The Cobblers blew a big opportunity at Bury on Saturday and as a result, their ability to finish in the play-offs must now be seriously questioned.
Fortune always favours the brave and that was the case at Gigg Lane where the home side, reduced to 10 men, were bold and positive and Northampton quite simply were not.
They didn’t seem to trust their footballing instincts and appeared to be content to sit on the 1-0 lead they had, even with a numerical advantage.
Having gone in front with a well-taken Ricky Holmes goal, they were set fair. Ryan Cresswell and Lee Collins comfortably dealt with everything the home side mustered in attack and Matt Duke was a virtual spectator in goal.
The boos from the home supporters would have been like music to their ears as the players disappeared down the tunnel at half-time.
But things started to unravel in the second half, the tone being duly set when they were too slow to close down Kelvin Etuhu after a corner had been cleared into his path, allowing him the space to fire in a shot which deflected into the bottom corner.
The sending-off of Joe Riley was fully justified and nobody in the ground had any complaints about it, although the player on the receiving end of the ‘tackle’, Tom Newey, was bizarrely booed after he had returned to the pitch following medical treatment.
At that point the game was there for the taking.
The Cobblers should have seized the day and trusted their attacking instincts instead of playing it safe and trying to seal the game off.
Although 1-1 would have been a good return - especially considering the run of two defeats in three matches - it was proved in the final 10 minutes that holes would appear in the Bury defence if Northampton bothered to probe it.
At that point the game was there for the taking. The Cobblers should have seized the day and trusted their attacking instincts instead of playing it safe and trying to seal the game offJefferson Lake
Such chances were not taken and, as it looked like a draw would be the most likely outcome, the home side landed the cruel killer blow in the first minute of added time. Northampton, predictably, never recovered.
The Shakers are a team which is less than the sum of its parts, an all-star collection of higher-level players who have been moulded into a competent side but one which should be challenging for the league title, not messing around with the play-offs and certainly not celebrating last-minute winners on their own ground as though they had just won the Champions League.
In fairness, the reaction to Adam El Abd’s scrambled winner was perhaps as much one of relief as anything else and of course reaffirms in cast iron the theory that good teams produce victories when they don’t perform at their best.
So where does that leave the Cobblers?
Well, you have to say the play-offs are looking increasingly unlikely. They would need to win at least six of their remaining eight games and with their form having collapsed it would take a person with a strong belief to bet on it.
The next fixture represents a good opportunity to get back on track because Luton are in complete disarray and will be there for the taking. Although, so were Bury at one point of Saturday’s game if not in the wider picture.
The games are running out for Northampton almost as quickly as the players are, even though it is a major boost to have Holmes back and Diego De Girolamo looks like a capable player (his pass for the goal being an indicator of a sharp footballing mind and something which can be worked with).
The key absence remains Marc Richards.
If at Bury they had his experience, his on-field know how, his presence and ability to manage a match from the front of the team, things might have turned out quite differently.
He was always going to be missed. But maybe nobody could have estimated just how costly such an absence might turn out to be.
Etuhu’s goal didn’t seem to be hit with a great deal of power and fumbled a couple of crosses, albeit under a bit of pressure ...5
Not his best game for the club but not his worst either and did well for long periods against the dangerous Mayor without the attacking element of his game ...5
Continues to play at a consistent level and combines well with Collins but neither will be happy about the fact both goals came from set-pieces ...6
Defended very intelligently at times but seemed to get pinned back in the second half and was unable to bring the defensive line out ...6
Played through the pain barrier after the Riley challenge and saw off Adams in a decent display in which the emphasis was pretty much only on defending ...5
Competed well in the midfield battle ground and had one or two tasty tussles with Etuhu when their paths happened to cross ...6
Will be disappointed he did not get on the ball more and look to dictate play in the second half - seemed to prioritise just ticking things over ...5
A welcome sight back in the team, took his goal well and provided the attacking spark in several positions. Potency lessened notably after he went off ...7 STAR MAN
DIEGO DE GIROLAMO
Can be pleased with his debut - set up a goal and had two shots, one better than the other - and you get the feeling there is plenty more to come ...6
Muscled out of the action on a couple of occasions and though this was still a brighter performance than his recent ones, he is not at the level he was six weeks ago ...5
Trod a fine line after being booked, which was a shame because he had to be substituted early in what was a useful performance for the team ...6
JAMES GRAY (for Toney 54)
Failed to connect with the one glimpse at goal he did get and is always a willing runner but doesn’t provide a physical focal point for the attack ...5
CHRIS HACKETT (for Holmes 68)
Started well and got at his defender a few times but seemed increasingly hesitant as the game progressed ...5
JOHN-JOE O’TOOLE (for De Girolamo 81)
Not used: Carter, Bodin, Diamond, Jalal