Northampton Town 2
Toney 79, Murdoch 89
Hartley 2, Kellett 40, Alessandra 62
by Rick Cowdery
ARGYLE restated their Sky Bet League 2 promotion credentials in some style as goals from Peter Hartley, Andy Kellett and Lewi Alessandra gave the Pilgrims an away win that should have been more complete and comfortable than it eventually was.
From the moment Hartley headed home Bobby Reid’s corner after 114 seconds, the destination of the three points seemed to be Argyle’s. Relaxed by that, it was possible to enjoy a wonderful second goal that was Kellett’s first in senior football five minutes before the break.
Alessandra scored at Sixfields for the second successive season to put Argyle apparently out of sight but late home goals from Town substitute Ivan Toney and Stewart Murdoch made the last moments of the match as anxious as any since the dark days of relegation dogfights.
Sheridan had sprung no surprises in his team selection, reverting to the tried and tested 3-5-2 formation that has served the Pilgrims so well this season after a brief dalliance with 4-5-1 in the FA Cup at Sheffield United seven days earlier.
Anthony O’Connor dropped back into the defence while Ben Purrington dropped out of it as Kellett – whose loan from Bolton has been extended into the new year – got the nod for the left wing-back role.
Lee Cox filled the defensive central midfield role vacated by O’Connor, alongside Dominic Blizzard and behind the recalled Bobby Reid whose return to league duty after sitting out the cup at the behest of Bristol City came at the expense of Jason Banton.
Improving Northampton, who had missed out on a game the previous week, made three changes: goalkeeper Jordan Archer and on-loan Preston midfielder Joel Byrom were suspended, and replaced by Matt Duke and Kaid Mohamed respectively, while midfielder Chris Hackett came in for the benched Ricky Ravenhill.
Central defender Ryan Cresswell had been named in the Cobblers’ original starting line-up but was pulled out after the warm-up, earning a reprieve for Kelvin Langmead.
The muscles were barely warmed up on a decidedly chilly afternoon before Argyle before the Pilgrims took the lead, with two of the villains of Bramall Lane playing a part in the goal.
Reuben Reid, who missed a penalty in Sheffield forced a corner on the right after Northampton were obliged to deflect his shot for a corner. Namesake Bobby slung the ball over and Hartley, who had been culpable, to a greater or lesser degree, for both of the Blades’ spot-kicks in the same match, bulleted home a header after a well-timed run.
Stung, Northampton then tested the resolve of the best defence in England and found it as unyielding as most other League 2 opponents. Argyle’s goal-difference of +11 going into the game, having scored only 22 times, showed the measure of their task.
The Cobblers hustled and harried, and strung together some nice moves, but to so little effect that Luke McCormick was not pressed into meaningful action until half an hour into the game and then it was just to shepherd Ollie Banks’ header past his post.
Otherwise, their attempts on goal either met with determined blocks and snappy tackles or were at the extreme end of the profligate spectrum.
Argyle were happy to play on the counter, with both Reuben Reid and Alessandra right on their game and receiving fine support from a vibrant midfield which suffered no evident diminishing of their powers when Blizzard limped off and was replaced by Ollie Norburn.
Kellett had been a constant menace down his left-hand side and given Northampton ample notice of both his ability and intent before he put clear blue water between the Greens and their hosts.
So the Cobblers rearguards, and everyone else at Sixfields, knew what was coming when he put his head down, turned on the afterburners, and set off on one of his signature runs towards the Town goal.
Seeing something coming and being able to do anything about it are altogether different, however, and nothing could deny Kellett a wonderful debut professional goal as he left four players in his wake before the coolest of clipped finishes past Duke. Left foot, naturally.
Northampton manager Chris Wilder abandoned the Hackett-Mohamed plan at the interval and showed some forward thinking by bringing on Emile Sinclair and the young, gifted and tracked Toney.
Their arrival, and, no doubt, a half-time dressing-room dressing-down from Town manager Chris Wilder, pepped things up for the home side. Not, though, until after Bobby Reid and Hartley had almost repeated their early-goal combo, with the defender just unable to get a clean header on another well delivered corner.
Again, plenty of effort; again, treated with near disdain by the best defence in England. The Green Army caught the mood, with cries of ‘ole’ greeting their clever, unhurried bouts of keep-ball.
The two-goal cushion became a luxurious three when Alessandra was fed by Reuben Reid and teased the ponderous Northampton defenders before swivelling to fire home past Duke and claim a goal in three consecutive matches against the Cobblers.
Such was Argyle’s dominance that Sheridan felt at ease playing the last 15 minutes with a front two of Banton and Tyler Harvey, but the understudies could not make the ball stick as well as the men they replaced and Northampton finished with a rush of possession.
Toney profited from some uncharacteristic dawdling at the back to reduce the arrears, giving everyone of a Green persuasion reason to be grateful for Alessandra’s goal.
That was heightened when Murdoch unleashed a thunderbolt to bring the home side to within sight if an unlikely point.
It was bodies-on-the- line time and Curtis Nelson needed lengthy treatment for some bravery that epitomised Argyle’s defensive determination.
Northampton Town (4-5-1): 1 Matt Duke; 12 Ben Tozer, 5 Kelvin Langmead, 6 Lee Collins (capt), 17 Gregor Robertson; 11 Chris Hackett (7 Emile Sinclair half-time), 30 Ollie Banks (19 Lawson D’Ath 56), 4 Darren Carter, 23 Kaid Mohamed (24 Ivan Toney half-time); 9 Marc Richards. Substitutes (not used): 2 Daniel Alfei, 3 Evan Horwood, 16 Zander Diamond, 18 Ricky Ravenhill.
Booked: Carter 81.
Argyle (3-5-2): 23 Luke McCormick; 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 28 Anthony O'Connor, 29 Peter Hartley; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 4 Lee Cox, 17 Bobby Reid, 11 Dominic Blizzard (6 Ollie Norburn 39), 13 Andy Kellett; 7 Lewis Alessandra (8 Jason Banton 70), 9 Reuben Reid (14 Tyler Harvey 77). Substitutes (not used): 1 James Bittner (gk), 3 Ben Purrington, 24 River Allen, 25 Aaron Bentley.
Booked: Hartley 24.
Referee: Fred Graham.
Attendance: 4,318 (565 away).