So The Cobblers’ interest in the FA Cup is ended by Southampton as the Saints complete a cup double matching that of season 2004/05 where they again beat us twice in the main competitions of English football. In some ways we were looking back on that season and thinking that we had a better chance against the then Premier League outfit that were struggling at the time than against an in form League One side but the score line was at least closer than the previous three meetings between the sides. I headed back into work this morning knowing that at least we hadn’t been mullered as predicted by some colleagues going into the weekend as Ryan Gilligan’s late penalty gave us a bit of gloss to top off the game with.
If early chances had been converted it could have been a much, much different game but if you don’t take chances against teams like this you will always be punished and two sucker punch free headers at the end of the first half were the difference and really put the boot into forty minutes of real hard work and determination from Ian Sampson’s side.
Adebayo Akinfenwa could have had us in front in the opening minute with a low shot that beat the visiting keeper all ends up but smacked against the post. It was the sort of tempo we needed to begin the game with and Pt Kanyuka’s header that flashed wide from the resulting corner gave us hope of an early upset.
Southampton soon settled though and made a game of it, forcing Chris Dunn into two fine saves on the quarter hour mark. Dean Hammond was the man to come close on both occasions but Dunn was equal to both his close range header and long range curling effort.
Controversy reared it’s ugly head again mind way through the half when Steve Guinan appeared to be shoved in the back when rising for a header but there was nothing given by either the referee or linesman, the latter being just inches from the action. After Tuesday night’s misfortune at the other end it was another bitter pill to swallow for Town fans.
Loan man Josh Walker curled a free kick to within a lick of paint of the post before Andy Holt headed over from a Peter Gilbert corner. It was inevitable that soon those missed chances would be punished and so it came to pass that two simple headers turned the momentum back to the Saints just before the break.
First, Rickie Lambert crossed for Papa Waigo to nod in before seconds later Adam Lallana, again a thorn in our side and looking one of the brighter Southampton players, headed a second. We were shell shocked and needed the half time whistle, which duly came shortly after.
We had to score the next goal if we were to stand any chance and Kanyuka had a header cleared off the line in the early stages of the half. But we couldn’t build on that and the game was over as a contest on the hour mark as a third header, from Hammond this time, crept over the line despite all the efforts from Chris Dunn. It looked a close one but from my view the ball did cross the line and the linesman, so blinded in the first half for the penalty shout, had his eagle eyes out to spot that one.
There was similar goings on with twenty minutes to play at the other end and as Dean Hammonds put the ball into his own net we didn’t seem to know whether it had crossed the line or not. Hence the strange celebrations inside the two home ends (Saints had sold their allocation for both the East and South stands) as we weren’t quite sure what was going on!
There wasn’t time for a revival though and we looked a spent force with Southampton never really coming out of first gear. The late penalty to make it 3-2 from Gilligan raised little cheer as we knew that the three minutes of stoppage time were well up by the time he slotted the ball home.
So we’re out of all cups before Christmas again and we really do have more emphasis on Tuesday night’s visit from Hereford United in the league now. It’s the return of a certain L. Constantine to Sixfields and we all know what’s likely to happen after the striker manager just two goals all season for us last term!
Who knows, this could be a lucky omen…in 2005 we went on to make the League Two playoffs after going out of both cups to Southampton. Then again, in 2005 we had the likes of Luke Chambers, Martin Smith, Marc Richards and Eric Sabin…this lot have a long way to go if they’re to match those men…