ANALYSIS: Cobblers have spent more time leading than any other team this season... so why can't they hold on?

It's not unusual for teams to encounter teething problems once a new season settles down and there's already one lesson the Cobblers are having to learn the hard way: it's not how you start but how you finish.

Sunday, 29th September 2019, 7:16 pm
Nicky Adams was unlucky to see this effort come back off the crossbar. Picture: Pete Norton

The statistic that best epitomises Town's susceptibility when defending an advantage is that no League Two team has spent more time in the lead this season - no-one comes close, in fact - and yet they're currently 13th and seven points off the early pace set by Exeter and Crewe.

The Cobblers have been in front for a combined 415 minutes across their 11 fixtures, well clear of next best Swindon Town (336), but it's no use having the lead if you don't convert it into three points on a regular basis. Cambridge United have only led for 112 minutes and yet sit two places higher in the table.

Every team that has ever taken to a football pitch has weaknesses but it's the way you react to those vulnerabilities - either by finding a cure or compensating in other ares - that separates sides that win prizes and everyone else come the end of the season.

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Given they've lost six points from goals conceded in the 87th minute or later already this season - the difference between third and 13th - Cobblers' problem is at least easy to diagnose: letting leads slip and shipping costly late goals. Finding a cure, however, is the tricky part.

They have demonstrated their defensive resolve more than once this season, such as on the road to Stevenage and Swindon, so it would seem the problem is more mental and perhaps relates to concentration rather than a lack of quality or physical shortcomings.

Against Crawley Town, they switched off after going 2-0 up and conceded. Against Morecambe on Saturday, they switched off after a lengthy delay and again paid the price. Those moments dramatically and decisively altered the flow of both games.

From looking comfortable, suddenly Town were under the cosh and playing against teams who had renewed hope and added impetus. It's difficult to turn the tide from that position, especially away from home, and ultimately the Cobblers saw four potentially crucial points frittered away as a result.

For manager Keith Curle, it's about being proactive rather than reactive.

"Going back and filling holes, sometimes there's no need for it," he said. "Go and mark a man, go and defend in front and start defending higher up the pitch.

"That's about personalities and individuals understanding their roles and putting demands on people because we don't need people filling back, we need people getting in contention with the ball and winning the ball back.

"We can't let other teams put the ball in our box with too much ease and we don't want players taking pot shots at our goal because deflections do happen - as we saw."

Curle is working with almost an entirely new-look squad so it's understandable for there to be teething problems, and the fact his side are so regularly getting into winning positions is clearly encouraging.

But while he insists Town's tendency to sit on leads is not a result of orders from the bench, it's up to Curle and his coaching staff to find solutions or his side will continue to languish in mid-table.

"The mentality from the coaching staff is that if we go 2-0 up, we want to 3-0 up," he added. "We had our chances but we've got to learn because we can't invite pressure.

"It's having that winning mentality and being able to see games out. If you saw us at Swindon, we defended our goal very well. If you saw at Stevenage, we defended our goal very well with a man less.

"Seeing games out is not seeing deep, it's playing in the opposition's half - but we're learning as a group."