HAVING seen a hardy group of their supporters complete a three-day charity bike trip to Sixfields, York City’s players could not quite put the brakes on a Northampton team that appear to be free-wheeling their way to the Sky Bet League Two title.
The table-topping Cobblers enjoyed their 11th win from a dozen outings in a division they now lead by five points courtesy of goals from wily midfield campaigner John-Joe O’Toole and ever-reliable marksman Marc Richards.
But, despite Richards hitting the target for a 17th time this term on 53 minutes and Luke Hendrie being shown a first red card of his fledgling career moments later, this was no easy ride for the high-flying hosts.
Indeed, City mustered more goal attempts than Chris Wilder’s men, who converted their only two on-target efforts of a wind-swept afternoon.
The corner count, meanwhile, was a dead heat with centre-back Dave Winfield unfortunate not to net from a couple of Luke Summerfield deliveries – the second of which disappointingly led directly to Richards’ decisive goal.
Following Hendrie’s dismissal, though, the Minstermen did, at least, display spirit and endurance levels to befit the watching cyclists who, for a second successive year, donated sponsorship money to the British Heart Foundation in the memory of Northampton supporter David Henderson.
The visitors, livened up by James Berrett’s second-half introduction, kept fighting until the final whistle, only for the deficit to prove insurmountable.
City boss Jackie McNamara was, however, rightly irritated by the manner in which both the home side’s goals were conceded – one from an opposition corner and the other, unforgivably, from his own team’s flag kick.
Earlier, the Minstermen might have taken better advantage of a strong wind at their backs that saw Scott Flinders’ first goal kick clear the length of the pitch and several Northampton clearances blow back over the heads of bemused home defenders.
Rather than being proactive and spotting an opportunity to press further up the pitch in droves, though, City’s attackers and midfielders were caught on their heels a little and allowed the Cobblers to acclimatise to the conditions.
Zander Diamond’s dallying on the edge of his own penalty box did, nevertheless, lead to a superb, sixth-minute chance after Kenny McEvoy robbed him of possession and sent Matty Dixon clear on goal.
But alert home keeper Adam Smith was quick off his line to snuff out the danger and, after Russell Penn’s goalbound follow-up effort was also blocked, appeals for a penalty were ignored when Vadaine Oliver crashed to the deck.
That was the extent of the Minstermen’s pressure, though, during those crucial opening exchanges and Northampton started to gain confidence after Richards headed over from a Ricky Holmes cross and David Buchanan saw a ten-yard effort deflected narrowly wide.
By 21 minutes, O’Toole had made the breakthrough, when he ghosted in unchallenged and used the outside of his right boot to touch Lee Martin’s lowly-struck, left-wing corner past Flinders at his near post. In response, Summerfield curled a 30-yard free kick over but Richards headed inches wide following a Joel Byrom centre from the inside-left channel.
After the break, the ball smacked Kyle Cameron in the face and bounced wide after Winfield had rose high to meet Summerfield’s left-wing corner to the far post.
The match’s pivotal moment then saw another Summerfield flag kick from the same flank met by a powerful downward header by Winfield that was stopped on the line by Cobblers sub Ryan Cresswell.
Play was quickly switched from one end of the pitch to the other and Richards, sent through by O’Toole, displayed the kind of ruthless efficiency City would so welcome.
Bearing down on Flinders’ goal, he coolly curled a low ten-yard shot beyond the City keeper’s outstretched left arm.
After a 15-yard Michael Coulson shot was deflected over Hendrie received his marching orders on 55 minutes for taking out January’s League Two Player of the Month Holmes just inside the Northampton half.
A caution seemed the appropriate punishment but, with the home crowd baying for sterner action, referee Brendan Malone reached for red. Coulson, though, went close to hitting back just before the hour with a well-struck 25-yard drive.
After half-chances from Martin, Holmes and Rod McDonald failed to test Flinders, Berrett was also not far away from distance.
Coulson went on to hoist a free kick straight out of the stadium, while Berrett was nearer to the target with an edge-of-the-box set-piece in stoppage time.
Despite avoiding a shoeing from the Cobblers, though, City must swiftly look to repair the damage caused by a season-long struggle for positive results with four of their next five contests at Bootham Crescent.
Scott Flinders: 6 – surprisingly given little to do in such difficult conditions against leaders
Luke Hendrie: 6 – looked a little anxious at times prior to his harsh dismissal
STAR MAN Dave Winfield: 7 – a threat at set-pieces and largely untroubled at the back
Kyle Cameron: 6 – unsettled on a couple of occasions but generally coped well with wind
Femi Ilesanmi: 7 – took game to the hosts down left flank after early problems adjusting to weather
Russell Penn: 6 – chivvied team along in unnatural right-midfield role
Matty Dixon: 6 – failed to convert early chance and needed to exert more of an influence
Luke Summerfield: 6 – delivered a couple of dangerous corners on to Winfield’s head
Michael Coulson: 6 – plugged away but could have taken more first-half shots
Vadaine Oliver: 6 – no goal attempts in 90 minutes and found life hard with ten men
Kenny McEvoy: 6 – too quiet and peripheral before making way during second half
Substitutes: Lubo Satka 6 – nervy (for Dixon, 58), James Berrett (for McEvoy, 72).
Subs not used: Josh Carson, Michael Ingham, Bradley Fewster, Ntumba Massanka, Danny Galbraith.
Adam Smith, Brendan Moloney, Rod McDonald, Zander Diamond (Ryan Cresswell, 37), David Buchanan, John-Joe O'Toole, Joel Byrom, Ricky Holmes (Jason Taylor, 90), Lee Martin, James Collins, Marc Richards (Nicky Adams, 69). Subs not used: Sam Hoskins, Luke Prosser, Danny Rose, Ryan Clarke.
Northampton star man: Richards – cool finish to settle match
Referee: Brendan Malone rating: 5/10 – influenced by home fans
Booked: Collins 44, Satka 68, Penn 76, Cresswell 90+2 Sent off: Hendrie 55
Attendance: 5,342 (349 from City)
Shots on target: Northampton 2, City 3
Shots off target: Northampton 6, City 7
Corners: Northampton 7, City 7
Fouls conceded: Northampton 11, City 10
Offsides: Northampton 2, City 0