City managed to keep the pressure up on leaders Hull with a hard-fought victory at Sincil Bank against Northampton, our first league action for two weeks.
It stretched our unbeaten run to six matches, during which we have hit 18 goals and ensured that form teams such as Peterborough and Portsmouth are still looking up at us. Many fans felt that the struggling Cobblers would be a pushover, especially after out last meeting. However, despite the comfortable win just over a month ago, this was a win we battled hard for, scrapped for and ultimately, earned through merit, not default.
The Imps made three changes from the side which beat Accrington 4-0, with Morgan Rogers, Tom Hopper and Joe Walsh all starting. It looked to be a change in formation too, with the Imps seemingly reverting to the 4-2-3-1 formation favoured by the boss last season. However, in his pre-match interview, Michael suggested 4-3-3 with Johnson in midfield and a front three of Rogers, Hopper and Scully, and that is how it transpired, although at times Johnson did move into a ten role, and we looked like we were playing 4-1-4-1.
Northampton made changes too, all three of their recent signings starting, including Leeds United loanee Ryan Edmundson, as well as Portsmouth midfielder Bryn Morris. The Cobblers have four points from the last three league matches but were a significantly different side on paper to the one we hammered 4-0 a month or so ago.
As it turned out, they were certainly different on the field too. In the opening fifteen minutes, it was Keith Curle’s men, looking to earn their manager a first-ever win against the Imps, who looked the better side. In the very first minute, a long ball forward earned them a throw-in, which was launched long and resulted in a shot being deflected wide.
The Imps first foray into the opposition half came on six minutes, but it was tentative at best. A Northampton free-kick in a good position broke down quickly and as we have come to expect City broke. Scully found his way down the right-hand side and looked to hit the cross between six-yard box and penalty spot, but the keeper claimed it at the second attempt.
It was certainly a different tempo from the visitors, who were not happy to come and settle for a point. Mickel Miller had the game’s first clear shot on target from range, but Palmer claimed with relative ease. Northampton were not letting the Imps play out from the back and were quick to gobble up anything that went long, resulting in some good possession. When the Imps did get on the ball it was a bit rusty looking at times, both Eyoma and Grant misplacing a couple of passes.
On ten minutes, TJ Eyoma got away in the right channel and put a dangerous ball into the box, but Man City loanee Rogers couldn’t get a meaningful touch on it. Shortly after, a free-kick from the attacking right drew a great deep cross from Grant, but Adam Jackson got under the ball and headed over the bar. The Imps earned their first corner of the game on 17 minutes which only resulted in a Tom Hopper headed going straight into the arms of keeper Mitchell.
Liam Bridcutt showed his class on 20 minutes as Jack Sowerby looked to be getting away. He launched into a challenge in the area and took the ball cleanly, although his clearance ended up at the feet of Hoskins, who hit a horrible shot wide from 20-yards out. The pendulum swung briefly back into the visitor’s favour as Morris hit a cross-cum-shot which briefly had Palmer back peddling.
Just before the half-hour mark City had a great chance to break, but Eyoma dallied on the ball and was dispossessed. The Cobblers worked it to Sowerby, but his shot was deflected wide. From the resulting corner. Morris drove another shot at goal, but it was blocked and played out for yet another corner. Shortly after, the visitors were forced into the first change of the afternoon as they lost Rotherham man Miller. He pulled up in an attacking position on 33 minutes and was replaced by Ricky Korboa.
We got the first yellow card of the game on 35 minutes, and although it was the right decision, I have seen reds given for less. We played a ball into Scully just inside the Northampton half, but as he went to control it Lloyd Jones steamed in with studs showing and from behind to flatten the Ireland Under 21 international. The referee flashed a yellow, the first of the game.
Ten minutes before half time, the Imps had the best chance of the half. Eyoma once again got in a decent position on the attacking right, and delivered a wicked cross which Mitchell parried into the path of Joe Walsh. It perhaps took Walsh by surprise, as he didn’t quite get enough on the effort to beat Mitchell, who took the sting out of the ball for a defender to hack off the line.
The final chance of the half fell to City, who had looked better as the game progressed. Tom Hopper went down on the edge of the area, perhaps a little easily, which left the ball in Grant territory. Sadly, as with much of the Imps passing in the first half, his effort lacked precision and went over the Cobblers goal.
The much-lauded attacking formation which looked to have the credentials to hammer Northampton hadn’t quite clicked, with several players well below par. Morgan Rogers struggled to get into the game, and at times we looked a little unbalanced – nothing positive came from the attacking left in the first half, usually a source of plenty of excitement. Still, it felt as though the Cobblers might not keep the pace up in the second half, and with the Imps improving the game felt there for the taking.