This match had everything that we have been missing lately: exciting football, a positive result, and an excellent atmosphere. The mood in the two camps could hardly have been more different going into this game, Northampton – unbeaten in five before this match – fancied their chances, while Oxford had failed to win in four and were forced to field a much changed side.
The atmosphere in the stands was audibly improved by the Ultimate Support Saturday initiative and the enthusiasm of the fans appeared to spur on the players as well. United made a lively start, passing the ball around nicely and looking to get forward at every opportunity. 14 minutes in, Alfie Potter put an excellent ball across the face of goal to find an unmarked (and offside) James Constable for an easy tap-in and the lead.
Northampton looked a good side and had lots of possession, but the better chances all fell to United, and we could have gone in at the break with a two or three goal lead. Rigg appeared to have scored with a thunderous shot only to see it crash off the bar and Forster-Caskey's luck was no better when his 20-yard effort rebounded off the post. The resulting corner resulted in a goalmouth scramble which could have gone anywhere, but just didn't fall right for any of the Oxford attackers and Northampton were able to scramble the ball away to safety.
It wasn't all one way; Northampton saw plenty of the ball and spent a good deal of time around the Oxford box, but for all their endeavour they failed to create any meaningful chances in the opening 45 minutes.
They went closer in the second, but still failed to really test Ryan Clarke, with chances from Adebayo Akinfenwa and Chris Hackett narrowly missing the target as the game opened up. And the Cobblers finally got the goal their play had deserved as the match entered its final 15 minutes when substitute Clive Platt rose to head in an excellent cross from Hackett.
But the Oxford response from both fans and players was a positive one and within a matter of minutes the yellows once more had the lead. Jon-Paul Pittman had looked lively since his introduction midway through the half and it was him who latched onto Peter Leven's lofted through ball. Bearing down on goalkeeper Lee Nicholls a small, pessimistic voice in my head told me he would miss, but Pittman kept his composure and coolly slotted home, sending the East Stand into raptures.
Northampton's challenge was effectively over after Clarke Carlisle was given his marching orders for a second yellow card (not for foul and abusive language as has been reported elsewhere) and we were able to see the game out relatively comfortably.
There are some great positives to take from today. The fans were excellent and today was a fantastic example of what we can achieve when we all pull in the same direction. The performance of course wasn't perfect, but was a marked improvement over recent weeks. The defence stood their ground against a determined and physical attack and we scored at just the right times. When Northampton scored their equaliser the momentum appeared to be in their favour and there weren't many who didn't believe they would go on to win the game, but we showed great strength of character to immediately restore the lead and see the game out professionally.
What a nice change it makes to be able to write a positive match report!