Shaun McWilliams made no apology for his celebrations after netting an 87th-minute winner to earn Northampton a dramatic 3-2 victory over fellow high-flyers Stevenage at the Lamex.
Northampton academy product McWilliams swept in at the back post to score just his second league goal for the club and have the final say in a manic final 10 minutes that also saw Danny Hylton sent off.
Stevenage and Northampton, who started the day in first and third place respectively, were locked at 1-1 in the 81th minute after first-half goals from Louis Appere and Danny Rose, but the visitors re-took the lead through Kieron Bowie before Alex Gilbey seemingly rescued a point for Stevenage.
However, McWilliams timed his run to perfection to meet Mitch Pinnock’s cross and sparked wild celebrations that hit a nerve with Stevenage boss Steve Evans, who was dismissed in the first half.
“We all know I don’t score many goals. That was a weird feeling. I think I froze when it hit the back of the net,” said McWilliams.
“I was playing right-back at the time and I saw there was an opening at the back stick. Head down. Run. Ball comes in. Hit it. Hope. Went in. Buzzing.
“I’m not going to score many so that was probably an aspect of [my celebration] being ‘over the top’. But who cares? We’ve come here. We’ve got the win.
“They were top of the leaderboard. Everyone wants to beat them and we’ve managed to do it so I think we can celebrate in whatever way we want.”
Northampton move to within two points of Stevenage, who were knocked off the top spot by Leyton Orient who registered a 3-2 win of their own against Carlisle.
And after the Cobblers were cruelly denied promotion last season, McWilliams said the players have put that disappointment behind them.
“If you’re going to dwell on last year, I don’t think that’s any good for anyone. You have to forget about it to an extent,” he added.
“We have a new year where we can do even better than last year and I think that’s what our aim is.”
Appere’s first-minute penalty was the first goal Northampton had scored in four games and only the third Stevenage had conceded at home all season.
Northampton dominated the opening stages but Evans’ red card proved a turning point in a first half that saw the hosts equalise and finish the stronger.
Cobblers boss Jon Brady admitted the interval was key for his players.
“We needed half-time,” said Brady. “We made some adjustments and we talked to the group about what we needed to do and obviously they implemented that.
“It was fantastic in the end to really stop their flow and then get back on top. I felt we should’ve seen the game out at 2-1 but to go again and get the winner was really pleasing.”
In the opposite dugout, at least for the first 28 minutes, Evans was furious with the officiating and his own team’s defending in equal measure.
“Listen, the officials all over the country are hopeless, aren’t they? Every manager says it every week,” he said.
“The EFL has a real problem trying to recruit officials, especially in Leagues One and Two.
“He’s just not a very good referee. I’ve said it a couple of weeks in a row.
“[My] first simple yellow card was because their manager used an expletive to my assistant and I asked in no uncertain terms not to speak to my staff like that, so I got a card and he didn’t.
“Then I went to the bench and turned to the referee and told him he’s having a great game, well done and that’s what I went for.
“They get the goal and after the first half an hour we deserved to win it based on the next 60 minutes, but they didn’t get caught not defending properly in the last few minutes.
“But if you don’t defend properly, you can get punished and we got punished today.”
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