One of Aidy Boothroyd’s most consistent observations is that football can often have a habit of kicking you in the teeth.
Essentially, it’s the manager’s way of saying that whenever you start to feel progress is being made there is always the potential for a negative performance to set that progress back.
At Chesterfield on Saturday, the sport did not just kick the Cobblers in the teeth, it also punched them in the face, threw them on the floor and stole their dinner money.
Town were second best in every department and looked a pale imitation of the side that had won three games on the bounce going into the fixture.
The home side’s system saw Marc Richards play up front alone but not as a static striker whose job it was to hold off the centre-backs and bring others into play; instead he operated almost as a false nine, pulling his marker out of position to allow the midfield trio behind him to join in at randomly-selected moments and fill the gaps vacated by defenders.
It was a role Richards, a finished article of a player who provided both speed and strength, revelled in, as did the three players behind him, whose movement and swiftness in counter-attacks was far too good for their Northamptonian counterparts.
Luke Guttridge and Ben Harding had what might be their worst games for the club, Jake Robinson was isolated and Chris Hackett attempted to give the team some go-forward but was regularly deprived of team-mates on his wavelength.
All of which left the back four horribly exposed - Kelvin Langmead stood up valiantly to this pressure but his three colleagues struggled to. As with Harding and Guttridge, Joe Widdowson and Clarke Carlisle both endured what were probably their weakest performances in Cobblers colours.
Aside from the individual performances, there also has to be a question mark over the application of the side’s tactics. Town have profited from playing a direct game but at Chesterfield, the long passes they played invariably landed on the heads of the home defenders, they were rarely diagonal (and therefore more difficult to deal with) or hooked in behind.
Things improved substantially during the second half but Chesterfield, with a three-goal cushion, eased off in that period and were actually just as likely to score as the Cobblers, whose best football was almost entirely played by Hackett.
It was a bad day at the office and one to forget. The only real positives to take from it are that the home side did not win by more (they have easily scored at least another two goals) and that other results in league two mean Northampton remain just a point outside the play-off places.
No chance with any of the goals and made it good save to keep the score down ...5
Stuck to his task manfully but endured a tough game against quality opposition ...4
Threw himself at everything and although he made mistakes his effort could not be questioned ...5
Improved significantly in the second half but the first 45 minutes were not up to the standard of a Football League professional ...4
Was given a torrid time by Darikwa on his most uncomfortable afternoon for the club so far ...4
Tried to provide the spark in the second half and was once again the side’s best player ...5
Overrun by the home midfield and found wanting both on and off the ball. One to truly forget ...4
Will have had nightmares about the pass that sold Widdowson short and led to Chesterfield’s third goal ...4
Was just completely cut off on the left wing, although his booking was a good piece of ‘professional’ play ...4
The physical style is not his game but needs to improve a little - also seemed to have his timing out somewhat ...4
Conceded a foul after three seconds in a tone-setting moment for a game in which he was kept far from the home side’s goal ...4
LEWIS HORNBY (for Akinfenwa 74mins)
Provided some energy in midfield and hit one fierce shot that required a good block ...5
ISHMEL DEMONTAGNAC (for Harding 82mins)
Not used: Snedker, Wilson, Moult, Dias, Turnbull