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Oxford Utd 2-0 Northampton Town (Northhampton Fan's Perspective)

Monday 19th December 2011
Northampton made a short and ultimately fruitless journey to the Kassam Stadium on Saturday afternoon, as Oxford halted a six-game winless run with a comfortable 2-0 victory over the struggling Cobblers.

This contest was always going to be an edgy affair, with both teams looking to end poor sequences of results. The hosts had made a fine start to the season, but their hard work was partially undone by three successive league defeats in November. Throw in two cup exits, and confidence amongst the Us must have dipped considerably, before picking up a point in last week's goalless draw at Morecambe.

Whilst Oxford's lack of form can be classed as just a blip, Northampton's most certainly is not. Only Dagenham and Redbridge are keeping the Cobblers off the bottom of the form table, and the bigger picture is almost as bad. Gary Johnson's tenure came to an end recently, and the new man Aidy Boothroyd seemed to lift the spirits immediately as his side showed a marked improvement at Sixfields last weekend, drawing 1-1 with Crewe.

Last week's display in front of the home fans was quite impressive, with Town playing at a high tempo and pressurising their opponents. The attack also looked lively, with Bayo Akinfenwa having good support from two wide men – Jake Robinson and Saido Berahino. However, ADB seemed to prefer a much more compact formation at Oxford, reverting to a somewhat narrow 4-4-2.

From the first whistle, the Cobblers looked to unsettle their League 2 counterparts - defending from the front, and not allowing the hosts time on the ball in dangerous areas. This caused the home side to be wasteful in possession with dangermen Peter Leven and Alfie Potter struggling to get any sort of foothold on the game. Instead they had to work the ball wide, and that was not a concer
n at all – Oxford's deliveries made Royal Mail look competent. Liam Davis disappointingly left Northampton in the summer, but there was not a travelling fan there that'd have him back after his wasteful display in the opening forty-five.

Chances were few and far between in the first half. Arron Davies' corner found the head of Berahino whose effort was cleared by the home side's man-of-the-match Andy Whing. The teenager on loan from West Brom threatened again just moments later, outpacing the Oxford defence before seeing his shot well saved by Ryan Clarke. Clarke's only other action was to watch long-range efforts from both Michael Jacobs and Davies fly narrowly wide of the target.

Oxford may have been growing frustrated, but with Cobblers failing to make the breakthrough, the hosts managed to move up a gear and started to dominate with the interval approaching. It was within this period that Oxford had their first real strike on goal, Simon Heslop drilled a fierce shot in following a short corner but Walker got down well to hold, and this was the last action of the first-half.

As the second half got underway, the home side carried on where they left off and took the lead just five minutes after the restart. John Johnson was feeling in a festive mood, as he generously gifted the pall to Potter. He found Tom Craddock, who shimmied into space and unleashed a rasping effort into the far corner. It was the first of the season for the ex-Middlesbrough man. Northampton's resilience was broken, as was their game plan. Still Cobblers lacked options out wide, and it was a case of hoping Berahino could get in behind the Oxford defence, but the service was lacking and the Us looked comfortable. The Cobblers did find the net through a sensational Paul Turnbull strike, but the referee had already blown for a Town free-kick where as the advantage would have been preferable, Bully won't hit many like that again!

Robinson was introduced with around twenty minutes to go as the Cobblers looked for an equaliser, and he almost made an immediate impact, albeit a rather fortuitous one. For one of the first times, Oxford were stretched as the ball reached Robinson on the right hand side, his whipped cross deflected off Rob Hall before looping dangerously towards the goal. Clarke was relieved to see it nestle into the side-netting. Moments later, the roles were reversed as a cross from Craddock caused Ben Tozer to inadvertently stick out a foot, and the ball dribbled agonizingly wide. 1-0 it remained, until Cobblers brought on Lewis Young and changed to a more attacking shape. With Oxford in the ascendancy though, it just left them with more space to exploit and that's exactly what they did, aided by the introduction of the lively Deane Smalley.

With five minutes to go, Smalley steered in a low cross and Craddock ran across Cobblers skipper John Johnson, nicking the ball away as the challenge came in and earning his side a penalty. No doubts about the award, but there were plenty about the penalty taker. An argument ensued between Leven and Craddock, the latter eventually winning the battle as he hoped to double his tally for the afternoon. The Kassam lacks a West Stand, but if there was one then Craddock's effort would have been close to Row Z. The miss left regular penalty-taker Leven furious, but it wasn't to matter as Oxford closed out the game in the 88th minute. The linesman seemed to have gone home for the day as he failed to spot James Constable loitering offside, the striker then bundled over Johnson before putting in a low cross for Smalley to convert. The hapless official then let another clear offside go, but Heslop failed to rub salt in the wounds, side-footing wide from close range.

There was to be one more miserable moment before full-time for the Cobblers faithful, Young's cross was handled by Damien Batt, and Akinfenwa had the chance to reduce the arrears deep into stoppage time. Clarke was not to be beaten though, diving low to his left and parrying it to safety.

The referee blew for full time, and Northampton's slide continues as they lie just three points and one place above the drop zone. Right now, it's hard to see where the points are going to come from, and it could well be a long, long season for the Cobblers. As for Oxford, I was suitably impressed in the second half and they have some quality in that side – there is no reason to suggest that they can't grab a play-off place come May.
Alex Butcher

Total articles: 7

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