offside flag, D’Ath struck home from a tight angle on the left.
It was almost 3-1 just moments later when Ryan Cresswell’s agility in the penalty area set up Potter just yards from goal after a spot of head-tennis, but the striker lashed over with just Tyler to beat much to the relief of the fans in the Kenilworth Road end.
Potter made no mistake in the closing stages of the first half, however, bagging his third assist of a frantic first period. Another scramble in the penalty area saw Green head in the wrong direction, before Potter found Cobblers top-scorer Marc Richards to knock in his 12th goal of the season, completing a frenetic turnaround to the disappointment of most in Kenilworth Road.
The second half started in much the same manner, with Sean Long inadvertently turning the ball over his own crossbar with a visiting striker lurking in an otherwise vacant penalty area after Magnus Okuonghae had initially left the whipped in ball.
The Hatters were back in the game just seven minutes into the second half though when Benson netted his second from an almost unmissable position. Okuonghae started the attack, excellently sidestepping a striker to deliciously find Lawless on the left flank. He in turn jinked his way through two defenders to pick out Benson, via a ricochet, in the area to side foot home.
The goal rejuvenated the home faithful, and there was almost an immediate equaliser when Olly Lee took aim from range, only for Adam Smith to deal with easily in the visitors’ goal.
It was all the Hatters from there on, and they deservedly got the leveller with still 25 minutes remaining. Lawless’ through ball saw Mackail-Smith haring through on goal, and it looked as though the chance had gone when he was forced away from goal, but a trip gave the Town a chance from 12 yards, which Green struck home with aplomb.
The equaliser gave the Cobblers a new lease of life, with O’Toole and D’Ath both testing Tyler to no avail, but they were ahead once again shortly after. Holmes, who had been on the pitch for around 90 seconds, was allowed a free reign through the midfield before unleashing a wonderful strike from range to leave Tyler beaten, sending the 1000 visiting fans into delirium.
The seventh goal of the match prompted a change from John Still, throwing on Jack Marriott for Lawless, but it didn’t stop D’Ath almost netting a Benson-esque overhead kick as the game crept into the final 15 minutes.
Still the Town pushed, with Green the latest to try from distance on two occasions, although neither were able to trouble ‘keeper Smith.
And despite the Town chasing an equaliser for the second time in the match, chances proved few and far between as the Cobblers secured a victory which took them to the top of the League Two table, while the Hatters were left to rue another defeat at home, conceding 13 goals in the last four games in the process.
Attendance: 8,792, with 1,032 backing Northampton.
Town: Tyler; Long (sub Hall 88) Griffiths, Wilkinson, Okuonghae; Smith, Lee, Lawless (sub Marriott 75), Green; Mackail-Smith, Benson.
Unused subs: Justham, O’Donnell, McGeehan, McQuoid, Musonda,