Two goals late in the first half gave United a deserved three points this afternoon against Northampton Town. A powerful finish from James Constable and a penalty from Danny Rose earned United a victory that moved them back into the automatic promotion places.
United welcomed skipper Jake Wright and midfielder Andy Whing back into the squad after injury and suspension and changed shape to accommodate those two, switching to a 3-4-3 formation at the start. Dave Kitson and Sean Rigg returned alongside James Constable in the front line, Rigg sporting a Rooneyesque headguard that Kitson may have had more use for as he was wrestled to the ground by a succession of Northampton defenders in the first 15 minutes.
The Cobblers, having started the season well short of the standard that saw them reach the play-offs last May, were understandably cautious in those opening exchanges although full back Kevin Amankwaah got forward to prod an early effort wide.
United were the side with the early impetus though, Whing seeing the first shot on target saved on 16 minutes by visiting keeper Matt Duke and a blistering effort from Sean Rigg on 18 also parried by the Cobblers’ keeper. With wing-backs Tom Newey and David Hunt hugging the touchlines, The U’s were stretching the game nicely but were glad to see Darren Carter’s 31st minute shot from the edge of the area flash wide of the left-hand post.
Tactically it was intriguing as Northampton came to terms with United’s new shape. Both sets of fans lifted the volume and tried to urge their men forward and on 43 minutes it was United’s excellent support that got its reward. Mullins fed Kitson for an outrageous flick inside to Whing. He moved the ball on to Constable, travelling at speed towards the home fans. He bustled past his man, feinted one way then the next and then buried a low shot almost through Duke for his 98th goal in United colours.
Many sides would have settled for a 1-0 lead but United weren’t done yet and swiftly doubled the score. In injury time Constable again burst into the box past Ben Tozer. Tozer left a toe for Constable to trip over and Rose blasted home the penalty to make it 2-0 at the break and give United a massive advantage.
Northampton deserve credit for lifting themselves in the second half after what must have felt like being kicked in the cobblers and it took two great challenges by the excellent Michael Raynes to stop them getting an early goal back after the break. However, after perhaps their best spell of the match early in the second half the visitors had made very little impression on the rock-solid trio of Mullins, Raynes and Wright.
United should have made it three on 75 as a flowing move saw Constable free Rigg, his cross reach Hunt and his cut back tee up Constable for a shot which a desperate defender just about managed to smuggle away from harm. Constable planted an 81st-minute shot wide of the post as United tried to cap the performance, but the damage had been done in two minutes just before the break.
A good win to get the home form going and United return to third in the league, while also among the top scorers in the division. Constable's second in successive games, Wright and the battling Whing's return,and a togetherness that is evident every time they play all bode well for the challenges ahead. Just as importantly the fans played a full part, lifting their side when they needed it most and giving them an ovation at the final whistle. United We Stand.
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Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA