The end of the football season is often met with disappointment and dejection but, for Justin Edinburgh and fans of Northampton, summer can’t come quickly enough as this dispiriting campaign drifts towards a rather limp conclusion.
It’s fair to say these past nine months will not live long in the memory for those of a Cobblers persuasion, even in spite of achieving their ultimate goal of survival, and Saturday’s lamentable and frankly pitiful defeat to Bury only added to this season’s growing list of low moments which significantly outweigh the highs.
If ever there was a game and a performance that highlighted the shortcomings in this squad and emphasised how much work Edinburgh has to do over the next few months, this error-strewn display at Gigg Lane was it.
Safety has at least been secured for 12 months but that largely owes to the inadequacies of others, and if Northampton have aspirations of becoming a stable, consistent League One club, they must learn from their mistakes and not rely on rival teams constantly slipping up.
Whilst the transition from Chris Wilder to Rob Page was not as smooth as it might have been, it was the muddled recruitment last summer that has played the biggest role in Northampton’s troubles this season.
Page overhauled Wilder’s title-winning squad with a host of new faces but it’s debatable whether any of those have been an unqualified success, even the likes of Gabriel Zakuani and Alex Revell have endured their struggles, either through injury or being away on international duty.
They cannot afford a similar summer this time around because next season, with Plymouth, Doncaster and Portsmouth on their way up, will be tougher, harder and more competitive, and Northampton will need a squad that is both balanced and has strength in depth to compete.
That is far from the case at present, as underlined on Saturday.
Edinburgh challenged his players to finish the season with a flourish but it is fair to say they did not respond in the manner either he expected or the near-800 fans deserved.
After a run of three straight victories at the start of March had some looking towards mid-table, no win in the past seven and only four goals scored has turned optimism into pessimism when thinking ahead to what next season might offer.
Based on recent showings, any concern is justified because performances have taken a serious downturn since the defeat to Sheffield United, the latest coming in a defeat at Gigg Lane that was only second to the 5-0 loss at Bristol Rovers in the horror show stakes.
Outplayed, outrun and outfought, this sorry and forgettable afternoon only served to remind everyone how much of a struggle this season has been and how the summer can’t come quickly enough.
It was a throwback to the final days of Page – not that Edinburgh should be blamed, even if his team selection did raise a few eyebrows – as heads dropped from the moment of Bury’s third-minute opener.
In the absence of several regulars, Edinburgh went with a makeshift, experimental line-up which featured Brendan Moloney and Shaun McWilliams in midfield, and most of the first-half was spent trying to work out which system they were playing, even the players themselves did not seem completely certain.
After a run of three straight victories at the start of March had fans looking towards mid-table, no win in the past seven and only four goals scored has turned optimism into pessimism when thinking ahead to what next season might offer.
The performance and result only reinforces the notion that drastic changes and a major overhaul is needed in the summer. There are too many bits and pieces players and not enough quality throughout the squad and certainly not enough behind the first-choice XI.
Only the loss of two or three key players is required to expose that fact, as Saturday’s wretched showing at Bury showed.
To go into detail seems rather meaningless at this stage of the season, especially given so many of these players will be on their way in the next few weeks.
But this wretched defeat had all the hallmarks of a team in desperate need of change and a makeover. The first goal came about from hesitant defending, presenting James Vaughan – of all people – with time and space to score, before more static defending allowed George Miller to prod in a second after half-time.
In between, there were moments and spells when Northampton controlled the play and had Bury on the back foot but for all their pressure and possession, Joe Murphy barely broke sweat in keeping a clean sheet for the division’s third leakiest defence.
Town’s attacks were disjointed and sorely lacking in creativity or innovation, and things were hardly much better at the other end, capped off by Harry Beautyman’s indecision and David Cornell’s poor positioning as Vaughan thumped in a late third.
That put the seal a thoroughly woeful afternoon that was only saved by Port Vale’s loss at Bolton but the Cobblers, as Edinburgh knows, will not be be able to rely on other teams next season.
Roll on the summer.
How they rated...
David Cornell - Made his first start under Edinburgh and might have wished he remained on the bench. Let down by those in front of him, though his positioning came under question for Bury’s third... 5
Neal Eardley - Brought back for his first appearance since February and was the only one of three right-backs in the team to start in his natural position. Was tidy and did little wrong before being forced off at half-time with a calf injury... 6
Zander Diamond - Didn’t react quick enough after Burgess’ header hit the bar, allowing Miller to net the crucial second, but that was the only real blot as his efforts prevented an even heavier beating... 6
Lewin Nyatanga - Hesitated and then out-muscled for Vaughan’s first which set the tone for a horrid afternoon as neither he nor the team recovered... 5
Aaron Phillips - Drafted in at left-back to replace the suspended Buchanan and was far from the worst offender in a back four (or three) that struggled badly. Coped well in an unfamiliar position.... 6
Brendan Moloney - Surprisingly deployed in a more advanced role from his usual right-back slot. Slashed an early chance over and one dangerous run was snuffed out but was otherwise kept at arm’s-length... 5
Shaun McWilliams - The only redeeming feature of a sorry afternoon. Given his first ever professional start and it was far from a comfortable introduction as he played in an often disjointed midfield, but you find out a lot about young players in tough times and he did himself no harm with a competent display... 6 CHRON STAR MAN
Matty Taylor - Hardly had a kick as Bury’s more energetic and mobile midfield ran the Cobblers ragged, although went as close as anyone when Murphy tipped his free-kick wide... 5
Paul Anderson - Never one to shirk responsibility but nothing came off for him here, struggled to get to grips with the system and Bury’s midfield throughout... 5
Alex Revell - Pushed into wide areas too often where he provided little or no threat. This display would have done little to change the minds of those who believe he and Richards can’t play together... 5
Marc Richards - Spent most the afternoon chasing lost causes and watching over-hit crosses sail over his head. Not much he could have done given the non-existent service up to him... 5
Rod McDonald - 5
Keshi Anderson - 6
Harry Beautyman - 5