Northampton 1, City 3
You can’t move for heavyweights roaming Sixfields right now.
Adebayo Akinfenwa’s clash with Guy Branston was not one for the squeamish.
That was just the undercard for next week’s dinner visit from Mike Tyson, the daddy of them all.
But Iron Mike will have to go some at Northampton to deliver a more brutal show-stopper than Nahki Wells.
The slightly-built Bermudian probably weighs no more than ten stone wet through. But he produced a killer three-punch knock-out to leave the Cobblers seeing stars.
Crash! Sent clear by Craig Fagan after 11 minutes, Wells oozes composure as he advances to the edge of the box before finding the bottom corner.
Bang! Northampton fail to clear a free-kick and Wells meets Luke Oliver’s header with an acrobatic overhead kick.
Wallop! Wells saves the best until last, seizing on more defensive hesitation to be first to Simon Ramsden’s clearance with an audacious lob over goalkeeper Neal Kitson.
Northampton were Wells and truly out for the count as the 21-year-old striker celebrated City’s first hat-trick since Peter Thorne against Notts County in 2008.
Before that, Dean Windass had notched the previous trebles against Rochdale and Bournemouth. Young Wells is in good company.
But you wonder if he would have started on Saturday. Had Chris Dagnall’s back not been playing up and prevented him from travelling, would Wells have been consigned to the bench?
Phil Parkinson had taken him off at half-time at Shrewsbury and swapped them round. He believed the rookie, still in his first full professional season, was running on empty after putting in such a big effort against Southend on Good Friday.
Maybe Dagnall’s name would have been on the team sheet ahead of him for the weekend.
It’s academic now and, as Wells tucked the match ball under his shirt in celebration, few supporters cared.
He had once again confirmed what may seem blindingly obvious – that City are a far more potent proposition with him on the field.
The stats back it up all the way. Their last dozen goals have all been scored when Wells has been involved.
The strike rate is something close to a goal every 50 minutes when Wells is playing; a goal every 100 when he’s not. Feed the Nahk and all that!
It’s just best if he doesn’t ask the Professional Footballers’ Association for any favours for a while. Not when the players’ union chairman is Clarke Carlisle, the centre half he ran absolutely ragged on Saturday.
Carlisle is known as one of the most eloquent speakers in the game. But he was struggling for breath, let alone words, by the time the number 21 came up and he was spared any further punishment.
Parkinson knew that raw pace down the middle would be Northampton’s undoing and Wells eagerly followed orders.
“I’ve heard Clarke Carlisle’s name but never played against him,” said Wells.
“He’s a very experienced defender and that was what was put up on the board – and it said you’ve just got to run him to death. That’s exactly what I’ve done and my hard work paid off.”
City’s opening goal was their first on the road for more than seven hours – and first by a City player since you know who scored at Barnet at the end of February.
Like London buses, more quickly followed in a performance that was rich on determination and attacking intent.
Parkinson had gathered the players for a team meeting on Thursday and told them he was fed up with sob stories. Six successive away defeats had produced plenty of “if only” moments but not a single point.
Actions speak louder than words and the proof came in the way they met in-form Northampton head on from the first whistle, literally in Rob Kozluk’s case as he quickly found himself in an Akinfenwa head lock.
The left back’s reaction was theatrical but Northampton’s burly striker was still lucky that the assistant referee was spectacularly reluctant to get involved with an incident that happened four feet in front of him.
City were two up by the break but they had to work for it. Northampton had good chances of their own and but for crucial goalline clearances from Luke Oliver, looking like he had never been away, and Simon Ramsden, the scoreline would have been very different.
City were desperate not to let their advantage slip and it showed.
Their fans were in fine voice, reminding the locals they should have chosen to watch the rugby just down the road instead.
But many of those travelling supporters would have seen City lose a similar two-goal cushion on the same ground in Stuart McCall’s reign.
That flashed before the eyes when Northampton cut the deficit just seven minutes after the restart.
Corners were a constant menace – with Matt Duke looking unconvincing against his recent loan club – and City failed to clear the first one of the second half, allowing Carlisle to stab home from close in.
But if the centre half thought his afternoon was taking a welcome turn for the better, Wells needed only 40 seconds to cut him back down with another perfectly-placed shot.
Northampton’s noisy crowd, including a particularly angry bloke in front of the press box, were still roaring as Ramsden cleared a long ball from the kick-off.
The home defence, fatally, allowed it to bounce and Wells the whippet was in ahead of Kitson to lob into the far corner of the net. Comeback? What comeback? Three points and, more importantly, League Two safety were in the bag.
Parkinson said: “When we talk about the season at the end, we’ll look back on that as a big moment.
“The crowd were quite vociferous at times and they would certainly have got behind their team. But to respond like that killed the atmosphere in the whole ground.”