At 4:28PM, time stood still. For a sharp, silent, split second, everything stopped. All the constantly moving parts froze, the runs were halted, the lunges ceased. On the 70th minute mark, 21 men on that pitch stopped moving. Except one.
As David Amoo digs a cross from nowhere, managing to swing a deep, arcing ball to the far side of the box, George Maris lurks on the edge of the area, slowly drifting into space and then silently lurking. Watching. The ball is headed up and not away, landing on the chest of the Cambridge United number 18. At that moment, it’s pure frenzy. This is a real chance; unabridged panic has set into defenders; a feverish goal-mouth scramble has come over the attacking team. The travelling hordes are crouched, waiting for the forthcoming lash, expecting the powerful swing of his right foot that should send the ball crashing somewhere on target and hopefully ballooning the net – more by power than skill. The leap of joy is coming, just fucking shoot.
But no. George Maris takes the ball and waits patiently for it to drop. Then, with all the calmness in the world, he takes a breath, tells everyone to step away and calm down, checks his watch, quickly rings his parents to let them know everything’s okay, sits down for a three-course meal, opts for the lobster over the steak, thinks about getting the red but decides on white, has the black forest gateau for dessert, flicks through the UTAS fanzine, doesn’t rate it, checks the time again, and then decides to calmly side-foot the ball as far into the bottom right corner as it will squeeze. Far beyond the reach of the flailing keeper, and far beyond our expectation. Sheer, unadulterated calm.
This goal could not have come at a better time for United. Not only did it bring the scores back to level terms, but there was a poisonous panic ready to set in, one of bigger consequences than just 90 minutes. This would have made it only one win in three, with another tough game on Tuesday night, and there was a real danger that another defeat would have left United slipping and sliding down the league far earlier than would be comfortable for anyone. But we never lose at Sixfields.
After a decent enough first half where both sides looked thoroughly well-matched, where both had spells of continued pressure, and where both missed gilt-edged chances – for United, Ibehre’s flick across from a corner inches from meeting Reg Lambe’s diving leg, and for Cobblers, Andy Williams’ jink into the box eventually skied over the bar – it was down to who could seize the momentum in the second half.
The second period was frenetic from the start, but eventually the breakthrough came courtesy of a lazy, half-arsed swipe at the ball by Liam O’Neil, attempting to hook it back into the box but gifting it straight to the opposition – a moment where a bit of nous and thought on the ball was required but not supplied. On the break, Cobblers were clinical, and Kevin van Veen’s opener on 58 minutes looked like it could have paved the way for a stroll to victory. And they should have made it two a few minutes later; Matt Crooks finding himself completely unmarked in the six-yard area from a corner somehow managing to nod it over when it looked easier to score.
Then came end-to-end football, then came some fight from United, and then came George Maris to level the scores. But it wasn’t ever plain sailing.
It’s unfortunate for such a glaring individual defensive error to fall to such an inexperienced player, but that’s professional football. Harry Darling’s panic-stricken attempt at a clearance, his second in two games and another example of him clearly showing his meagre years, allowed van Veen to curl home his second of the afternoon and put Northampton back in the driving seat with 15 minutes to go.
At this point there was never a complete loss of optimism. With Barry Corr off the bench, and Jevani making his return, there would be at least one chance. That might be all we need.
Mr Maris swings a corner in. It’s punched away to Jevani Brown. He pauses, eyeing up his man in front of him, and rolls the ball slowly to his left. And then I saw him standing there. That little shaven-headed bulldog with his maniacal stare and furious, vicious scowl. Always one foot off the ground, ready to lunge into a two-footed tackle at any point, with pursed lips ready to shout ‘TWAT’ at any deserving onlooker. That Gary Deegan would even speculate on curling the ball into the far corner from 25 yards out feels surreal – that he would achieve it is mentally insurmountable. Where his usual uninspired sideways pass would have been almost ideal here, he had an attempt at the extraordinary, wrapping his right foot around Jevani’s lay-off and swinging it away from the keeper into the side netting. Unlike the first, these were unexpected scenes of jubilation.
In truth, there are as many positives as negatives to take away from this game. As good as we look going forward with Jabo accompanying Ade up top (frustratingly rallying the call that another striker in that mould is absolutely essential), at the back we appear shaky, leaky, and disorganised – 11 goals in four games tells you all you need to know. For the two delightful goals, we can point to all the sloppy, wasted passes in midfield (O’Neil’s being the chief culprit) – while there are definite signs of encouragement, there are worries all over the park too.
If Derry-ball was a 0-0 draw, then this is Dunneism; dangerous, hyper, but a lot fucking funner at least. A more clinical Northampton side would have seen this out with three points, just the same as Notts County a week before. Joe Dunne’s men never stopped, and the fact that the recovery was through two marvellous goals is an added bonus – what is more important is coming out of a genuinely tough fixture with a point, a gritty comeback, and the deserved bounce that accompanies it.
Oh, did I mention George Maris’ goal was good?