Town: Jayson Leutwiler, Mickey Demetriou, Jordan Clark (Bobby Grant, 46), Connor Goldson (c), Jermaine Grandison, James Collins, Ryan Woods, Keith Southern, Mark Ellis, Scott Vernon (Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro, 46), Tyrone Barnett
Subs not used: Mark Halstead, Mikael Mandron, Ashley Vincent, Aaron Wildig, Cameron Gayle
Northampton Town: Matt Duke, Brendan Maloney, Evan Horwood, Lee Collins (c), Chris Hackett (Darren Carter, 68), Lawson D’Ath (Zander Diamond, 89), Jason Taylor, Ivan Toney, Joel Byron, Ricky Holmes, Ryan Cresswell
Subs not used: Shwan Jalal, Billy Boden, Sam Warburton, Tom Newey, Danny Clifton
Referee: C. Kavanagh
Assistants: D. Strain & G. Law
Fourth Official: O. Langford
Attendance: 5,310 (643 from Northampton)
Martin Wild reports from Greenhous Meadow
A goal in each half from Northampton’s Chris Hackett and Joel Byron condemned Shrewsbury to a first home league defeat of the season this afternoon. Town were well below their best and despite Mickey Demetriou pulling one back for Salop with seven minutes to go, the visitors survived a huge push from Town in the closing stages to hang on for a famous win.
Micky Mellon was forced into a change with skipper Liam Lawrence sidelined after picking up an early injury during last weekend’s trip to Tranmere. In his place came Keith Southern who was handed a first start since signing on loan back in January.
Town got the game started attacking the Salop Leisure Stand on a bitterly cold, and overcast afternoon in SY2.
Top scorer James Collins was the first Town player to try his luck with an enterprising effort from outside the box. Tyrone Barnett’s flick on saw Collins allow the ball to drop over his shoulder, before unleashing a right foot volley that dropped comfortably wide of Matt Duke’s right hand upright.
At the other end, Lawson D’Ath saw his angled shot spin out for a corner but the flag-kick didn’t come to anything. It was a decent enough start to the game by both sides with the visitors arriving here unbeaten this calendar year.
Ryan Woods was playing in an unorthodox role on the right hand side of midfield and when the flame-haired number 4 dispossessed a hesitant Evan Horwood, he had time to pick out Scott Vernon.
Vernon though, couldn’t keep his crisply hit first time strike down and the ball blazed over the crossbar.
With 15 minutes played there had been plenty of shots on goal but none had managed to work either goalkeeper. But five minutes later Northampton struck. A powerful burst through the centre saw the ball fed to Hackett, and he hit a fabulous shot past a despairing Jayson Leutwiler to send the travelling support into raptures behind that goal.
Chris Wilder’s men had started the game well and they certainly looked a threat going forward. D’Ath had another long range effort fly over the bar with the Cobblers clearly buoyed by Hackett’s goal. In contrast, Shrews looked a little disjointed and the home fans didn’t appear to be in a very forgiving mood. Perhaps the recent spate of injuries in key positions had started to take their toll.
Town’s normal passing game wasn’t much in evidence and too many times the more direct route was deployed, which invariably handed the possession back to Northampton.
Vernon had a half chance on 35 minutes but the visiting defenders were on hand to lend protection to Duke, and the ball bounced kindly through to the keeper. Following the goal, Woods had tucked inside into a more familiar centre-mid position and the side’s balance looked a bit better as a result.
Town were enjoying their best spell with the ball but they lacked any real creativity. In fairness – and not meant as an excuse – the increasingly problematic playing surface wasn’t exactly lending itself to helping their cause. Players were losing their footing all the time and often had to over stretch as an under-hit pass forced them to re-adjust.
Right at the end of first half stoppage time Demetriou’s deep cross fell invitingly for Vernon. He drilled the ball hard and low across Duke with Collins outstretched leg not quite extended enough, to knock the ball home at the far post. The half-time whistle immediately blew with the home supporters left frustrated by the events of the opening 45.
Half-Time: Town 0 Northampton Town 1
Mellon sent his troops out a full three minutes before Northampton and he’d seen enough to make a double switch at the break. Vernon and Jordan Clark were replaced by Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro and Bobby Grant in a bid to spark a mis-firing home team into life.
But the changes had the reverse effect. Grant overran the ball with virtually his first touch and as Northampton broke they won a free-kick 10 yards outside the box. The routine was brilliantly worked as Horwood shaped to shoot before laying an exquisite pass into the clever run on the blind side by Byron. The angle was perfect for him and he leathered the ball into the far corner for 0-2.
If the task appeared difficult at the halfway stage, it looked positively cavernous just after it. This was no fluke. Northampton had been better in every department and held a lead they richly deserved. Town’s proud unbeaten run of 45 League Two games unbeaten on home soil looked in serious danger.
Grant forced Duke into his first save of the match after 55 minutes which led to a couple of quick-fire corners for Salop. Grant over-hit the first one and under-hit the second but with the ball kept alive it was delivered into Collins who glanced a header a yard wide.
Shortly after, Akpa Akpro fired over from Collins’ intelligent pass forward. A goal at this point would have been a massive fillip for the blues with more than half an hour still to play. The response to the devastating blow of conceding so early in the second-half had brought about a determined push from Mellon’s side but sooner or later you sensed Wilder would instruct his side to pull down the shutters and defend for their lives. As the Cobblers continued to press, Ivan Toney drifted in behind a static backline and prodded the ball inches wide, although the flag was raised on the far side in any event.
Shrews made a third and final switch with Aaron Wildig sent on for Southern with 18 minutes left. Demetriou was soon advancing down the left channel but his cross just evaded Collins who was a few feet away from getting on the end of it. Jermaine Grandison then smashed a reasonable chance high and wide of the target, with the belief in the stands diminishing with each passing minute as the Cobblers edged towards an impressive away victory.
But when Woods saw a shot blocked off by Ryan Cresswell, the corner on 83 minutes brought Salop a lifeline. Demetriou rose to head home a second goal this month to give Town a glimmer of hope. Northampton had been time wasting at every opportunity so there might have been 10 minutes still to play.
All of a sudden, the fans were back onside – sensing an unlikely comeback after their heroes had looked dead and buried. Those hopes would have been dashed two minutes after the goal had it not been for a superb Leutwiler save to deny Ricky Holmes a third for Wilder’s side. The big Swiss twisted in mid-air to turn the midfielder’s curling shot over the top which drew applause from all four sides of the ground.
Mark Ellis sent a shot against the roof of the stand just before the 4th official held aloft a board indicating five more minutes. Up went the roar, which would have gone up several octaves had Akpa Akpro or Barnett been able to convert either of the chances which fell their way in the closing minutes.
Full-Time: Town 1 Northampton Town 2