Northampton Town 0-0 Bristol Rovers
Saturday, March 1st 2014
The Cobblers are a point closer to salvation after a Saturday afternoon of blood and thunder at Sixfields that saw both sides go away with a hard fought point. Visitors Bristol Rovers will be happier with the draw which keeps them six points clear of the Cobblers but in all honesty they showed enough here to prove that they’re more than good enough to not only survive but to push on for a good league finish.
John Ward’s side only occasionally looked as though they may be breached by a tireless Cobblers side who just couldn’t quite break them down. It was, though, from our point of view a decent point given that results finally went for us and another show of solidarity against tough opposition.
This was the first time I’ve seen the Cobblers since Chris Wilder has been in place and though it’s unfortunate that a rare outing for me ended goalless the sheer will to block shots, the dogged running and the much improved quality gave more hope than ever before that we can escape the drop.
With Alan Connell in for John Marquis up front, there was hope of greater creativity but Connell never really looked like orchestrating things as he’d done at Torquay and in the closing periods of Tuesday night’s win over Southend United. He’s clearly a talent but Rovers didn’t give him the space to make things happen which could well prove the difference between them and others in the relegation battle in the coming weeks.
Emile Sinclair had the first real effort on goal, forcing Steve Mildenhall into a comfortable save but for the most part the two sides cancelled each other out until the break. There was a sense that the game could go either way with Rovers happy to break at the right moments and bringing with them a real threat once they got into that final third.
Early in the second half, things opened up a little more with the Gas’ Michael Smith hitting his own post. A flash point followed soon after with Zander Diamond appearing to be barged over by Mildenhall in front of the North Stand. Initially it looked like a strange decision to then award a free kick to the visitors after Mildenhall was booked but it seemed like a decision had already been awarded before the collision.
The first of two key saves followed with Matt Duke somehow keeping out David Clarkson at point blank range after he got on the end of a low cross from the right hand side – Duke getting right back into form after a couple of weeks of shakiness with this right up there with some of his other match saving stops from the archive of this season.
At the other end, Mildenhall then all but matched Duke as Brennan Dickenson’s deflected shot was pushed onto the post by the Rovers keeper. Substitute Marquis couldn’t take advantage as the ball fell to him and the big chance was gone.
From then on it always felt like the game would end goalless and that in itself is a testament to Wilder’s new side – a few months ago we would have undoubtedly lost that game or at the very, very least been just waiting for the visitors to rifle in a late winner.
The resolve and grit shown on Saturday was a good way to end a week in which most people’s wishes of seven points from three home games was achieved. Ahead of a daunting trip to Scunthorpe United at the weekend it was crucial that we end the mini run of home fixtures with a bit of belief in place. There’s no two ways about it – it’s one of the toughest games that we could face at this moment in time but from what we’ve seen in the last week or so there’s no reason why we can’t go and upset the apple cart and in the process put even more of a dent in the now four point gap to safety.
What we’ve seen in these three games is a return to exactly what we’ve needed since around November time – a team up for a scrap, players ready to put their bodies on the line and an atmosphere where we believe in our football club again. If those three things continue to happen in the final thirteen games then we’ll surely be playing League Two football again come August.