COMMENT: Cobblers on the right track despite return of late woes at Oldham (includes highlights)

Andy Williams' excellent finish should have wrapped up the points. Picture: Pete Norton
Andy Williams' excellent finish should have wrapped up the points. Picture: Pete Norton

The usual phrases were being bandied about on social media in the hours after this immensely frustrating 2-2 draw at Oldham Athletic as the Cobblers once again conspired to surrender a two-goal lead.

It was just another example of the players being mentally fragile, supposedly, and unable to defend a lead - despite doing it in each of their past three games - while the manager was accused of being tactically inept and costing his side two points with poor substitutions.

But please, save the negativity for another day because it does not belong here. Yes, it was disappointing and yes, it was frustrating to see another 2-0 lead so needlessly and so agonisingly slip away but take a step back and the overall picture is surely one of optimism.

No-one can say the football was free-flowing and that Cobblers completely outplayed hosts Oldham during Saturday's encounter at Boundary Park but they were disciplined, organised and well-drilled and looked a side capable of sustaining a play-off challenge this season - if not more should key players stay fit.

A point on the road, one loss in six away from home, four unbeaten in total and now two points behind the play-off positions, take away the context of Saturday's draw and it should all make for encouraging reading. Above all, though, what should really inject a shot of optimism into sceptical supporters is that their team continues to show signs of genuine progress.

They are not a team that will overwhelm opponents and create a string of goalscoring chances but they are becoming increasingly hard to beat, as highlighted by their recent form on the road: one defeat in six.

They do not give up many chances, either. In fact, across their past four fixtures against Salford, Carlisle, Cambridge and Oldham, it's hard to recall any clear-cut opportunities for the opposition.

Maybe Marc Richards for Cambridge or Hallam Hope's header at Carlisle but otherwise Town have defended impressively. Even Oldham's two goals on Saturday came about in fortiutous fashion.

It didn't help anyone's mood on Saturday evening when the discovery was made that Cobblers would currently be sitting pretty at the very top of League Two had they held on to the three 2-0 leads they have let slip.

But do not mistake the disappointment of Oldham for the previous shortcomings at Morecambe or Bradford, for example. Whereas back then Town were under the pump and guilty of sitting too deep, at Boundary Park they competently and easily kept their hosts at arm's length, with David Cornell not forced into a single save of note in the second-half. They were not negative and did not invite pressure.

Scott Wilson's goal came out of nowhere and Jonny Smith's equaliser was a freak that more often than not sails over the crossbar or drops into the hands of David Cornell. That it happened to flick off Sam Hoskins and nestle into the net should not suddenly mean the Cobblers are mentally weak.

There doesn't have to be any rhyme or reason behind these things and there doesn't always have to be someone to blame.

The decision to take off Alan McCormack was another bone of contention. The midfielder was enjoying a fine game and had been influential in Town's 1-0 lead at the time of his substitution, replaced by Michael Harriman on 80 minutes.

What happened subsequently had fans questioning the wisdom of Curle but it was sensible management. The season still has an awful long way to run and Curle was only looking after an injury-prone player who will be key to his team's chances.

Dropping two points in this fashion stings but it will not define the season. Had McCormack stayed on at Boundary Park and picked up a long-term injury, well, can you imagine the reaction?

The fact is the Cobblers have put themselves in a strong position and the turnaround since losing at Scunthorpe has been mightily impressive. If they continue on the same upward trajectory, good times are on their way back.