Defiant Cobblers Deny Vale
Despite late second half pressure, Vale fail to do enough to break down a stubborn Northampton side reduced to ten men on the stroke of half time following Abdul Osman`s sending off.
Micky Adams made several changes to the side that drew with Dartford last week. Vale`s leading scorer Marc Richards returned after his recent knee injury, although Lee Collins was deemed unfit owing to shin splints. There was a welcome return to first team action for Lewis Haldane following his lengthy spell on the sidelines through illness and injury. Tommy Fraser, Justin Richards and Louis Dodds paid the price for poor performances last week.
The game got off to a slow start, Town left back Liam Davis bringing the game to life after a mazy run and cross. Richards was the first to threaten for the Valiants after a clever lay off by Sean Rigg saw the striker in space on the edge of the box in search of his eleventh of the campaign, but he could only blaze over the crossbar. Richards certainly had his number marked by referee Williamson after midweek comments made by Town manager Ian Sampson and it was no surprise when he was booked later in the half.
Vale were looking to exploit the lack of pace of the two Cobblers centre halves, but the game was largely a midfield battle. Michael Jacobs came close for the home side with a 20 yard free kick and Vale responded with a terrific cross from Taylor, which Richards failed to make any significant contact with.
Vale began to assert a little more authority in the final twenty minutes of the half, though the real talking point came in stoppage time when Abdul Osman`s two footed challenge on Anthony Griffith resulted in a straight red card for the midfielder, much to the dismay of the home support.
Griffith failed to reappear for the second half, so Adams introduced Justin Richards up front, with Rigg and Haldane occupying the wide positions and Doug Loft partnering Gary Roberts in central midfield. The game fell into a pattern that was to be repeated for the rest of the half. Northampton getting everyone behind the ball, and looking to counter through the pace of the impressive McKay when given the opportunity.
As a result, Vale`s back four had a lot of possession, and predictably struggled to use it effectively. Gary Roberts sought to drop deeper, but despite an admirable inability to shirk responsibility, his passing was constantly awry. Vale were creating very little, much to the irritation of the noisy away following. Adams responded by replacing Haldane with the fit again Rob Taylor.
Vale finally began to turn the screw midway through the half. Doug Loft stung the palms of keeper Chris Dunn, before finding a clever through ball to pick out Justin Richards, who, with only the keeper to beat, failed to find the back of the net. How Vale would have liked the opportunity to fall to his namesake.
The Northampton back four were finally called into action, as a succession of crosses caused momentary panic, but the home side were working exceptionally hard to hold on for a point. With minutes remaining, chances came and went at both ends, Jacobs forcing an acrobatic save from Tomlinson, whilst substitute Louis Dodds came agonisingly close to sealing the win for Vale as his long range effort cannoned back off the underside of the bar to safety. There was still time for Marc Richards to threaten with a thunderous drive from distance that Dunn did well to keep out. Despite the late onslaught, Vale didn`t show enough invention against ten men, and Northampton were worthy of a point for their effort alone. Despite this, and much like the game against Cheltenham, if Vale had managed to convert just one of their clear cut chances then the table would have a very different look to it.
Overall, another solid if frustrating performance. Vale stay second, two points behind leaders Chesterfield.
Man of the Match
Gareth Owen- Very rarely has a bad game. Reliable when called upon, even in the second half made some crucial tackles when Northampton threatened on the break.
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