Cobblers exit Checkatrade Trophy as much-changed team is beaten by Coventry City
Cobblers made a meek exit from the much-derided Checkatrade Trophy on Tuesday evening when they were deservedly beaten 3-1 by Coventry City in front of an almost entirely empty Ricoh Arena.
It was another uninspiring performance from Northampton as Coventry showed more hunger to win the game, but few tears will be shed at the club over their limp exit given the apathetic attitude towards this competition, although you wouldn't have guessed that given the chaotic start to the game.
Remarkably, it was 1-1 inside a breathless opening 90 seconds as both teams scored with their very first attack.
Coventry kicked off and 19 seconds later they had the lead as Daniel Agyei strolled through some static Northampton defending and slotted home, but immediately the visitors hit back when Marc Richards netted his 50th goal for the club.
That wasn't to be the end of the scoring inside the opening 10 minutes, though, with the fleet-footed Jodi Jones next to capitalise on poor defending to slot Coventry back in front.
A calmer 35 minutes followed as the Sky Blues assumed control and the home side secured a deserved victory in the second-half through Ruben Lameiras's wonderful finish.
With Wycombe winning 3-0 against West Ham U23s in the other South Group D game, the defeat means Town can no longer progress and next month's final group match at Sixfields will be a dead rubber.
Attention can at least turn to more important matters for Rob Page and his side, who next take on table-topping Scunthorpe United on Saturday.
As one of nine changes to Saturday's team, there was a first appearance of the season for the lesser-spotted Rod McDonald, who partnered Lewin Nyatanga in defence, and with Zander Diamond, Alex Revell and Matty Taylor all given the night off, JJ Hooper and skipper Richards started up front.
There was also a place on the bench for 18-year-old academy player Joe Iaciofano.
With Emmanuel Sonupe handed his full debut on the right side of midfield, Cobblers set up 4-4-2 but they made the worst possible start when Agyei strolled through a non-existent defence and shot beyond David Cornell, who could only help the ball into the bottom corner.
Just 19 seconds had been played and already Town found themselves behind but, remarkably, they were level barely a minute later.
Straight from the restart the visitors went up the other end where Hooper's left-wing cross found Richards who converted from close-range for the second goal of the evening inside just 90 seconds.
The end-to-end start continued when Kenji Gorre shot straight at Lee Burge moments later, and a third goal wasn't long in coming.
It went the way of the Sky Blues when some more questionable Northampton defending allowed Jones to get free inside the penalty area and he finished expertly past Cornell, putting Coventry back in front with less than eight minutes on the clock.
And it could have been 2-2 within three further minutes when Hooper was left in acres of space but his curled a right-footed effort a fraction wide, while the dangerous Jones was then denied by Cornell at the other end.
Finally, after a breathless first 20 minutes, the game settled down and chances became less frequent and less threatening as Aaron Phillips and then Lewis Page both went close from range.
The more the first-half went on the more Coventry looked at ease and they deservedly remained in front at half-time before almost extending their lead early in the second period as Cornell denied Jones and Vladimir Gadzhev from range.
Rob Page had introduced Harry Beautyman for Sonupe at the break, allowing Cobblers to change their shape to 4-2-3-1 and that seemed to help the visitors wrestle more of a foothold in the match.
Hooper was thwarted by Burge from distance and the City keeper was called into action again when producing a fine flying save to tip over Beautyman's half volley.
But just as it seemed Northampton were getting closer to levelling, they were hit by the sucker-punch as Lameiras, who had come on barely 90 seconds earlier, superbly lofted Cornell after getting behind the away defence.
That all but confirmed Town's exit from a competition few wanted to be involved in anyway, and now only a dead rubber game against West Ham U23s remains next month.
Coventry: Burge, Sterry, Willis (c), Turnbull, Page (Ricketts 68), Gadzhev (Lameiras 65), McCann, Bigirimana, Sordell, Jones, Agyei (Tudgay 81)
Subs not used: Addai, Harries, Stevenson, Dev. Kelly-Evans
Cobblers: Cornell, Phillips, Nyatanga, McDonald, Buchanan, Sonupe (Beautyman 45) (D'Ath 81), McCourt, O'Toole, Gorre, Hooper, Richards (c) (Hoskins 68)
Subs not used: Smith, Moloney, Byrom, Iaciofano
Referee: Olie Yates
Cobblers fans: 153