>If ever a lifeline was needed for the Cobblers’ flailing season, now was the time. And with one single goal deep into first half stoppage time against the league’s bottom side, Jason Crowe gave us some much needed breathing space in the race to stay in League One.
It was never going to be a classic with two out of form sides taking to the field at Whaddon Road but the one goal that did separate the teams was crucially scored by the Cobblers after a poor first half from both Stuart Gray’s men and the hosts, who are now clinging on for dear life at the foot of the league table.
Stuart Gray was forced into a change up front with both Adebayo Akinfenwa and Billy Clarke missing, Bayo suspended and Clarke having returned to Ipswich, so Ryan Gilligan partnered Leon Constantine. Chris Dunn returned to goal in place of Ron-Robert Zieler and went on to keep a clean sheet that could give him a confidence boost ahead of the final knockings of the season.
It was the home side that made the first opportunity with Elvis Hammond forcing Dunn into a close range save. It was the same player just minutes later that was causing problems once again and should have made a better connection with a good cross into the box.
Andy Holt has seen his first team chances increase in recent weeks and good form has meant that he has stayed in the starting line up and become a big part of Stuart Gray’s survival plan. And it was the big midfielder who was one of the key figures in our early play, firstly forcing a good block from a Cheltenham defender before volleying just wide of the post on the twenty minute mark.
Scott Brown in the Cheltenham goal was in action again just a few moments later as Jason Crowe picked up a through ball and forced the onrushing keeper into a good block as the Cobblers upped the tempo for the first time. Mark Hughes was agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock after heading a corner onto the cross bar and Crowe volleyed the rebound over as it looked to be a half-time stalemate.
But deep into first half stoppage time, it was the Cobblers who had the lead. Leon Constantine put in a good effort that Brown could only push away and Crowe was on hand to put home the rebound and give us a vital half time lead.
The home side started well in the second half as Chris Westwood came close to levelling the scores just minutes after the restart. The Robins man sent in a powerful shot but Chris Dunn was more than equal to it. Cheltenham couldn’t get a foothold after that though and it was the Cobblers who looked the more dangerous with Ryan Gilligan going close as he looked for two goals in as many games following his strike at Brighton on Tuesday night.
A free kick for Cheltenham fifteen minutes from time was again saved very well by Chris Dunn and the keeper received applause from all of Whaddon Road for a stop that effectively saved the points for the Cobblers.
In the final few minutes, Ikechi Anya made his Town debut, replacing Gilligan and had a couple of good runs that indicated signs as to why he was signed by Stuart Gray on Saturday morning in time for the game. Anya almost got on the score sheet late on but his shot that was saved didn’t matter as the Cobblers secured all three points and went four points clear of the bottom four in what could be a vital win come the end of the season.
MK Dons visit Sixfields on Tuesday night and despite this win coming against the bottom side in the league, it could well give us much needed confidence going into one of the toughest games of the season.