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Match Report: Northampton Town 2-3 Burton Albion (Northampton Fan's Perspective)

Wednesday 28th December 2011
The Cobblers find themselves in the basement division's relegation zone, after their ten men eventually succumbed to defeat against the play-off chasing Brewers.

With the Boxing Day schedule throwing in kick-offs at various times throughout the day, the Cobblers would start this seasonal clash in the bottom two after a big Dagenham win over Barnet helped them out of the drop zone. Plymouth had done themselves no harm either with a thrilling win at out-of-form Bristol Rovers.

After a month with the squad and two matches into his tenure, Northampton manager Aidy Boothroyd was hoping that the work he'd done so far would be rewarded with his first three points in front of the Sixfields crowd. There was a shock in store as Boothroyd opted to play Jake Robinson and Saido Berahino together up front, dropping Bayo Akinfenwa to the (perhaps structurally re-enforced) bench. The other notable change was at the opposite end, where ex-Cheltenham and Leeds stopper Shane Higgs made his debut after signing in midweek. A more experienced head is what is needed right now to help Town through this difficult period. Loanee Sam Walker had no doubt endured several nightmares before Christmas whilst reminiscing over his time behind Westwood, Langmead, Tozer et al, and will surely have checked in to the Stamford Bridge rehabilitation clinic upon his return to West London.

Last week, Cobblers set themselves up to make it hard for Oxford but there were no such problems this time around, as a livewire twenty minutes saw the game twist and turn in both teams' favour. In Burton's first Football League season, a trip to the Pirelli Stadium saw ex-goalie Chris Dunn and his laughable defence gift the hosts a three-goal cushion in ten minutes, making painful viewing for the Northampton fans. But Cobblers may have anticipated a return of the favour as they went 1-0 up after 50 seconds. Lewis Young returned to a pacey line-up and threatened immediately, earning a corner with the first attack. Kelvin Langmead tried to turn the ball in twice, forcing Ross Atkins into a fine save, but Berahino was on hand to tuck away the rebound.

They say you are always at your most vulnerable after conceding a goal and that proved to be the case here, as Burton equalised before I'd even sat back down. With the lack of Football League highlights from a certain broadcasting company, I haven't seen the build-up to the equaliser, but I did turn round in time to see a crisp finish from Cleveland Taylor across Higgs into the bottom corner. Not the start Higgs would have wanted, but with less than two minutes on the clock the teams were level at 1-1.

The fans weren't left waiting too long for the next goal, and it fell to the home side once more. A free-kick into the box saw Langmead held back by Ryan Austin, and the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. With Bayo out the side, Jacobs took over the duty from twelve yards and sent the keeper the wrong way, rolling it home to restore Cobblers' advantage. It was a bright start from Town and if they could settle the game down then there was every chance of victory. Unfortunately, just six minutes later came what proved to be the game-changing moment.

With the ball harmlessly bouncing around 30 yards out, captains John McGrath and John Johnson went in for a header. Well, McGrath did. JJ opted to go with his elbow. It was another mad moment from Johnno in a shocking season by his standards. A ridiculous handball against Plymouth just weeks ago, and now this – I wouldn't let him lead a team through the Crystal Maze, never mind a side battling for Football League survival. He was given a red card and the incentive was now with Albion, and it was a case of when, rather than if, they would get themselves back into the match. Billy Kee's effort from the resulting free-kick was saved, and Higgs also denied McGrath's curling shot just before the teams reached the half-time interval.

Being a man down, Cobblers would have to hope for a slice of luck if they were going to put this game out of Burton's reach, and that nearly came early in the second half. Berahino's persistence forced Albion's keeper into a mistake, dispossessing him before trying to squeeze home from an almost impossible angle. It was just too tight, as the ball bounced off the post to safety.

Burton then came on the stronger as expected, and got their equaliser just after the hour. Some neat build up play ended with Calvin Zola teeing up substitute Chris Palmer, and the midfielder thundered his shot past Higgs.

Further substitutes were soon introduced; Bayo came on to help keep the ball at Burton's end and Corker was also introduced to steady the ship, although that's a bit like making a dam out of paper. Burton boss Paul Peschisolido had some ideas up his sleeve too, introducing Justin Richards and Argentine Andres Gurrieri.

Gurrieri was the first to get involved, having an effort well saved before striking the post as the visitors pressed for the winner. It eventually came, and maybe in fortuitous fashion. After getting the freedom of Northampton's left-hand side, Amankwaah put in a cross for Taylor to attack. It looked like he was clattered by stand-in skipper Langmead, although it has been suggested since that it was somewhat harsh as Taylor was attempting an audacious overhead kick at the time. Either way, the decision was made and sub Richards fired home from the spot to break Northampton's resistence.

Despite the result, there were plenty of positives here. It's easy to say in hindsight, but if Cobblers had have maintained eleven men for the duration I don't think Burton would have come away with anything here. As for the Brewers, I suppose they did what was needed in the end, and if Cheltenham Town are second in this division then anything can happen as they chase the promised land of League One.
Alex Butcher

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