Jefferson Lake’s Cobblers v Mansfield Town verdict and player ratings

Ivan Toney ruffled plenty of feathers in the Mansfield defence after coming on as a substitute (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)
Ivan Toney ruffled plenty of feathers in the Mansfield defence after coming on as a substitute (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)

Saturday’s win over Mansfield, a first opening-day success in six years, might have provided a snapshot of how this season is going to be for the Cobblers.

To explain: Towards the end of every game, talk in the press box turns to the precarious selection of the team’s best performer, their man of the match.

Northampton Town Football Club v Mansfield Town at Sixfields, Northampton.'Kaid Mohamed. NNL-141008-011924009

Northampton Town Football Club v Mansfield Town at Sixfields, Northampton.'Kaid Mohamed. NNL-141008-011924009

It was difficult for the 1-0 win over the Stags, a victory that could and should have been more comfortable and secured by the margin of at least one further goal.

Not because there weren’t some good performances among the team; there were some very good ones in fact.

Kaid Mohamed - who gets the nod - took his goal excellently and was very good on the ball; Matt Duke produced a truly superb save to ensure his clean sheet; Ricky Ravenhill was all fire and brimstone in a typically tenacious midfield display.

But the stand-out performer was not an individual, it was the team themselves. This was a victory with its foundations in a one-to-11 cohesive group, in solid understandings between players all over the pitch.

Northampton Town Football Club v Mansfield Town at Sixfields, Northampton.'Marc Richards. NNL-141008-011935005

Northampton Town Football Club v Mansfield Town at Sixfields, Northampton.'Marc Richards. NNL-141008-011935005

It was not spectacular, although some of the play the team put together in the second half was very easy on the eye as they cleverly opened up their opposition three or four times.

What we have perhaps seen, is that this will be an effective unit of a team rather than one built to play to the strengths of star players.

Mansfield, a team which last season prided itself on its ability to defend and attack the set-piece, will be furious with the goal they conceded, with Mohamed having virtually a free run to head in a very well-delivered Darren Carter corner.

The Stags are missing some key players but were not a threat at any point of the game, with the exception being when Duke saved Ryan Tafazolli’s header in first-half stoppage time.

A new lease of life was injected into Northampton when Ivan Toney came on, and his performance will have provided Wilder with plenty to think about ahead of the trip to Wolves on Tuesday night.

John-Joe O’Toole had a couple of bright moments but the team improved when Toney came on and they switched to a 4-4-2; the youngster just seems to have an aura of unshakeable confidence about him that he is going to win 50-50s and disrupt defenders, and he did both in this game on several occasions.

He should have scored, somehow contriving to lose his footing after being picked out by Ian Morris from the left wing. Morris definitely has Toney’s wavelength - it was his cross from which the teenager scored the opening goal on that special day at Dagenham three short months ago.

Marc Richards should have scored too, and will be cursing himself for not switching the ball to his stronger right side when he had time to do so in a one-on-one situation with the goalkeeper.

But to have the luxury of more goals would have been greedy, especially so considering the team hasn’t even scored on an opening day for six seasons.

The profligacy may come to be a concern in due course but cannot be considered one now - it is too early in the season and, anyway, the team is creating chances. The worrying should start when they do not.

For now, sit back and soak in the glory of a rare opening-day victory. It won’t mean much in four or five months’ time, but it is a good start. Maybe the best that could have been hoped for.

MATT DUKE

His save late in the first half was very special but his kicking was pretty bad for long periods of the game, especially in the first half ...6

DANNY ALFEI

The roughness he has around the edges was clear to see in a couple of difficult moments but he can be pleased with his first Cobblers outing ...6

ZANDER DIAMOND

Was never in trouble in open play and got his head to most things in a good contribution to both the clean sheet and the victory ...7

LEE COLLINS

One moment of hesitation when clearing in the second half almost proved costly but this was a good game for the newly-installed skipper ...7

GREGOR ROBERTSON

Typically consistent in defence and even managed to find the time and space for some forward breaks into opposition territory ...7

CHRIS HACKETT

Cut a frustrated figure for much of the first half, as his regular crosses evaded both the visiting goalkeeper but also his team-mates ...6

RICKY RAVENHILL

Snapped into plenty of challenges that would have made lesser men wince and was still going strong in the closing stages ...7

DARREN CARTER

Exquisite ball in for Mohamed’s goal and linked the play up nicely at times in a performance that was perhaps slightly below the glories of the second half of last season ...6

KAID MOHAMED

Well-timed run and good execution for the goal and was positive in possession at all times, rarely conceding the ball to the opposition ...7 - STAR MAN

JOHN-JOE O’TOOLE

A few nice moments but he seemed worryingly off the pace at times and is unlikely to have too many complaints about his substitution ...6

MARC RICHARDS

Most of his work was done outside of the box, where he showed an excellent work rate. Will, however, feel he should have scored ...6

Substitutes:

IVAN TONEY (for O’Toole, 56mins)

Definitely provided a spark when introduced and ruffled plenty of feathers in the Mansfield defence with his physical play ...7

IAN MORRIS (for Carter, 76mins)

Lovely pass from right on the touchline for Toney (which should have been converted) was the highlight of a good little cameo ...6

EVAN HORWOOD (for Hackett, 79mins)

Added some defensive strength in a left-midfield role as the team looked to shut up shop ...6

Not used: Archer, Tozer, D’Ath, Moyo