Calderwood in the dugout? Smith and Knibbs on the scoresheet? All we were missing was Leyton Orient showing an interest in our manager and it would have been like we were in 2019 all over again.
Fortunately, it is not 2019 and we have a manager at the helm who has an incredible knack for getting the team to bounce back after a defeat. A knack which continued again as the U’s progressed to the second round of the FA Cup for the first time in forever (well, 2017) and there is no Newport standing in our way.
Pre-game Bonner had questions on fitness and form to ponder. It transpired that Iredale, originally a doubt, was fit to start and took a place in central defence, just don’t mention MK’s fourth goal… This meant a start at left-back for Dunk, who was making his 300th start for the U’s – shout out to Dimi for making his 100th appearance for the U’s tonight too. The two other changes saw starts for Ben Worman and Harvey Knibbs, with Saturday’s biggest villains (for some) Masterson and Brophy dropping to the bench.
The game reflected the recent trip to Morecambe with United starting slower and being under the cosh for the opening period, before slowly growing into the game and taking the lead. Before United went ahead Northampton were enjoying the lion’s share of possession. Kion Etete, who caused plenty of issues in the first tie again looked like a nuisance and pulled an early effort just wide. Etete had the ball in the back of the net on the 11th minute via an unorthodox manner. In a moment of confusion for some, it looked like Dimi was marking his 100th appearance by recreating the infamous Roy Carroll goal. A Mitov goal kick ended up back in the net via Etete, however, the striker was judged to have illegally charged down the kick. Relief all round.
Just two minutes later and the U’s took the lead. Harvey Knibbs reignited the debate on whether he does or doesn’t cut the mustard by providing a poacher’s finish to tuck in a Joe Ironside knock down. The real star of the goal was the Adam May cross-field pass which fed Smith, who in turn fed the overlapping Dunk to cross. This was geniunely a lovely team goal and a moment which saw the direction of the half turn in the U’s favour as they began to dominate, without bombarding the Cobbler’s goal with chances. The only real chances of note before United’s second were a long-range low drive from a bandaged Williams which tickled the side netting and the busy May stinging the keeper’s finger tips from the edge of the box.
It felt like a second goal would be key for United and it arrived at an excellent time with half-time looming. United have been dangerous from set-pieces this season, with Northampton struggling to deal with these in the first tie. It was no surprise then that a goal came via a well worked corner routine resulting in Iredale crossing for Smith. Smith’s initial header was well saved but he was able to bundle the rebound home to register consecutive returns.
The tie was all but over with the second half only a few minutes old. The impressive Ironside collected a May header at the edge of the box and placed an excellently timed pass to the on-rushing Ben Worman. The outside of Worman’s left boot applied a terrific top corner finish leaving the keeper with no chance. From there United were rocking and would have had a fourth had it not been for a combination of a good save and the crossbar denying Knibbs.
With the tie looking done, Northampton applied a plot twist via a powerful Danny Rose header. The goal came with 15 minutes left to play and would have allowed for some nerves to creep in had United not responded so well. The last 15 saw a smattering of fresh legs introduced but more importantly, it saw a resolute United comfortably contain Northampton.
Man of the Match: Worman won the official award but Adam May for us was the key man with some excellent distribution being at the heart of United’s best moments.
Line up: Mitov, Williams, Okedina, Iredale, Dunk, Digby, May, Knibbs (Lankester, 87), Worman (Weir, 72), Smith (Brophy, 72), Ironside