Dismal Cobblers sink to new low as Cheltenham claim comfortable victory
Cobblers' poor start to the season hit a new low on Saturday when they succumbed to a pitiful 3-1 defeat to managerless Cheltenham Town on a wretched afternoon at the PTS Academy Stadium.
All of Town's problems came together as one to create the perfect storm of disaster with the Robins, 21st before the game, comfortable and deserving winners, adding to the feeling of unease among fans and placing more pressure on Dean Austin and his players to reverse the club's ever-worrying slump
The opening 45 minutes were a microcosm of Northampton's season up to this point as they took command from virtually the first whistle but control of possession failed to translate on the scoreline.
Instead, the Robins took a lead into half-time with their only shot of the entire half as Will Boyle exposed more static defending to score from close-range.
Kevin van Veen's penalty briefly restored parity but the Cobblers were totally out-of-sorts and Conor Thomas and Kelsey Mooney piled on the misery with two late strikes, with all three Cheltenham goals the consequence of comical defending.
Early in the season though it is, Austin will now feel the heat from fans who will rightly demand much better from his side after this simply unacceptable performance and defeat, which leaves them 20th in League Two.
Left-back David Buchanan was making his 150th Cobblers appearance against Cheltenham while John-Joe O'Toole replaced the injured Junior Morias in the only change to last weekend's draw against Tranmere Rovers.
That also meant a slight tweak of formation as O'Toole played behind Kevin van Veen in a 4-2-3-1, and an early chance came Town's way when Matt Crooks' pinpoint pass picked out Sam Hoskins, who beat onrushing goalkeeper Scott Flinders to the ball but couldn't steer his effort on target.
Van Veen ballooned over when slipped in by Sam Foley and Flinders tipped Jack Bridge's free-kick wide as Cobblers utterly bossed the opening exchanges.
Cheltenham hardly had a kick in Town's half but they gradually gained a foothold and managed to ride out the early storm as the game entered a brief lull.
Hoskins tested the palms of Flinders and then fizzed a low shot wide from range but otherwise Town had lost their earlier momentum and were being frustrated by the visitors' cautious approach.
Cheltenham's first attack of note did not come until the 36th minute but they taught their hosts a lesson in ruthlessness with the opening goal, Boyle tapping home after Johnny Mullins eluded the entire defence from a free-kick.
Northampton then lost their way and were grateful for the half-time whistle to sound to give them a chance to regroup.
Austin also used the break to make a change, bringing on Daniel Powell for O'Toole, but the first 15 minutes of the second-half saw little improvement despite more urgency in the home side's play.
They were gifted a chance to get back level, however, when a short back pass on 62 minutes allowed Hoskins to nip ahead of Flinders and win a clear penalty, confidently dispatched into the corner by van Veen.
That was a lifeline the Cobblers so dearly needed and two quick changes followed, one enforced as Powell departed to injury, but despite Shaun McWilliams and Andy Williams now both on, Town could not seize upon the momentum.
The onus was on the hosts to take the game by the scruff of the neck but instead they were ponderous and slow and Cheltenham sensed their opportunity.
They had the lead back with 14 minutes remaining when Shay Facey's clumsy foul on Jacob Maddox gave the visitors a penalty of their own, converted by Thomas who squeezed it past David Cornell.
There was absolutely no response from Town and instead the only thing that looked like happening was a third for Cheltenham, and so it proved thanks to yet more bad defending.
After Aaron Pierre headed Thomas' shot over, the subsequent corner fell to Mooney to tap in from virtually on the goal-line.
Williams missed a great chance to pull one back but Mooney's goal was as good as game over, prompting the full-time whistle to be met by a chorus of boos.
Cobblers: Cornell, Facey, Taylor (c), Pierre, Buchanan, Foley (McWilliams 62), Crooks, Hoskins, O'Toole (Powell 45) (Williams 64), Bridge, van Veen
Subs not used: Ward, Barnett, Waters, Bowditch
Cheltenham: Flinders, Mullins (c), Atangana, Broom, Boyle, Lloyd (Thomas 72), Maddox (Tozer 90), Forster, Field, Mooney, Barnett (Duku 85)
Subs not used: Lovett, Kalala, Clements, Alcock
Referee: Lee Collins
Cheltenham fans: 223