Desperate Cobblers thumped by Crawley and suffer serious injury problems on wretched Boxing Day
A desperately out-of-sorts Cobblers side threw in comfortably their worst display of the season when they were thrashed 4-0 by lowly Crawley Town on a thoroughly miserable Boxing Day afternoon at the Broadfield Stadium.
The game confounded all expectations as Crawley tore up the formbook and ran riot against their promotion-chasing visitors, scoring four times and creating numerous other chances en route to only their third win in the past 21 games.
Cobblers' promotion challenge had been ticking along nicely in recent weeks and months but it was seriously derailed by this inexcusable and somewhat unexplainable showing, which came completely out of the blue.
They were blunt in attack - not registering a single shot on target throughout - and shambolic at the back - conceding 24 shots in all - as Nathan Ferguson got the ball rolling with an emphatic first-half finish before Bez Lubala, Ollie Palmer and Mason Bloomfield all piled on the misery in the second-half.
Manager Keith Curle had given his players Christmas Day off but he might well be ruing that decision after witnessing such a tepid display from his side.
However, although their performance was a bad one, the most concerning part of the afternoon for Northampton came in stoppage-time when both Harry Smith and Shaun McWilliams were stretched off with serious ankle and knee injuries respectively as over 15 minutes of stoppage-time were played.
Some time earlier in the afternoon, the headline team news came in goal where Keith Curle dropped David Cornell and recalled Steve Arnold, while Joe Martin, Chris Lines and Smith also all returned to the side.
The form guide had this down as an easy away victory but the first-half was dominated by the struggling hosts who created a number of opportunities against a surprisingly out-of-sorts Town team.
Arnold was by far the busier of the two goalkeepers and made a couple of comfortable early stops, but he should have been beaten when, at the end of a slick counter-attack, Pautche Camara shot wide of the near post from just a few yards out.
Ashley Nadesan then saw a shot blocked but Crawley deservedly moved in front on 26 minutes when Ferguson got away from Martin and sent a thumping finish into the top corner.
The rest of the half was a little more more even but Town created next to nothing in attack and were thankful to go into half-time just one goal down.
Curle changed the shape to four at the back at half-time and quickly sent on McWilliams soon into the second-half, but his side remained laboured and sloppy
And they paid the price just past the hour-mark when Crawley moved two to the good with a very simple goal. Like at Mansfield, it came from a throw-in as Palmer was more alert than Town's defence and controlled the ball in the box before laying it off to Lubala, whose shot nestled into the bottom corner.
Palmer dragged across goal and Ferguson forced another save out of Arnold as Curle's latest changes, sending on Vadaine Oliver and Andy Williams, proved futile with Crawley on the hunt for a third goal.
Arnold saved with his legs from Palmer and a brilliant block by Charlie Goode denied Mason Bloomfield a certain third but Crawley didn't have long to wait as once again Town's defence was sliced open and Palmer finally got the better of Arnold.
Bloomfield made it four not long later when out-muscling Scott Wharton, rounding Arnold and finishing in off the post.
Josh Doherty missed a great chance to make it five and to round off a forgettable afternoon, McWilliams, who hurt his knee, and Smith, holding his lower leg, were both stretchered off in stoppage-time.
Crawley: Morris, Young, Doherty, McNerney, Nadesan (Bloomfield 76), Ferguson, Tunnicliffe, Bulman (c), Camara, Lubala, Palmer
Subs not used: Luyambula, Allarakhia, Dallison, Sesay, Galach
Cobblers: Arnold, Goode (c), Turnbull, Wharton, Martin (Oliver 73), McCormack (McWilliams 51), Watson, Lines (Williams 61), Adams, Hoskins, Smith
Subs not used: Cornell, Harriman, Anderson, Warburton
Referee: Sam Purkiss
Cobblers fans: 430