Northampton Town 2-0 Port Vale
Saturday, October 27th 2012
After a 2-0 home win over the team that went into the afternoon vying for top spot in League Two you would expect any report of the match to be full of superlatives and joyous statements that the season is back on track. But the lasting damage coming from the incident that occurred after the first goal was scored will be the main talking point despite Town taking home three crucial points in the quest to stay in touch with the top half of the table.
Alex Nicholls, the Cobblers’ leading scorer this season, broke through after a mistake in the Vale defence, nipped in and rounded Chris Neal in the visitors’ goal before tapping the ball into the empty net. Sixfields erupted, buoyed by what was a deserved lead up until that point, until the realisation hit that something else had happened. Vale defender John McCombe had clattered into Nicholls after the ball had been put in and the striker was lying flat out on the Sixfields turf in front of the South Stand.
It was looking grim as more and more time was taken for medics to tend to Nicholls and when an ambulance was called onto the pitch there were no more doubts – he was going to be out for a long, long time. With a goal going in just before that and a lengthy delay most Vale fans were understanding and gave Nicholls a couple of good ovations as he was being treated and on his departure from the pitch but unfortunately the minority did their club no favours at all by berating Nicholls, making diving gestures to him and even shouting at his family members as they ran onto the pitch.
It’s hard when so many of their supporters were doing the right thing but it can’t be ignored that some idiots still, for reasons only they know of, took it upon themselves to tarnish the reputation of their football club. Perhaps just as shocking was the fact that nothing seemed to be being done about it by the Sixfields stewards. It was a horror show in more ways than one and something that put a massive dent in any celebrations of a goal.
John McCombe was sent off for the challenge and though I would say it was the right decision having watched it back again I don’t think there was any more to it than that. There was no evidence of any sort of stamp or anything malicious and in fairness to the player he apologised to Aidy Boothroyd straight after the game. His suspension, though, will be a whole lot less than the punishment that Nicholls will be going through in the next few months.
Alex Nicholls will fight back, of that I’m sure, and I just hope and pray that we do see him in a Cobblers shirt again. The chant of “win it for Nicholls” was most appropriate and the fact that we went on to do just that made sure that his efforts went towards something.
Louis Moult was Nicholls’ replacement and he came on looking to stake his claim and to take his chance before Aidy Boothroyd could even consider bringing in any replacements for the striker. Moult was lively throughout the rest of the half and got his reward when, after Anthony Charles had a goal ruled out, he raced on to the end of some fantastic hold up play from Bayo Akinfenwa to slot in a well taken goal. Having come through the ranks at Stoke City, Moult would have thoroughly enjoyed that one!
The system had been changed by Boothroyd to a wing back system and it had been working well even up to the goal with Danny East and Joe Widdowson flourishing in their respective new roles and perhaps the youngest ever Cobblers midfield of Emyr Huws, Lewis Wilson and Lewis Hornby belying their inexperience tags by holding things together impressively against high quality opposition.
In the second half we switched to a style that made sure of the points and though it was nowhere near as easy on the eye, it was understandable for Boothroyd to want to make sure of a good lead being held on to. Moult faded when put out wide whilst Bayo did his best to play the loan striker role in a spell of taking what we had from one of the more difficult fixtures of the season.
Vale fought hard to get back into it and had a couple of good chances to do so, notably for Ashley Vincent as he broke clear but couldn’t beat Lee Nicholls at his near post. It was hard to judge the visitors on their overall play with the ten man situation making it tough for them to stamp their authority onto the game but it’s clear that they have a dogged and technically sound squad that will still be up there come the end of the season.
Lee Nicholls, meanwhile, has hinted that this may be the last game in his loan spell at the club and with mounting injuries elsewhere we may indeed need to let him return and build in other area. If it was his final game we thank him for a fantastic few months keeping goal. One way or another we will hear of him again I’m sure.
As the dust settles from what could be seen as one of the Cobblers’ best wins of the season come the final reckoning the thoughts are mainly with Alex Nicholls as he begins what looks like being a long, hard journey back. We will all welcome him back with open arms when that day comes and wish him a speedy recovery.
Up next is a second game against Bradford City in the FA Cup and I’d like to see us use this new system again, though adjustments in terms of a new signing for the middle of the park could dictate whether that does indeed happen. It’s nice to go into that on the back of a win and now we need to kick on and try and build the momentum that’s been lacking so far this season.