Cobblers were unable to give their stuttering season the boost it needed when held to a drab goalless draw by previously rock-bottom Notts County on a dreary Saturday afternoon at the PTS Academy Stadium.
The Magpies owned the worst record of any team in the EFL ahead of kick-off, sitting on just two points and a -14 goal difference at the foot of Sky Bet League Two, but Harry Kewell’s men kept their first clean sheet since the opening day in coming away with a well-earned point.
All the pre-match statistics indicated this would be a goals-filled encounter but an instantly forgettable first-half failed to live up to those expectations, although the two teams weren’t helped by an atrocious refereeing performance.
The second-half was a marginal improvement but neither side boasted the necessary quality or composure to end the stalemate, leaving both languishing in the bottom five.
This game was viewed as a glaring opportunity for the Cobblers to put aside recent troubles and belatedly kick-start their floundering campaign but they were unable to do so and, as a result, now face more pressure to end their poor run of form.
Austin suggested he’d make changes in an attempt to jolt his struggling team into life and he followed his words with actions, bringing in John-Joe O’Toole, Leon Barnett, Hakeem Odoffin and Dean Bowditch to face lowly County.
Out went Shay Facey, Jack Bridge, Andy Williams and the suspended Aaron Pierre as Town lined-up 4-4-2 with Matt Crooks starting on the right side of midfield and Sam Hoskins playing through the middle, ahead of Kevin van Veen.
The defensive records of both teams suggested there would be goals in Saturday’s encounter but despite early long-range efforts from O’Toole and Lewis Alessandra, the game took a while to warm up.
A combination of tricky, slippery conditions and two out-of-form sides contributed to a low-quality, scrappy opening period that did not exactly have pulses racing among fans in either end.
The first real opportunity came midway through the half when excellent play by Bowditch released Crooks on goal and he quickly got a shot off but visiting goalkeeper Ross Fitzsimons scampered across to tip wide.
The Cobblers shaded proceedings and enjoyed a decent spell towards the end of the half but they didn’t give Fitzsimons enough to worry about while County came closest through Jon Stead, who headed over shortly before half-time.
David Cornell beat away Lewis Alessandra’s deflected shot moments after the resumption before a promising period of Cobblers pressure ended with David Buchanan blasting wide.
County’s Enzio Boldewijn almost repeated Port Vale’s second goal from last weekend when his one-two on the edge of the box was followed by a shot straight at Cornell.
The Cobblers goalkeeper had a far tougher save to make with 20 minutes to go, diving at full-length to tip Kane Hemmings’ terrific effort onto the crossbar.
Town somehow survived a goalmouth scramble from the following corner before they had their own chances to break the deadlock, O’Toole and Barnett both heading off target in quick succession.
Barnett threatened with his head again when denied by Fitzsimon’s flying save before Matt Tootle almost scored an own goal as Cobblers broke from a Counter corner.
The home side were finishing on top and had a last-gasp chance to win it, but van Veen blazed over.
Cobblers: Cornell, Odoffin, Taylor (c), Barnett, Buchanan, Foley, Crooks, O’Toole, Hoskins, Bowditch (Bridge 78), van Veen
Subs not used: Ward, Facey, Turnbull, McWilliams, Waters, Williams
Magpies: Fitsimons, Tootle, Alessandra, Boldewijn (Osborne 89), Hemmings, Husin (Hewitt 63), Ward, MIlson, Evina, Turley, Stead (c)
Subs not used: Dennis, Pindroch, Brisley, Hawkridge, Davies
Referee: Paul Marsden
County fans: 640