United were beaten by a goal in first half injury time at Northampton this afternoon. On a freezing cold afternoon with snow falling on a muddy pitch it was a credit to both sides that an entertaining game could even take place although a Ben Harding goal gave United cold comfort as the Cobblers kept up their promotion charge.
With football off across the country due to Spring snow the Northampton Groundstaff had worked tirelessly to get the game on, with the pitch extremely heavy but thankfully free of snow. Both sides adopted a traditional 4-4-2 shape and it was good honest old-fashioned football from the start. Tom Craddock, back in the side alongside James Constable up front in the one team change, had a half chance early on for the U’s, Ben Harding, former United winger Chris Hackett and PFA leader Clarke Carlisle all had early opportunities for the Cobblers and as the snow fell and the pitch cut up it was a particularly open game in the first half.
A quick throw from Liam Davies and a pass from Sean Rigg gave Alfie Potter a chance on 17 minutes which he drove wide from the edge of the area before Adebayo Akinfenwa headed a Hackett cross into the grateful arms of Luke McCormick at the other end a minute later. Northampton are a big strong unit, especially with Akinfenwa and Clive Platt up front but Michael Raynes and Jake Wright stood up that that challenge manfully. Constable and Craddock have other attributes and combined well on 25 to spring Craddock in behind the home defence only for his shot to go too close to keeper Lee Nicholls.
Northampton had a clear sight of goal as Hackett blazed at goal and McCormick pushed it round the post after 39 minutes but the U’s might have had a half time lead as they broke on 45 minutes and Rigg’s cross was superbly cut out by Carlisle before Craddock could crash it home. Instead it was the Cobblers who took the lead on 48 as Hackett’s dangerous cross was pushed away by McCormick under pressure but Harding was perfectly placed to crash the ball into the open net. There was a clear foul on Whing by Akinfenwa in the build-up, but United’s protests were waved away.\
The sides continued to trade chances in the early part of the second half, Constable having a shot saved by Nicholls and Akinfenwa missing the ball entirely on 51 as Platt nodded down to him inside the area. That ‘old-fashioned football feel’ was further emphasised by the introduction of an orange ball, needed on an increasingly white surface as the snow settled on Sixfields.
United saw another chance fall to the tireless Whing on 61, his left footed shot lacking conviction, before Deane Smalley was given the last half hour in place of Rigg. Whing again came close with a header which Nicholls clawed away from under the bar, Smalley flashed a header over the top on 70 and the U's had dominated the second half of the game without making a breakthrough. Corners flashed across, Raynes had a shot blocked on 75 and only another magnificent tackle from Carlisle kept United at bay as Raynes headed down and Constable closed in with the goal at his mercy.
United gambled and threw men forward in the closing stages but the Cobblers saw the game out to keep up the sequence that has seen the home side win in each encounter since United returned to the Football League. It took another good save from Nicholls in injury time as Constable looked to have beaten him with a left-footed shot from 12 yards, but that was enough to seal an important three points for Northampton and end United's excellent recent away form.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher, stats by PA Sports