The second half started with the Imps desperately looking for goal number three on a challenging surface. The reluctance to play out from the back may well have been the state of the turf, and it looked to cut up badly as the game progressed. Within five minutes of the restart City had two decent chances, the second of which was created by the Dutch master. He got away from two players in the attacking right channel and managed to scoop an effort at goal which Arnold was forced to save. The resulting corner fell to Scully, lurking on the edge of the area, but his first-time volley went over.
There was no let-up in the attacking moves from City and on 52 minutes a familiar face escaped a sure-fire booking. Grant did Bolger with a lovely little move, but the former Imps man just cynically stopped our captain from getting away in the area. If Montsma’s was a booking in the first half, and it was, Bolger should have got the same. The free-kick from James Jones clipped the wall and deflected away from a corner.
Northampton weren’t letting us have it all our own way, Nicky Adams is a player who has troubled us in the past for Bury and he shot over after Montsma’s headed clearance fell to his feet. Mark Hone wasn’t happy with Montsma’s header being down and out of the area rather than up and out, but generally the defenders coped well with the bombardment.
Cian Bolger did get his yellow card on 56 minutes, again flattening Grant in an off-the-ball incident. Okay, if he is on a yellow he probably doesn’t make that challenge, but it was the second bookable offence from the Irishman in the space of a few moments. He cut a frustrated figure at times, having to just head the ball out and kick it away rather than do anything meaningful, but he certainly appeared to be targeting Grant.
Another player being targeted was Lewis Montsma and just before the hour mark came a real contentious moment. A flick on saw him challenging Cobblers sub Rocky Korboa, with the latter smashing an elbow into Montsma’s face. Unbelievably, the referee waved play on, then stopped the game when the home side had the ball. After lengthy treatment and with Montsma clearly bearing a huge mark on his face, the game resumed with us down to ten men and them able to launch a free ball into our area. Nothing came of it, but it didn’t sit well with me at all. I know referees get things wrong, but he was no more than ten yards away. It was brutal too, their lad did seem to glance at Montsma first.
In a bitty and broken passage of play, the next big incident was another foul on Montsma, this time from sub Harry Smith. As Lewis went to clear the ball Smith cynically left his foot on the challenge, taking our central defender out. it enraged Lewis, who went over to the referee asking for some protection. It wasn’t coming though, nor was the yellow, although we did pick up two more bookings, both for cynical challenges and both spot on. Sadly, the consistency wasn’t quite there from the officials today.
With ten minutes or so left, the Imps ramped up the pressure with a free-kick right on the edge of the area. I thought Korboa was lucky not to go in the book for the challenge, stopping a lively Johnson attack, but the dead ball was just too close to goal. Grant couldn’t quite get it up and over, but City smelled blood. Harry Anderson, on as a sub, got away down the right and picked up a lovely ball from Scully, drawing a save from Arnold with a drive across goal.
At the other end, Cian Bolger almost gave his side hope with a close-range header. For the first time in the game, a great free-kick saw him sneak into space, but his effort came back off the underside of the bar in a real let-off for the Imps. The last of Northampton as an attacking force came with their first effort on target on 82 minutes, a Nicky Adams drive saved easily by Palmer. That drew ironic applause from the home fans, clearly directed at manager Keith Curle.
Within seconds of that chance, the Imps killed the game off. James Jones threaded a wonderful ball through to Johnson, who steadied himself before lifting a sumptuous finish over Arnold and into the back of the net. 3-0, game over, can the last one out please turn off the lights.
Michael Appleton will have been keen to see a clean sheet, which is why he looked furious as the game went into injury time. Edun and Palmer got involved in a mix-up which saw Nicky Adams look to lob at goal, only to strike Harry Smith in an offside position. Their two players seemed to exchange views as the Imps were let-off the hook, whilst Edun and Palmer had no such interaction. It’s easier to be laid back when you’re winning, sure, but I suspect there is no blame culture within the Imps’ camp right now.
3-0 didn’t flatter the Imps who had been the best side throughout, and maybe 4-0 didn’t either. The provider was Robbie Gotts, on as a late sub for Scully. He found himself in acres of space to tee up Johnson, who finished with aplomb to give the scoreline some real gloss. It was the second 4-0 defeat inflicted upon the Cobblers in a week, and it ensured the Imps remain second at Christmas, level on points with leaders Portsmouth and boasting a game in hand.
I enjoyed the game, not just because we won, but because finally, we got to see the Imps against so-called anti-football. There were certain teams that always struggled against us when we played our brand of direct football and there were some who sussed us easily. My fear was this young side might wilt in the face of pressure, relentless long balls and a few of the dark arts. they didn’t, they weren’t drawn into the tackles or arguing with the referee, they got on with the game in the correct manner, rolling with the punches and making their point with the ball. If pushed for a Man of the Match, I think I’d have to agree with Mark Hone and go for Johnson, but Scully certainly wouldn’t be far away, nor would Montsma. The latter proved a point to many today, taking a real battering and standing firm and resolute when he did. I’ll be honest, I’m still smarting at Korboa’s elbow, although probably not quite as much as Montsma!
It is easy to get drawn into commenting on the style the opposition played, and to a degree, I may have done that through the article, but I won’t be heavily critical of it. Some teams approach games in that manner, some even do it relatively well. However, it wasn’t hard to see why the Cobblers are struggling this season and of all the teams we have seen, I would have to suggest they were amongst the poorest. That doesn’t mean it was the easiest game though, quite the opposite. That’s why I enjoyed it, because it wasn’t a game of chess, a tippy-tappy exercise in possession or a cagey battle of wills. It was a blood-and-guts lower league game, against a physical side and aerial bombardment, and we came through it. After a tough seven days, it was a lovely way to round the week off and ensured that when the bottom club visit on Boxing Day, we’ll be level on points with the top team in the division.
That means a very Merry Christmas indeed, and a New Year where we can still, hope to come out of the third tier, in more ways than one.