The Shoemakers produced their best performance of the campaign to stun Bradford City 3-1 at Valley Parade on Saturday and set something of a marker in this season’s race for promotion from League Two.
It was billed as a heavyweight showdown between two genuine contenders for promotion, but in truth only one team appeared to be winning. City led by three goals after just an hour and the scoreline was in no way flattering to them after strewing the home goal with luck after luck.
The Cobblers executed the game plan to perfection in the first half as they thwarted Bradford’s attempts to build forward momentum while posing a constant threat on the counter-attack, although their opening goal just before the 30th minute was an absolute gift.
An erratic back pass saw Pinnock break the deadlock and 90 seconds later it was 2-0 with McWilliams finishing in the bottom corner for the first time, putting the opposing side firmly in control.
They got better and better and continued to carve out a series of good chances before one was finally taken on time with Sam Sherring heading in his first goal for the club.
It could easily have been six or seven before Bradford made the score more respectable with a consolation in stoppage time, but that couldn’t take the shine off what was perhaps Northampton’s best performance under Jon Brady. .
The win means they have now triumphed at Bradford, Stevenage and Swindon this season and all without their top scorer, and it cements their place in the automatic promotion spots ahead of a two-week break.
Fitness Louis Appéré replaced suspended Sam Hoskins in the only change from last weekend’s win at Gillingham. Kieron Bowie started after opting out of playing for the Scotland Under-21s in midweek and Josh Eppiah was back from injury to take a place on the bench.
Bowie started down the middle with Appéré on the left but Bradford had the first chance of the match after just a few minutes when Harry Chapman escaped on the right, dodged Sam Sherring and fired over the crossbar.
A slippery surface on a rainy winter afternoon created a frenetic opening and both sides had promising spells without creating a clear chance. Lee Burge was the first goalkeeper to be called into action when he showed good hands in tough conditions to save and hold off Abo Eisa’s weak drive.
Town’s first opener fell on Bowie but he was only able to nod after Sherring nodded Mitch Pinnock’s free-kick while Bradford only managed to create half chances as Banks’ shot again proved straightforward for Burge.
The first half had been a generally close and cautious affair, but it came alive with two goals either side of the half-hour mark as Town took control. Bradford gave the visitors the opener when Richie Smallwood’s misdirected back pass fell directly on Pinnock and he made it pay by cutting inside and finding the far corner.
And it got even better for Northampton just 90 seconds later. This time the goal came from their good play rather than an error and it was McWilliams who advanced from halfway, played a brace with Bowie and passed a calm first time in the lower corner.
McWilliams could and should have scored three five minutes before the break by firing a shot wide from the far post after being fed through on goal by Pinnock.
Pinnock himself was close to squandering a glorious opportunity to extend the lead three minutes after the restart, but was off balance and stretched when completely clear of Bowie’s cross and couldn’t hit the target.
Alex Gilliead almost immediately punished Cobblers by clipping the top of the crossbar from range and Eisa’s low shot had to be held by Burge with Andy Cook waiting to pounce, but the visitors continued to cause all sorts of trouble during the break and after Appéré saw a loud disallowed penalty shout, Ben Fox shot too high from the edge of the box.
A third was only a matter of time and he duly came on time. The patient possession game culminated when Odimayo’s right wing cross was sent home via the post by Sherring for his first City goal.
Incredibly, the visitors could have netted a fourth with Appéré denied by Lewis after he forced his way into the penalty area while a rare effort for Bradford saw Smallwood’s free-kick fly wide.
Vadaine Olliver’s shot was held by Burge but again the best chances still presented themselves at the other end, with Lewis saving Bowie and McWilliams well.
Frustratingly, Cobblers couldn’t keep the clean sheet they deserved after Sherring awarded a penalty in stoppage time and Cook converted to level Sam Hoskins in the race to be top scorer, but it Barely counted as consolation for Bradford, with the full-time whistle met by boos at home ends and raucous cheers among jubilant away supporters.
Bradford: Lewis, Halliday, Platt, Songo’o, Smalwood ©, Foulds, Chapman (Oliver 62), Gilliead (East 79), Eisa (Wright 62), Banks (Pereira 79), Cook
Unused submarines: Doyle, Odusina, Sutton
Shoemakers: Burge, McGowan, Sherring, Guthrie©, Odimayo (Haynes 87), Sowerby, McWilliams, Fox (Dyche 76), Pinnock (Lintott 87), Bowie (Hylton 87), Appéré (Léonard 72)
Unused subtitles: Dadge, Eppiah
Arbitrator: Antoine Backhouse