JORDAN Chapell’s first goal could not save Torquay United from defeat at home to early leaders Oxford United seven days before, but his second and third, both taken with panache, floored promotion fancies Northampton Town at Sixfields on Saturday and might just have moved the Gulls’ season into top gear.
Alan Knill’s summer signing from Sheffield United pounced twice in the space of six second-half minutes as United, not for the first time, finished much more strongly than they started in their hard-earned 2-1 League Two win.
As Knill was quick to point out afterwards, things should get distinctly interesting when his team manages to put
90 good minutes together.
In fairness, the wind at Sixfields played a bigger part than many realised.
The Cobblers had it with them in the first half and deserved to lead at the interval through Jacob Blyth’s 30th-minute header.
Although Karl Hawley posted a couple of early warnings – he did put in a performance which lasted all afternoon – Northampton soon had United on the back foot, and nowhere more than down their right wing.
United left-back Kevin Nicholson often found himself in trouble against the combination of former Hull City winger Danny Emerton and ex-Exeter right-back Kevin Amankwaah, but other problems were self-inflicted.
Mis-headers, hesitant defending and some below-par passing compounded the effect of the wind. Martin Rice had to make one outstanding save with his legs from the pacy Emerton, and Roy O’Donovan, Blyth and ex-Gulls midfielder Ian Morris all went close before the breakthrough came on the half-hour.
Once again it was Emerton who played a key role – he chased down Morris’s ball towards the corner flag, conjured up a terrific volleyed cross and Blyth, on loan from Leicester City, rose at the far post to head home.
Just before that goal, United skipper Lee Mansell, making his 300th League appearance for the club, had set up the hard-working Hawley for a shot just wide, and in the last few minutes of the half Hawley twice and Aaron Downes nearly equalised.
In the first minute of the second half Nicholson did well to stop Blyth finishing off a Morris cross that might have made it 2-0, but the changed pattern was clear for all to see.
United had properly got their act together, crucially finding Callum Ball’s feet instead of firing the ball over his head. The on-loan centre-forward from Derby immediately started linking up with Hawley to real effect.
And, instead of being overstretched against Emerton, Nicholson turned that duel on its head and started dictating affairs down United’s left flank.
Home goalkeeper Matt Duke saved from Northampton-born Courtney Cameron, Krystian Pearce and substitute Billy Bodin. Pearce also had a snapshot blocked near the line and Hawley fired over from ex-Cobblers midfielder Ben Harding’s lay-off.
The only worry for United was that they might not be able to add a goal to all their pressure and chances, but they put that right in the 72nd minute.
In a counter-attack from one penalty area to the other, Ball and Hawley swept upfield, Hawley slipped Chapell through and he coolly beat Duke with a right-foot shot from 12 yards out.
Six minutes later it was Bodin who supplied the all-important pass, a raking crossfield ball from left to right, and Chapell dashed clear before checking back inside and then flicking the ball across Duke with the outside of his right boot.
United had to expect some response, and Northampton delivered it.
Downes came up with two brave headers – he and Clive Platt both finished with bandages for head cuts – to stop Town equalising, while Rice did well to block Ishmel Demontagnac’s low driven cross, Nicholson completing the clearance.
But United were still dangerous on the counter, and Duke had to make one last save to stop Bodin making it 3-1.
That first win is now in the bank, it feels like the season is up and running and Hartlepool United will not be looking forward to their long trip to Plainmoor this Saturday.