Cheered on by a superb contingent of travelling fans, this was an opportunity squandered by Northampton Town who failed to give their magnificent fans some much-needed joy at the end of an arduous week for everyone associated with the club.
As Chris Wilder alluded to in his post-match interview, perhaps the nature of the club’s distressing situation off the pitch coupled with the strong away following played a part in his side’s downfall in this 2-1 defeat at Cambridge United.
There was a hint of desperation and over-eagerness in their play and though their endeavour and attitude cannot be questioned, the Cobblers’ lacked the patience and composure required once they fell behind to Harrison Dunk’s opener.
Initially, this was a game that could have swung either way, particularly in an evenly-matched and enjoyable first half that yielded chances at both ends.
Nicky Adams and Sam Hoskins provided Northampton’s brightest moments in an attacking sense but the latter was guilty of spurning the away side’s best opening when he found himself one-on-one with Sam Beasant, only for the U’s keeper to save well with his legs.
As it turned out, that miss proved costly and shortly afterwards it was Cambridge who made the crucial breakthrough when Northampton’s defence dropped too deep and Dunk was afforded time and space to drive into. He duly obliged before firing a low shot into the bottom corner.
It was a setback which the Cobblers struggled to recover from and their misery then deepened when Barry Corr was given the freedom of the Northampton penalty area to slot home a second after Greg Taylor’s right-wing cross.
And that seemed to be that.
But to their credit, Wilder’s side fought back valiantly and when Marc Richards emphatically dispatched a 60th minute penalty, a comeback looked on the cards.
But the Cobblers were then unable to seize the moment and bar a couple of half chances, it was Cambridge who posed the greater threat on the counter-attack.
Having pulled a goal back, Northampton were in the ascendency and with only 60 minutes on the clock, they had ample time to find an equaliser, but desperation set in and instead of patiently probing for an opening, they threw too many men forward too quickly and almost paid for it at the other end.
It was something that Wilder was quick to note post-match and in similar situations in the future, he will need to curb his side’s attacking exuberance and hope they opt for a more pragmatic, patient approach, something which they have done effectively in their recent unbeaten run.
It’s a difficult balance but one that is crucial to success.
The tendency of the two full-backs to maraud forward, whilst admirable, leaves gaps for opposition teams to exploit and Cambridge did so to great effect on Saturday.
Well, to great effect until they came face-to-face with Adam Smith.
It wouldn’t be a Northampton game without mentioning Smith and he was once again in outstanding form at the Abbey Stadium. Though he was more busy in the second half, his best stop came after just 12 minutes when he miraculously kept out Robbie Simpson’s header from point-blank range.
But, ultimately, his hard work was all to no avail, and just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, Lawson D’Ath’s red card added insult to injury and topped off a thoroughly forgettable week for the club.
Surely things can only get better…?
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Back to his best with a superb display between the sticks. Repeatedly kept Cambridge at bay with save after save in the second half... 8.5 CHRON STAR MAN
Darnell Furlong - Offensively excellent and linked up well with D’Ath on the right but got caught too high up the pitch at times… 7
Shaun Brisley - Not his best display in a Cobblers shirt. Mix up between him and Cresswell left Corr with all the time in the world to slot in United’s second… 6
Ryan Cresswell - Sat too deep and gave Dunk far too much space to run into for Cambridge’s opener. Defence looked vulnerable throughout… 6
David Buchanan - Similar to Furlong in how he provided a threat going forward but left gaps at the back. Went missing for the second goal… 6
Joel Byrom - Decent on the ball but didn’t provide enough solidity in the centre of the park which left the back four susceptible to counter-attacks... 6
John-Joe O’Toole - Didn’t quite reach the heights of recent performances but continued his resurgence with another solid display... 6.5
Lawson D’Ath - Made some driving runs forward in an excellent first half and was central to some well-worked moves, but faded badly after half-time before being sent off for a reckless late lunge….5
Nicky Adams - Saw plenty of the ball but, unlike recent games, his end product was lacking…. 6
Sam Hoskins - Always a livewire up front but missed a great chance at 0-0 which could have altered the entire course of the game… 6
Marc Richards - Gave Beasant no chance with a thunderous penalty but otherwise quiet… 6.5
Dominic Calvert-Lewin - 6.5
Chris Hackett - 6