Northampton Town 3-2 Pilgrims
by Barbara Singleton
A second half display full of fightback vigour was not enough to stave off a first round FA Cup exit for the Pilgrims. In the process, defeat by a slender margin brought to an early end United's aspirations of a successful run in the competition and stretched the team's current losing streak to five matches. On the basis that Northampton are comfortably placed in mid-table in the Second Division, this result was probably in accordance with what many observers would have expected. But, somewhat frustratingly, it could (and should) have been much better for Boston. If their first half performance had matched that of the second, a major achievement might have been forthcoming. As it was, the Pilgrims again had to count the cost of inconsistency, a fact not lost on manager Neil Thompson. He said: "Basically it is down to individuals. They know what is expected and they have shown they are capable of producing the goods. But it has to be over 90 minutes, not just 45." United unluckily lost the services of Simon Weatherstone to a pre-match kick-in injury, with Jamie Cook deputising in attack. But United's general first half lethargy saw them trail 2-0 at the interval, the first goal arriving in hugely unlucky circumstances in the ninth minute. A free-kick from Paul Harlsey 25 yards out looked to be heading safely into the clutches of Paul Bastock, but was diverted into the opposite side of the net via an awkward deflection on Ben CHAPMAN. As in several previous fixtures, the Pilgrims found difficulty in establishing a foothold in the opening throes and some timid challenging and half-hearted closing down allowed Northampton to retain the initiative. Further chances came for the home side with Jamie Forrester seeing a shot drop onto the roof of the net while Derek Asamoah fired wide and then Bastock saved well from Marco Gabbiadini.
Boston's only real response was a dipping off-target drive by Mark Angel. The deficit widened further on 35 minutes when Chris Hargreaves whipped over a cross from the right and GABBIADINI flashed a near post header beyond Bastock. The introduction of Anthony Elding for the ineffective Cook at half-time. And in conjunction with some terse half-time dressing room observations, it seemed to spark the Pilgrims into new life, notably with Chapman and Angel being a powerful source of potency down the left side. Moments into the period, Lee Thompson had forceful penalty claims ignored by referee Steve Baines when Chris Carruthers appeared to use both hands in blocking the winger's cross. On 52 minutes Thompson saw a looping header saved by Lee Harper from a centre by Angel who then saw another low drive held by the home custodian. Finally, United got a decision in their favour when Thompson was fouled by Ian Sampson in the area and Tony BATTERSBY blasted home from the resultant 56th minute penalty. Boston continued to press with superb vocal backing from 900 travelling fans, notably with Battersby providing an excellent pivot in attack in shielding the ball and bringing both wingers (Thompson and Angel) into play. However, Boston hopes were deflated when possession was surrendered on the half-way line with Gabbiadini feeding Forrester. He was thwarted by the duel challenge of Matt Hocking and Ray Warburton, but the ball broke to ASAMOAH who fired in from a tight angle. Boston, though, courageously threw renewed efforts into attack and frequently had the home rearguard struggling to cope. Elding missed out on converting crosses from Angel and later Tom Bennett. But in the 83rd minute, Alex HIGGINS netted his first goal for the Pilgrims with a close range header from Angel's free-kick from the right. However, it proved too late to trigger a further addition to the scoresheet and force what would have been a merited replay.
United team: (4-4-2) 1. Bastock, 2. Rusk, 3. Hocking (R Weatherstone 70), 4. Warburton, 5. Chapman, 6. L Thompson, 7. Higgins, 8. Bennett (Douglas 86), 9. Angel, 10. Battersby, 11. Cook (Elding 46). Subs (not used): Gould, Conroy (gk).