Chapell 72, 78
JORDAN Chapell was the Yellow toast of Sixfields on a proud afternoon for the Gulls at Northampton.
Subdued by a strong wind against in the first half, United were trailing to a Jacob Blyth strike at the interval and struggling to find any potency in attack.
The second period was a complete reversal and the Yellows had been repeatedly knocking on the home door before Chapell equalised on 72 minutes. The same man then scored a marvellous winner six minutes later and United’s campaign is up and running.
United boss Alan Knill continued his wing rotation, with Billy Bodin the one in three to miss out this week. Courtney Cameron kept his place and was joined in the wide options by Chapell, scorer of the Yellow consolation in last weekend’s home loss to Oxford.
The other change came at right-back, where Dale Tonge returned from suspension to bump Tom Cruise back down to the bench, who, in turn, nudged young defender Kirtys MaKenzie out of the match-day squad.
Northampton manager Aidy Boothroyd replaced the suspended Chris Hackett, dismissed in their defeat at Southend seven days ago, with former United midfielder Ian Morris, signed from Plainmoor in the summer.
The Irishman would line-up against ex-Cobbler Ben Harding, who made the opposite journey during the close-season. Boothroyd’s pre-match statement that his current squad is smaller than the one that reached the play-off final last year was seemingly confirmed by his decision to name just six out of a possible seven substitutes.
As the game kicked-off, huge congratulations were due for United captain Lee Mansell, who was making his 300th League appearance as a Gull and, with a pleasant symmetry, his 350th outing for the club in all competitions.
The early stages, however, were all about defending two corners in quick succession from the Cobblers but the mild pressure was quickly relieved by midfielder Darren Carter skewing a volley wide.
A super whipped cross from Kevin Nicholson provided the first test for the Northampton defence but his opposing left-back, Joe Widdowson, did well to clear. The Cobblers hit back with an effort from Danny Emerton providing a first test for United goalkeeper Martin Rice, who saved well with his legs.
Northampton were slowly turning the screw and when Nicholson was caught by a shabby clearance by Rice, a deep cross found Roy O’Donovan but he thankfully headed wide.
Former Exeter defender Kevin Amankwaah was the next source of problems, surging forward to deliver a cross for young striker Blyth, who was also unable to find the target. Emerton then swung over a ball for the same Cobbler, and the same outcome, but a worrying pattern for Knill and his team.
The Gulls were facing a siege and when Krystian Pearce defended yet another cross from the right, the ball fell to Morris but his right-foot shot hit the side-netting. Mansell instantly shifted the emphasis with a threaded pass for Karl Hawley, who shot narrowly wide under heavy pressure.
It was a mere delaying of the inevitable and Northampton got the goal they deserved when the excellent Emerton cracked over a terrific fizzed cross, and Blyth was at the back-post to convert for the home side from close-range.
The goal had a calming effect on both sides, as Northampton took their foot off the gas and United gradually settled into a slightly more comfortable rhythm, but there was no doubt the coaching staff would be looking for more of an attacking threat from their team.
Hawley was the obvious answer to that conundrum and when he was found by Chapell, the former Scunthorpe and Preston striker was thwarted by a smart-save from Duke after a decent effort with his weaker left-foot.
The half ended with Callum Ball picking out Hawley with a neat cross but the shot was deflected wide for a corner, which was delivered by Harding for a header sent whistling over by Australian defender Aaron Downes.
An encouraging end to the first period for United was quickly quelled by Northampton after the break, as a goal-bound header from O’Donovan was deflected wide by Pearce and Carter then delivered a dangerous cross that only just eluded Blyth.
One source of hope for the Gulls, however, was the strong wind they defended against in the first half was now in Yellow backs, but the Cobblers were still surging forward with Blyth a constant menace.
A terrific break from United soon warned the home side of the threat within the visiting ranks and a clever pass from Chapell found Ball, who was only inches off target with his final shot. Hawley then combined with Cameron for an effort by the young winger that proved fairly comfortable for Duke in the home goal.
The Gulls had suddenly found their form and Ball was improving all the time, but good defending from Widdowson led to a corner. Harding sprinted over to take the set-piece and he found the head of Pearce, who was denied the equaliser by a fabulous Duke save.
United then had a fairly decent shout for handball waved away by referee Andrew Madley, while the loose ball fell to Pearce for a shot well blocked, but the tempo was much more like what is required in a League 2 battle. Hawley was next with a shot scooped narrowly over.
Knill sought to build on the momentum by removing Northampton-born Cameron for the fresh legs of Bodin and the new man was quickly into the action with an ambitious strike from a tight angle prompting more tidy work from Duke.
United were forced into some rare defensive work as the game entered its final quarter after clever play from Morris to squeeze out a cross that needed an excellent clearance from Downes. It was a momentary blip for the Gulls, as the richly deserved equaliser arrived moments later.
A fantastic counter-attack from a Northampton corner started with Ball finding Hawley with the first pass, and he quickly shifted to Chapell, who finished with impressive confidence for his second goal in successive games.
Boothroyd soon turned to his bench, removing Morris for the towering forward Clive Platt but the focus remained at right end for United, although Tonge spurned another decent opening with an over-hit cross.
No matter, Chapell completed his wonderful afternoon by picking up an excellent pass from Bodin to race down the right flank and curl a sublime shot with the outside of his boot beyond the beleaguered Duke.
Downes immediately protected the lead with a brave defensive pressure with Platt poised for the instant riposte. The subsequent corner was also brilliantly cleared by Downes. United again freshened up their ranks with the outstanding Hawley withdrawn for Elliot Benyon.
A grim clash between Downes and Platt then saw both players needing lengthy treatment and a change of bloodied shirts for the final push of an intriguing day at Sixfields, as Ishmel Demontagnac replaced Blyth for the final roll of the home dice.
Demontagnac was quickly involved with a fierce cross that Rice did well to parry clear and Nicholson completed the job with a hack forward, but the Gulls still had to survive six agonising minutes of injury-time.
Niall Thompson was introduced for Chapell to close out the dying moments but there was yet another delay for Downes to receive further bandaging to his head wound.
Bodin relieved the tension with a rasping shot well saved by Duke but, battered and bruised, the Gulls had done enough to secure a magnificent first win of the new season.
Northampton [4-4-2]: 1 Matt Duke; 2 Kevin Amankwaah, 6 Lee Collins, 12 Ben Tozer, 3 Joe Widdowson; 8 Ian Morris [9 Clive Platt 74], 4 Darren Carter, 17 Gary Deegan, 19 Danny Emerton; 10 Roy O’Donovan, 25 Jacob Blyth [7 Ishmel Demontagnac 87]. Substitutes [not used]: 13 Dean Snedker [GK], 16 JJ Hooper, 22 Claudio Dias, 27 Ivan Toney.
United [4-4-2]: 13 Martin Rice; 2 Dale Tonge, 5 Krystian Pearce, 4 Aaron Downes, 3 Kevin Nicholson; 11 Courtney Cameron [10 Billy Bodin 61], 7 Lee Mansell [capt], 8 Ben Harding, 12 Jordan Chapell [15 Niall Thompson 90]; 9 Karl Hawley [26 Elliot Benyon 82], 16 Callum Ball. Substitutes [not used]: 6 Damon Lathrope, 21 Thomas Cruise, 31 Daniel Sullivan, 33 Conor Thompson [GK].
Referee: Andrew Madley
Attendance: 4,088 [252 away].