Northampton Town 1
Bristol Rovers 0
With just ninety seconds remaining Northampton skipper Kelvin Langmead broke Rovers hearts with a header from close range from a long throw.
John Ward’s side had done more than enough to combat the home side’s direct brand of football and created a few half chances of their own and to lose to such a scrappy goal so near to the end of the game was rough justice.
However Ward’s team can take heart from an accomplished and disciplined performance against a side with a marvellous home record as they prepare to take on two more promotion contenders in Burton and Exeter on Saturday and Tuesday respectively.
Manager John Ward made just one change to his starting lineup.
The unfortunate Seanan Clucas, ruled out for nine months with an anterior cruciate ligament injury, was replaced by Ollie Norburn.
The manager, in his pre match interview, was at pains to let everyone know that the club will look after Seanan and ensure he receives the best possible care during his period of rehabilitation.
Ryan Brunt, who did train yesterday, was deemed not fit enough for tonight’s game, which saw Adam Virgo and Mitch Harding return to the squad; both were on the bench at Sixfields.
It took a while for both sides to settle, though Danny Woodards did see his seventh minute snapshot clear the crossbar.
Clive Platt headed straight at Steve Mildenhall from a free kick out on the right, while a superb overlapping run by Michael Smith saw him hit a shot straight at home goalkeeper Lee Nicholls.
The home side tried to get the ball forward to Platt and his strike partner Adebayo Akinfenwa at every opportunity, but Ward’s side were set up to defend every set piece and through ball and did so with, it seemed, consummate ease.
Platt headed over the bar from Ben Tozer’s free kick before a Rovers counter attack saw a shot from Woodards blocked. The ball fell kindly for Joe Anyinsah, who rifled a shot towards goal where it was spilt by Nicholls though hen gathered at the second attempt.
Akinfenwa then headed straight at Mildenhall and Lewis Hornby fired high over the crossbar.
In another Rovers’ counter attack Ollie Norburn saw his shot spilt by Nicholls and cleared behind by a home defender, and the same player saw another shot blocked.
The impressive Michael Smith got forward to fire a shot wide before a very satisfactory first half, for Rovers, came to an end.
The absence of Akinfenwa, who failed to appear at the start of the second half, appeared to hit the home side after the break and they had few ideas as to how to breakdown a well organised back line.
Richards saw a shot well saved by Nicholls six minutes into the second period and saw another effort take a deflection off of Langmead, allowing Nicholls a comfortable save.
The home side rarely threatened Mildenhall’s goal, but Rovers continued to search for a winner and substitute Ellis Harrison caused Northampton a few problems with his pace. The youngster saw a shot blocked by Clark Carlisle before Tom Parkes volleyed wide of the target.
A long range effort from Richards was palmed behind by Nicholls as the clock ran down, and then came the killer blow.
Tozer’s long throw was flicked on and Langmead, lurking at the back post, powered a header home from close range.
Rovers: Steve Mildenhall, Michael Smith, Tom Parkes, Mark McChrystal, Lee Brown, Danny Woodards, John-Joe O’Toole, Ollie Norburn, Joe Anyinsah, Tom Hitchcock (Ellis Harrison, 75), Eliot Richards
Substitutes: Jim Paterson, Mitch Harding, Adam Virgo, Conor Gough, Jordan Goddard, Tom Lockyer
Yellow cards: Norburn, Parkes, Brown
Northampton Town: Lee Nicholls, Ben Tozer, Clark Carlisle, Kelvin Langmead, Lee Collins, Jake Robinson (Luke Guttridge, 72), Lewis Hornby, Ben Harding, Roy O’Donovan, Adebayo Akinfenwa (Ishmel Demontagnac, 46), Clive Platt (John Johnson, 90)
Substitutes: Dean Snedker, Manny Oyeleke, Claudio Dias
Yellow cards: Robinson, Carlisle
Rovers fans: 329
Referee: Gavin Ward