Silva turns gold for vital Daggers victory

Dagenham and Redbridge 0-1 Northampton

***The below match report was kindly provided by my buddy Jamie, the honorary Cobbler, who was in attendance last night. You can follow him on Twitter @jamesfarrier or visit his blog, The Backpass, should you so wish!***

A thrashing of your local rivals, a stupendous second-half comeback or an unexpected underdog victory over champions-elect are all results that stick fondly in the memory. Sometimes, however, it’s the spirit of forcing through a chilly Tuesday night one-nil over relegation candidates at Victoria Road in East London that can make you realise what matters most for a season campaign: the result. The Cobblers have made a big statement in the case for retaining their place in next season’s Football League.

That this was the rearrangement of the winter fixture turned the psychology of the game on its head; Northampton entered the game fully into their stride of Aidy Boothroyd’s revival, having traded places with a Dagenham and Redbridge side now occupying their opponent’s former position at the very bottom of League Two and looking doomed to dropping back to the Conference.

Northampton, unchanged again from victory against Aldershot, asserted their newfound confidence and joined-up team ethic in the opening 20 minutes, applying controlled attacks with a fine mixture of Bayo Akinfenwa’s aerial threat and sterling work by Michael Jacobs and Toni Brito da Silva on the left and right flanks respectively. Silva, in particular, imposed himself with a series of darting runs, tenacious dribbling and some sound efforts at goal.

The Daggers, however, were not a team to roll over and found their way into the game, eventually producing an excellent fingertip save from Matt Duke on the stroke of half time.

The second half saw Town produce the same drive, albeit with the nagging feeling that shots on target weren’t forthcoming. Eventually, though, the Cobblers found the breakthrough when Jacobs’ blocked shot saw the ball break loose for an unmarked Silva to slot cooly home from the right of the six yard box for his first goal with the club.

Silva’s skills were only impeded by a touch of selfishness as he failed to provide the correct deliveries for the waiting Bayo and Guttridge in the centre, often losing possession unnecessarily, and his substitution following the goal was the right decision. Bayo was also withdrawn for Webster to shore up the defence, leading to another tense finish that saw Daggers pile forward. It all came down to another hearts-in-mouths finish with another fine save by Duke at the very death, when Josh Parker really could have done better with a low header from point blank range.

The Cobblers held on and the visiting support clambered around the entrance to the tunnel to give the players and manager a triumphant exit. It was no less than the 669 traveling fans had given for the previous 90 minutes, producing a terrific voice to make the claret proud. I’ve been among my fair share of barmy army away visits, but tonight’s support was one of the best. It was a stark reminder of what fans can do for a side when they need the positivity and encouragement to see a game like this through to a winning conclusion.

These three precious points sees us up to 19th, with a game in hand over those around us, and with discernible daylight emerging between us and the relegation zone. It’s by no means certain safety, but this could be the sort of result that will be remembered if we manage to make an effort of properly consolidating our league status rather than narrowly surviving by the skin of our teeth.

Lead so nearly slips again but Town hold on!

Northampton Town 3-2 Bristol Rovers

League Two

Tuesday, March 6th 2012

It’s fair to say that the Cobblers are keeping us right on the edge of our seats in this most dramatic of run-ins to the season. Such was the feeling of inevitability when Cheltenham Town recovered from two down against us on Saturday, many Cobblers fans still weren’t sitting completely comfortably at half-time last night even though the gap this time was three goals rather than two and we were playing at home against a supposedly inferior opposition to that faced at the weekend.

Bayo Akinfenwa had earlier continued his renaissance period with his fourth and fifth goals in four outings before Kelvin Langmead added a third inside twenty minutes as we stormed into a half-time lead that should usually have had most of the 4,000 or so home fans sitting comfortably. But after a season that’s seen so many winnable situations turned into draws and defeats nothing is ever taken for granted and once again we were left on the edge of our seats, whether it be inside the stadium or around the country as panicking tweets prayed for the referee to just (hash tag) blowyourwhistle!

