Resilient Rovers miss out on a point after Harding's late strike
LATE goals have been a recent feature of Bristol Rovers' battle to beat the drop – last night at Sixfields, however, it was John Ward's side that were on the wrong-end of a last-gasp strike to suffer a cruel defeat.
After standing up manfully to a persistent aerial bombardment for the majority of the game, Rovers were undone two minutes from time when Northampton midfielder Ben Harding bundled the ball over the line following a long throw into the penalty area.
The defeat sees Rovers, who have scored late goals of their own in games against Barnet and Cheltenham since the start of the month, slip back to within three points of the relegation zone on what was a bad day for Ward, who confirmed that he would be without midfielder Seanan Clucas after he suffered a season-ending knee injury at Morecambe on Saturday.
Striker Ryan Brunt was also unavailable for a game that won't live long in anyone's memory – although Ward will be disappointed his side did not leave with at least a point after enjoying more possession and watch his side defend their penalty area solidly for 88 minutes.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Sunday, June 30 2013
Oliver Norburn slotted into central midfield as a replacement for Clucas, while the Rovers boss also kept faith with Eliot Richards and Tom Hitchcock in the absence of Brunt.
It was a defender, however, that caused Northampton goalkeeper Lee Nicholls a problem in the early exchanges; Michael Smith almost catching the Sixfields stopper out with a cross-come-shot.
Northampton, though, looked dangerous with the ball at their feet, particularly down the flanks, although all they had to show for their early efforts was a Clive Platt header that sailed over the crossbar.
A similar effort went the same way off the head of Adebayo Akinfenwa soon after.
Rovers did manage to make the occasional break out of defence, with one in the 23rd minute ending in a good save by Nicholls after Joe Anyinsah had collected the ball off Tom Hitchcock on the edge of the penalty area and aimed a powerful drive goalwards from the edge of the penalty area.
Northampton's rudimentary approach was perhaps best encapsulated by the long throws of defender Ben Tozer, but while the missile-like deliveries served to cause confusion in an around the six-yard box, Rovers continued to defend manfully.
For all the possession enjoyed by Boothroyd's side, however, Rovers created the more threatening chances, with Norburn the next to sting Nicholls' hands with low drive on another foray into Northampton territory before the end of the first half.
Rovers received a boost at the start of the second-half when 17-goal striker Akinfenwa failed to reappear due to an injury and Ward's men started brightly. Richards forced Nicholls into another save with a left-footed effort from the edge of the penalty area in the 52nd minute.
Northampton continued their aerial assault, only for Steve Mildenhall to persistently catch the ball or punch it to safety. Central defenders Tom Parkes and Mark McChrystal were also found in the right place at the right time when called on to get their heads in the way of punts into the penalty area.
McChrystal got his body in the way of a Jake Robinson shot before Danny Woodards did the same to charge down an effort from Harding.
Ellis Harrison was introduced for Tom Hitchcock for the final quarter-of-an-hour – a switch that saw Ward move Joe Anyinsah up front on his own in a bid to pack the middle of the park to secure a point. It almost worked.