Goals from James Constable and Jon-Paul Pittman gave United a 2-1 win over Northampton this afternoon. Constable's first home goal this season and Pittman's first goal of the campaign rewarded the fans who had dubbed this Ultimate Support Saturday and given their side tremendous backing throughout a pulsating 90 minutes of football.
There were three changes to the side that drew at Barnet in midweek, Michael Raynes replacing Johnny Mullins at centre half after Mullins was recalled by Rotherham, Jake Forster-Caskey preferred to Simon Heslop out wide and Lee Cox coming in for Adam Chapman in the centre.
Those changes meant a different role for Sean Rigg who joined Constable up front to allow Alfie Potter to revert to his right wing role and it was Rigg who made the first chance of a wet grey afternoon by closing down keeper Lee Nicholls quickly and almost allowing Constable to punish the keeper for dallying over his clearance and allowing Rigg to block it.
Northampton, fresh from three straight wins, were driven forward by former United favourite Chris Hackett who had the best of their early chances when he smashed in a drive which Ryan Clarke palmed away after 12 minutes. However they were leaving gaps at the back and after 14 minutes were punished as United took the lead.
It came after a nice little move in midfield and a great through ball which set Potter clear inside the box. Northampton appealed in vain for offside but Potter scampered a few steps then rolled the ball square for Constable to tap home one of the simplest of his many United goals.
United were visibly lifted by the goal and started to take the game to Northampton, with Rigg smashing a drive against the bar after 22 minutes from a cute Leven corner. The danger was that the Cobblers were dangerous on the break and well organised in midfield, setting up an enjoyable game to watch.
It was United creating the better chances though and on 29 minutes they again struck the woodwork as Forster-Caskey let fly from the edge of the box and beat Nicholls all end up, only to see the ball bounce back off of the left hand post. Credit to the keeper who was on his feet quickly to react and save Rigg’s follow-up, and he then did just as well to keep Andy Whing’s powerful header out from the resulting corner.
Clarke made a decent save from Ben Harding’s 40th minute shot the last action of a half which had seen Northampton shade possession but United score the only goal plus hit the frame of the goal twice.
The second half started in similar open style, with the impressive Hackett drilling a shot wide after 46 minutes and then Nicholls saving well to his left a minute later as Constable fed Rigg for a clever turn and shot with Potter just unable to squeeze the rebound past two covering defenders.
Jon-Paul Pittman replaced Forster-Caskey ten minute into the second half and dragged a left footed shot just wide with his first contribution after an exciting run through the middle and with the fans giving their side great backing on Ultimate Support Saturday United started to exert more pressure playing towards their own supporters. The tempo was rising in midfield as well with a few late challenges and angry exchanges to spice things up.
With Jake Wright and Raynes marshalling the dangerous Adebayo Akinfenwa well and Lee Cox scrapping for everything in midfield United had a solid base to build from but Northampton were starting to cause problems. In the 73rd minute a dangerously dipping cross needed the ever reliable Andy Whing to smuggle the ball away at the far post with typical tenacity. Akinfenwa broke free just the once but could only glance a 75th minute header wide of the mark, but on 76 the Cobblers were level as they made their good spell count. Hackett found space on the right and crossed in an inviting ball which Clive Platt attacked best and headed powerfully past the helpless Clarke to make it 1-1.
Would United crumble? Of course not. &9 minutes gone and Leven delivered the latest ball to spring a Northampton offside trap which had looked shaky all afternoon. Pittman was away and once he gets clear few defenders will catch him. Nicholls advanced but Pittman was too clever with his finish and the ball nestled in the net to make it 2-1 to the U's.
Defender Clarke Carlisle was shown a second yellow to leave the game a couple of minutes early for baulking the excellent Potter but by then United had just about got the job done.
A fitting reward form a performance full of determination. United have played better than this and lost games this season but anyone who saw Constable, Potter or Pittman chasing lost causes or Whing charging down late crosses with no thought for self preservation will know just how hard they worked for these three points.
Upwards and onwards.
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Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Steve Daniels, Stats by PA Sports
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