Cobblers kick-off 2018 with hard-fought defeat to table-topping Latics
Cobblers welcomed in the New Year with another defeat as they went down 1-0 to league leaders Wigan Athletic on Monday despite a gutsy second-half performance at Sixfields.
Nick Powell's fifth-minute opener might have been the signal for Wigan to dominate and rack up a big victory but Northampton kept themselves in the contest throughout and might have nicked a point had they been able to produce more quality in the final third.
As it was, the same old issue of creating chances and scoring goals plagued them as Powell's header ensured Wigan maintained their two-point lead over Shrewsbury at the top of the table while leaving the Cobblers in the bottom four, now five points from safety.
With just 48 hours between games, it was no surprise that manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink opted to freshen his side up and make four changes from Saturday's defeat to Portsmouth.
Ash Taylor captained the Cobblers in the absence of Marc Richards and David Buchanan, both of whom were on the bench, while Daniel Powell, Sam Foley, Shaun McWilliams and George Smith all came into the team.
McWilliams started well and he had a shot saved by Christian Walton only three minutes in after breaking into the visiting box, however straight back up the other end, Wigan required just five minutes of the contest to make their quality tell.
It was a bad goal for the Cobblers to concede as Gavin Massey was left in acres of space on the right side and he delivered a wicked cross that was headed powerfully past goalkeeper Matt Ingram by the onrushing Powell.
Northampton had made a difficult task that much harder and it may well have got worse if not for Brendan Moloney's goal-saving challenge on Will Grigg on 20 minutes, with Chey Dunkley seeing his header from the subsequent corner crash against the crossbar.
Town were restricted to few chances at the other end but there were times when they caused Wigan trouble at the back, specifically through Powell who, in one instance, collected McWilliams' pass and sent a cross-cum-shot flashing across the six-yard box with Chris Long just unable to get a touch.
Sam Foley may also have done better having brought down Taylor's raking crossfield pass in the Latics penalty box, but otherwise it was a relatively comfortable half for the league leaders whose lead did not come under undue strain prior to half-time.
Long shot wide from the edge of the box after the restart and Grigg was also just off target with a close-range header for Wigan in what developed into a far more even second period.
Two or three times the Cobblers broke from deep and worked the ball well to create problems for Wigan in the final third but the end product was of poor quality, which meant visiting keeper Walton had almost nothing to do throughout the second 45 minutes.
Lee Evans almost put the result beyond doubt but Taylor was on the right place to block and despite four minutes of added time, one goal was enough for the Latics to stay top and extend their unbeaten run to 10 games, keeping Town firmly planted in relegation mire.
Cobblers: Ingram, Moloney, Poole, Taylor (c), Smith, Foley, Grimes, McWilliams (Hoskins 74), Powell (Richards 84), Crooks (O'Toole 61), Long
Subs not used: Cornell, Buchanan, McGugan, Waters
Wigan: Walton, Byrne, Morsy (c), Evans, Massey (Power 70), Jacobbs, Dunkley, Powell (Toney 70), James, Burn, Grigg (Perkins 85)
Subs not used: Bruce, Roberts, Hunt, Sarkic
Referee: Scott Oldham
Wigan fans: 511