A few days ago there was a mild feeling of panic around Cobblers HQ when Matt Duke was recalled to Bradford following their post-match brawl with Crawley that resulted in the sending off of their first choice keeper. Only Neal Kitson, a rookie with no previous experience in English football, and Freddy Hall, with only a handful of starts behind him, remained and the questions were being bandied about as to how much the situation would affect the run-in.
By 5pm yesterday we had our answer. Kitson was outstanding on his debut and had already made his mark on the game at Crewe even before a stoppage time penalty was awarded to the home side, threatening to rob us of a hard earned point from one of the toughest places to go in League Two. When Danny Shelley stepped up to win it for the Railwaymen we thought it was all over but Kitson stood firm and pulled off a tremendous save, pushing the ball onto the cross bar and salvaging that most crucial of points. Thanks to defeats for both Macclesfield and Hereford, the current bottom two in the league, anything we picked up at Gresty Road was a positive particularly given their playoff ambitions and having staved off a shaky start it was an excellent point.
Crewe had earlier stormed into the lead with the intent on continuing a fine run of form and had the Cobblers chasing shadows before eventually going in front through Luke Murphy. At that stage it was looking like a long afternoon for Aidy Boothroyd’s men but having kept the score to 1-0 at the break and having finished strongly there was always a chance of a fight back.
Michael Jacobs and Clarke Carlisle both went close before Bayo Akinfenwa marked his return to the starting line-up with a well taken equaliser on the hour mark, racing on to a through ball from Toni Silva.
Crewe were inevitably going to come back at us but holding firm were John Johnson, with a good late block on the impressive Nick Powell, and Kitson, saving well from loanee Billy Bodin. Having soaked up all that pressure it looked safe until that stoppage time penalty when the game appeared to be slipping away.
But thanks to a new hero between the sticks, the goalkeeping situation sorted itself out in one stunning moment in a debut that Neal Kitson will never forget.
With a tough Easter ahead there are no guarantees of safety just yet but it’s unquestionably getting ever nearer to being confirmed. Now all that’s left to do is get over that finish line!