For Rovers forced their way back into the game, showing more steel under Mark McGhee these days. With a quarter of the game to go, Craig Stanley made it 3-1 and it was squeaky bum time all around.

With results fluctuating around the country for the other sides in relegation danger, including leads for Plymouth and Hereford (The Bulls would eventually let a lead slip of their own to draw with another troubled side in Macclesfield Town), it was even more crucial that we hold on to three points.

When Rovers were awarded a spot kick with five minutes to go you could hear the deflation and panic setting in and Lee Brown duly converted for 3-2. In a position like I was in, not being there and relying solely on a Twitter feed for information it was agonising and I’m sure there were many in the same position. Those in the ground saw Byron Webster come on for Michael Jacobs late on but thankfully no further goal mouth action as mercifully the game was brought to an end!

Three absolutely huge points had been earned from a dominant opening and dogged middle section of the game but almost lost in a frantic conclusion where defensive issues appeared to come to the fore again.

Many will also look at Bayo’s substitution for Toni Silva ten minutes before the first Rovers goal as a turning point. You can see Aidy’s point of view with some a huge schedule in March but it seemed to turn the game in the favour of the Gas with the Cobblers losing a focal point and holding player. Luckily we came away having not suffered the same fate as Saturday and the relegation scrap looks a lot more favourable for it.

Town are off the bottom and are now just a point from safety again with two games in hand – one of which is of course that massive one at Dagenham in six days’ time. Before that, Aldershot visit on Saturday having just been beaten for the first time in seven games. They had previously won the six games prior to the visit to Torquay last night and will be no mugs.

Just what it’s going to take for us to feel comfortable going into half-time I really don’t know. Maybe on Saturday we can try going in 4-0 and see what happens from there…though until the final whistle of any game we’re certain to be in bits whatever is happening!

Deep sigh of relief everyone…

Vale too good as the dream of three wins in a row ends…

It’s back to losing ways this week for the Cobblers as Port Vale left Sixfields with all three points to further ignite their ever more impressive rise back towards the playoffs. Following up two massively important home wins with a third was always looking like a tough ask before the game for the Cobblers but coming up against an up for it visiting side that weren’t ever going to lie down meant that  the task for Aidy Boothroyd’s Cobblers was a lot steeper.

From all reports we simply weren’t at the races and while Vale are at a higher level than the likes of Wimbledon and Macclesfield Town, recently felled at Sixfields, we still need to be concentrating and working harder if we’re to be convinced that come May we won’t be fighting for our lives once again.

From the moment John McCombe nodded in the opener it always felt like Town would be in trouble and Matt Duke was under high levels of pressure early on either side of the goal. It took until the thirty seventh minute for us to conjure a decent opening with Luke Guttridge volleying wide but that was as good as it got for a subdued Cobblers outfit.

We had a massive task to get back on terms and when Sean Rigg doubled the arrears on the hour mark it looked like game over despite there being a healthy period of time left. It was only then that the Cobblers woke up and with the substitution of Ben Tozer for Toni Silva, suring up the midfield battle, we finally looked like competing.

Bayo Akinfenwa got on the end of a Jake Robinson cross to make it 2-1 and suddenly there was some sense of urgency and hope. That was Bayo’s eleventh of the season and fiftieth for the club –  a milestone that might be forgotten thanks to the lack of an equaliser late on.

With five of the bottom six picking up a point there’s a massive emphasis on Tuesday’s league programme when the Cobblers don’t play but Barnet and Bradford (against each other), Hereford (at Gillingham), Plymouth and Macclesfield (another relegation six pointer) and Dagenham (at Morecambe) all do. We can only watch and hope that things go our way because there’s a massively tough game at Cheltenham to come for Town this Saturday.

I’ve got a feeling that these nerves aren’t going anywhere yet!