Abject Cobblers remain in relegation peril after slipping to heavy Doncaster defeat

Shaun McWilliams was back in the Cobblers team for Boxing Day. Pictures: Sharon Lucey
Shaun McWilliams was back in the Cobblers team for Boxing Day. Pictures: Sharon Lucey

There was precious little festive cheer for Cobblers fans on Boxing Day as they were subjected to another utterly miserable away day when their team tumbled to an abject 3-0 defeat away at Doncaster Rovers.

There were absolutely no redeeming features on the type of afternoon that has been seen far too often this season as the one-step-forward, three-steps-back theme of Northampton's dismal campaign continued after being outplayed in all facets of the game.

Skipper Marc Richards

Skipper Marc Richards

The team was almost unrecognisable to the one which battled to gamely to a 1-1 draw with in-form Blackburn Rovers only three days ago, with Doncaster not having to work hard for their victory.

Initially, Town did not seem in much trouble having held their own in a scrappy opening 30 minutes but they had no response once Rovers upped the ante and seized the upper-hand.

James Coppinger's easy finish and Niall Mason's penalty put the hosts 2-0 ahead by half-time and Andy Butler's header made three and it could well have been many more given that goalkeeper Matt Ingram made several fine saves and Doncaster also hit the woodwork.

Worst of all, the Cobblers have now fallen further adrift of safety with three points - and a far inferior goal difference - separating them and teams outside the bottom four in Sky Bet League One.

John-Joe O'Toole

John-Joe O'Toole

Boss Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink made four changes to his team with goalkeeper Matt Ingram back between the sticks and Regan Poole replacing the injured Aaron Pierre in defence while Shaun McWilliams and Marc Richards came in for Lewis McGugan and George Smith respectively.

Those alterations also meant a tweak to the system as Northampton lined up 4-4-2 but 30 minutes were on the clock by the time either goalkeeper had a meaningful save to make.

After a scrappy, low-quality opening half-hour, Doncaster went through the gears and took control to leave their visitors a mountain to climb by the time the second-half came around.

Ingram turned behind Tommy Rowe's long-range effort on the half-hour mark and that was the start of a prolonged spell of Doncaster pressure that eventually led to Coppinger's 33rd minute opener.

And it was third-time lucky for the midfielder who tapped in from close-range after both he and John Marquis had been denied by Poole's goal-line clearance and a diving Ingram save following Rowe's burst into the box.

Rovers went on the hunt for a swift second but before scoring it they first survived a scare up the other end where Sam Foley pinched possession back and squared for McWilliams, who was denied by the legs for Ian Lawlor.

Doncaster immediately broke and, within 20 seconds of McWilliams' miss, they won a penalty courtesy of Matt Grimes' ill-advised and needless lunge on Marquis. Mason made no mistake from the spot, confidently firing into the corner.

Hasselbaink didn't wait for much of the second-half to pass to switch things up as he introduced both Sam Hoskins and McGugan for John-Joe O'Toole and Chris Long on 57 minutes but they had absolutely no impact on his side's toothless performance.

And it turned from bad to worse just after the half-hour mark. Ingram produced a sublime double save to somehow keep out both Alfie May and Marquis from just yards out but his heroics counted for nothing when the subsequent corner was scrambled in by Butler following Grimes' goal-line clearance.

May led the charge for Doncaster's fourth by hitting the inside of the post and they could well have added to Town's misery had they been more ruthless from several promising attacking positions but three was more than enough to make this another forgettable afternoon for Northampton.

Doncaster: Lawlor, Mason, Baudry, Butler, Garratt, Whiteman, Kongolo (Blair 60), Coppinger (c), Rowe, Marquis, May (Beestin 82)

Subs not used: Marosi, Alcock, Wright, Houghton, Mandeville

Cobblers: Ingram, Moloney, Taylor, Poole, Buchanan, McWilliams (Hanley 69), Grimes, O'Toole (McGugan 57), Foley, Long (Hoskins 57), Richards (c)

Subs not used: Cornell, Smith, Kasim, Waters

Referee: Ben Toner

Attendance: 8,032

Cobblers fans: 495