Reversal at Sixfields
By David Mitchell
Graham Alexander tasted defeat for the first time as a manager, in his sixth game, as Northampton Town continued their fine run of home form to collect their ninth league win at the Sixfields Stadium.
The Cobblers deserved their 3-1 victory but the game proved a personal triumph for debutant Jamie Allen, who scored in the dying minutes, and Anthony Barry whose second half appearance was his first since August 2011.
The manager was forced to make his first defensive change with full-back Shaun Beeley left behind following an ankle injury sustained at Port Vale on New Year’s Day. Conor McLaughlin stepped up to make his fifth league start in an otherwise unchanged side. New signing Gareth Evans, the former Rotherham winger, was on the bench.
Luke Guttridge started for Northampton having been a thorn in Fleetwood’s side three seasons ago when he scored the two goals that took the Cobblers through to the second round of the FA Cup. Jamie McGuire was the only Town player from that day to start this afternoon. Another member of the team of 2009 to play was striker Ade Akinfenwa who is currently the side’s leading scorer. The defensive unit included newly-signed Clarke Carlisle, a familiar figure, not least to the Fleetwood manager after their time at Burnley and Preston together.
After a quiet opening, McGuire brought the home fans to life with a rash challenge on Jake Robinson in the fifth minute. Town’s combative midfielder received his fourth booking of the season. Robinson was to get sweet revenge just two minutes later when he gave Northampton the lead. Chris Hackett crossed from the right and found Robinson in space at the back post. A well-directed header beat Scott Davies. Another opportunity fell to Robinson after ten minutes, a firm strike blocked by McLaughlin.
Ben Harding went into referee Lewis’s book after fifteen minutes as Fleetwood looked to respond and nullify Northampton’s threat coming forward. The Cobblers continued to threaten, however, with Hackett prominent. He struck a 20th minute free kick narrowly over the crossbar and caused problems down the right with his strong running.
McLaughlin conceded a 26th minute free kick and a booking but Hackett’s cross from wide went straight through to Davies. Akinfenwa’s header cleared the bar in the 33rd minute following a long throw from the left. Fleetwood went straight to the other end to gain their first corner, in the 34th minute. Junior Brown’s delivery landed straight into the hands of Lee Nicholls, the keeper’s first action of any note in the half.
After Fleetwood had gained some territory, Northampton responded with another goal from Robinson, in the 40th minute. A speculative shot from the edge of the penalty area took two deflections to wrong-foot Davies and send the vociferous home support in the 4381`crowd into raptures.
There were further problems for Fleetwood in added time as their defence came under pressure yet again. Gutteridge’s hanging left-foot lob from outside the area landed on the crossbar. Fleetwood had not been able to make their mark and went in behind for the first time away from home this season.
Alexander made two changes after the break, Barry joined on the pitch by Evans. Damien Johnson and McGuire made way. Evans immediately caught the eye with two strong runs from deep as Fleetwood showed their intent to get back into the game. Carlisle upended Alex Titchiner and got himself booked in the process. Fleetwood’s bright start was then stopped in its tracks by a third goal for the Cobblers in the 52nd minute when Clive Platt slammed the ball home from close range as the defence failed to clear the danger. It was proving to be a difficult afternoon for a defence that had claimed four clean sheets in five games under Alexander. A long throw from Ben Tozer was met by Akinfenwa who headed narrowly over.
Despite the reversal, Fleetwood came forward down both sides of the pitch and Barry looked like a man keen to make up for lost time in midfield, passing and prompting repeatedly. Evans appeared on both flanks, as did Brown. Barry placed a free kick over the crossbar and, before play resumed, Gutteridge was replaced by Lewis Hornby. There was some friction between Hackett and Alex Marrow, Fleetwood’s midfielder spoken to twice by the referee.
Fleetwood’s final substitution, after 77 minutes, saw Allen replace Ball. Louis Moult came on for Platt and, soon after, Ishmel Demontagnac for Robinson as Aidy Boothroyd rang the changes.
Davies saved well to his left from Hackett as the game entered added time and Allen, after some confident touches, enjoyed a moment he will never forget,his right foot shot beating Nicholls to his left.
After a hectic Christmas period, Alexander will now be looking forward to a week on the training ground ahead of the Bristol Rovers game at Highbury next Saturday.
TEAM: Davies, McLaughlin, Atkinson (captain), Goodall, Howell, Johnson (Evans 46), Marrow, McGuire (Barry 46), Brown, Ball (Allen 77), Titchiner
Booked: McGuire, McLaughlin