Kevin Nolan reporting from the no-man's land of Grove Park
Behind a rock-solid defence, Charlton comfortably won this wind-marred mess of a game to make it three victories in a row. It didn't exactly qualify as winning ugly but the neutral observer understandably found it a chore to watch.
Deprived of fast improving Chuks Aneke, Lee Bowyer stuck to his rotation system and made five changes from the side which beat Blackpool. But it was the same superb back four behind the midweek triumph at Bloomfield Road who came through for him again. Ruthlessly efficient centre backs Ryan Inniss and Akin Famewo were in "No Pasaran" mood while new captain Chris Gunter and Ian Maatsen were equally hard nosed full backs. Behind them, Ben Amos contributed a marvellous first half double save and the pass-of-the-game later on to set up Charlton's second goal. His fourth consecutive clean sheet was otherwise little more than a formality.
It made sense in chaotic conditions to keep it simple, forget any fooling about at the back and use direct methods. Apart from one scare handed them midway through the first period, the Addicks' tactics, though hardly original, proved chillingly effective. Northampton were a beaten side well before the final whistle.
The solitary blip in an almost flawless away performance cropped up when Maatsen fouled Ricky Korboa to the right of the away goal. Nicky Adams' wickedly delivered free kick was met on the run by Sam Hoskins, who seemed certain to score from close range until Amos almost miraculously parried his effort. While on the ground, the keeper kicked clear the rebound off Inniss' shins. He could scarcely have seen the original bullet but of course goalkeepers respond to more uniquely honed instincts than mere mortals.
Charlton's only threat to the Cobblers' goal scarcely warrants mention but serves to illustrate the dire lack of action in an opening half which made watching it from the warmth of Grove Park all the more attractive. Some of us have already paid our travelling dues and then some. Anyway, Omar Bogle's header had the merit of being on target but made easy pickings for Jonathan Mitchell. So much for the first 45 minutes.
Bowyer's interval replacement of a subdued Dylan Levitt by warhorse Darren Pratley made an immediate difference. Levitt has still to find his skilful feet while Pratley was made for such belt-and-braces conditions. Within 10 minutes, he blasted the visitors ahead in typically no-nonsense style.
The latest in a series of menacing corners from Jake Forster-Caskey was met at the far post by Inniss and headed back into a crowded six-yard box., where Bogle made a foraging nuisance of himself. From eight yards, Pratley hammered the loose ball into the roof of Mitchell's net. The lead should have been instantly doubled but Paul Smyth made a hash of converting another header by Inniss from yet another of Forster-Caskey's corners. The Forster-Caskey-Inniss setpiece combination promises to be productive.
Smyth's miss was not costly because the Addicks lost little time in scoring again, this time by direct but far from crude means. Fielding a corner, Amos spotted Alfie Doughty already on the move over the halfway line and delivered a scorching sideways-on pass ahead of the flying winger. Leaving Christopher Missilou trailing desolately in his slipstream, Doughty burst clear to cross hard and low from the right byline. Caught wrongfooted as he sought to clear the danger, Cobblers' defender Jack Sowerby turned the ball into his own net. Play out from the back aficionados might find it educational to consider that the goal resulted from Amos' long pass, without a hint of long ball aimlessness about it. In this age of regimented, one-style football, there remains room for improvisation. Defenders still fear the ball over the top. They "don't like it up 'em". Or over 'em, come to that.
Two decisive goals up, the Addicks managed what was left with impressive ease. Keith Curle's Cobblers struggled to make headway, their fading hopes pinned on the long throws of Fraser Horsfall. The aerial domination of Inniss and Famewo toyed with those hopes and the points were secured without undue drama. His enforced 66th minute withdrawal of a limping Doughty provided Bowyer with his only headache. The rookie speedster is being targeted as Charlton's danger man and kicked accordingly, which is both a compliment and a concern at the same time. Doughty will probably miss Tuesday's visit by Karl Robinson's Oxford United. If he does, who knows, we might see Marcus Maddison step in to the breach. One door closes...
Northampton: Mitchell, Harriman, Sowerby, Bolger, Horsfall, Hoskins, Adams (Ashley-Seal 62), Korboa (Chukwuemaka 63), Racic (Marshall 70), Missilou, Rose. Not used: Arnold, Watson, Smith, McWilliams. Booked: Racic, Harriman, Hoskins.
Charlton: Amos, Gunter, Inniss, Famewo, Maatsen, Forster-Caskey, Levitt (Pratley 46), Williams (Washington 77), Doughty (Shinnie 60), Bogle, Smyth. Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Watson, Morgan, Maddison. Booked: Forster-Caskey.
Referee: Samuel Allison.