Concrete assessments of the Cobblers’ defeat at Southend United are hard to make, with the exception that they are finding it hard to win games in which they don’t have the full complement of 11 players on the pitch.
The 2013-14 league results sheet, so far, has a very familiar feel to it – two away games, two defeats; one home game, one win.
It is difficult to deliver much of a verdict (a comprehensive one, anyway) on the scant evidence that has been supplied so far.
Especially as, in both road games, there have been ‘lightning bolts’ that have clouded the debate and muddied the waters of the home/away debate that dominated all of last season.
It is a concern that the team has been beaten three times in their first four games of the season but at Southend the match was changed completely by Chris Hackett’s sending-off.
At that point, they had already missed a penalty and were – by the accounts of the relatively neutral press corps – the better side.
Joe Widdowson had heeded pre-much exhortions from his manager to get forward more and did well to catch the home defence napping on a quickly-taken free-kick to embark on a run that won the penalty.
But, with 10 men, and with the home side going ahead through a fortuitous goal, the odds were very quickly stacked against the Cobblers.
Hackett was naïve to get himself sent off by a referee who was certainly card happy – although he can be permitted one through a lack of match-induced timing, the second was unnecessary.
It was a costly error from probably the team’s best attacking player and one whose stock with the manager was highlighted by his immediate restoration to the starting line-up after a reasonably long injury lay-off.
And, short-handed and shorn of such explosive pace and pinpoint-accurate crossing, the only option was to try to defend. An option that was a good one until the home side went ahead, after which they were in full control no matter how much Northampton huffed and puffed.
It’s not back to the drawing board. Well, not unless said board contains instructions telling midfielders not to make rash challenges in away games in which they have already been booked, that is.
Pulled off a brilliant save to deny Corr a third goal for Southend and handling was very good throughout ...7
Faced a difficult opponent once again in Straker and managed to limit him in open play ...6
Given a difficult afternoon at times by Eastwood, who used his experience well and took his goal with great aplomb ...5
Beaten to a few headers by the impressive Corr and his trademark throw was largely negated by the home defence ...5
Probably the pick of the outfield players – picked up a sloppy booking but was not alone in that regard and did well to win the penalty ...7
Truly an afternoon to forget. Was on the pitch for just 22 minutes and contributed just two fouls, for which he was booked ...4
Had his moments but with the team short-handed he was deprived of the ball in attacking areas ...5
Kept things simple and was unable to find the midfield spark to ignite the team’s recovery ...5
Performed well enough on the left but was sacrificed midway through the second half in a tactical switch ...6
Any penalty save is a good one from a goalkeeper’s point of view but it was not a good strike by the centre-forward ...5
A bits-and-pieces game in which he was forced to do a lot of hard work and hard running to almost no avail ...5
CLIVE PLATT (for Widdowson 66)
A useful run-out for his own fitness but didn’t add a lot to the side ...5
ISHMEL DEMONTAGNAC (for Emerton 66)
Tried to produce some magic but was often double-marked out of it ...6
IVAN TONEY (for Blyth 73)
Put his body on the line late in the game in another decent cameo ...6
Not used: Snedker, Dias, Hooper, Morris