Northampton Town returned to the top of Sky Bet League Two thanks to a convincing and deserved 3-1 home victory over Morecambe following a dominant performance at Sixfields on Saturday.
For 70 minutes of this game, the Cobblers appeared on course for an even more emphatic win as they led 3-0 and were on the hunt for more goals, but a late Morecambe rally made for a jittery finish
However, the visitors rarely threatened Adam Smith in the home goal and Town were able to comfortably see out the victory to add another three points to their tally.
The first half was dominated by Northampton from start to finish and the hosts had fully deserved their 2-0 lead at the break as goals from James Collins and John-Joe O’Toole put the Cobblers in control.
While Morecambe showed more attacking threat in the second period, Rod McDonald headed home Lee Martin’s corner five minutes after the restart to effectively kill the game off despite Paul Mullin pulling one back for the visitors on 70 minutes.
With promotion rivals Plymouth, Bristol Rovers, Portsmouth and Oxford all playing one another, this game was seen as a golden opportunity for the Cobblers to cement their place in the top three and they did just that with another excellent home performance that made it 10 wins in 11 league games.
And with Plymouth drawing at Bristol Rovers, the three points sees Northampton return to the League Two summit.
After being cup-tied in midweek, loan pair Collins and Lee Martin came in for their home debuts, replacing Nicky Adams and Sam Hoskins who both dropped the bench, in an otherwise unchanged line-up to the one which lost at MK Dons.
After an quiet opening five minutes, Northampton had the game’s first shooting opportunity when Ricky Holmes drove forward and teed up Martin on the edge of the area, where the Millwall loanee’s low shot was saved by teenager goalkeeper Kieran O’Hara.
Even at this early stage, the Cobblers were in the ascendency and Martin had another opening but on this occassion, with time and space inside the area, he miscued and failed to hit the target.
Keeping possession well, Northampton had the visitors penned back inside their own half for much of the opening 20 minutes as the home side stroked the ball around with confidence and purpose, and some smart interplay between Holmes and Joel Byrom saw the former get behind the visiting defence but his volley from a tight angle was parried away by O’Hara.
The game then became somewhat disjointed for a brief period, although Northampton remained the dominant side and they soon had the goal they had warranted.
It all came from some quick-thinking as Byrom’s smartly-taken free-kick found Collins who swept into the bottom corner with a sweet first-time finish.
Morecambe had barely threatened prior to going behind but that goal stung them into life and they had an immediate chance to peg Town back but Adam Smith was out quickly to save from Andy Fleming.
But that came against the run of play as every time the home side ventured forward they looked like scoring and a second goal duly arrived five minutes before half-time.
After a lengthy spell of Northampton pressure, the ball broke to Holmes on the edge of the area and the winger’s driven low shot was diverted home by O’Toole from just yards out for the midfielder’s sixth goal of the season.
The home side were playing some wonderful football at times as Richards, Holmes and O’Toole almost combined for what would have been a superbly-crafted goal, only for the former to flick a cross wide when under pressure.
Morecambe rarely threatened although, given their goalscoring record this season, there was always a danger that one goal could bring two and Tom Barkhuizen almost pulled one back on the cusp of half-time but he couldn’t get enough power on his shot.
As it was, the Cobblers kept their two-goal lead intact through to the break and after having to weather a brief Morecambe storm at the start of the second half, a third goal wasn’t long in coming.
It came from an unlikely source as McDonald notched his second Cobblers goal when heading home Martin’s deep corner.
The home side were now in cruise control and sought to add further goals to their tally, though complacency crept in at the back as a few sloppy passes presented Morecambe with the opportunity to get back into the game but the visitors couldn’t capitalise.
Instead, it was a question of whether or not the Cobblers could make the scoreline more one-sided and they almost scored a fourth when Martin and Holmes combined well again to tee up Richards but O’Hara was out quickly to block the skipper’s shot.
However, Morecambe weren’t done just yet and with 19 minutes remaining, they pulled a goal back when substitute Mullin turned into an empty net after Kevin Ellison’s shot had been well saved by Smith.
That goal brought a few jitters around Sixfields and Morecambe almost had another goal but this time Smith came to the rescue.
Despite leading 3-1, Northampton were still committing men forward and they fortunate that Morecambe’s final ball lacked quality on two or three occasions as the visitors picked their hosts off on the break.
But in the end, this was a comfortable and deserved victory that takes the Cobblers top ahead of a two-week break.
Northampton: Smith, Moloney, Diamond, McDonald, Buchanan, Holmes, O’Toole, Byrom, Martin (Adams 84), Collins (Hoskins 89), Richards (c) (Taylor 80)
Subs not used: Clarke, Horwood, Cresswell, Lelan
Morecambe: O’Hara, Beeley, Dugdale, Parrish, Wilson, Kenyon, Fleming, Barkhuizen (Conlan 85), Devitt (Molyneux 65), Ellison, Miller (Mullin 65)
Subs not used: Edwards, Goodall, Doyle, Kelleher
Referee: Gavin Ward
Morecambe fans: 96