Justin Edinburgh’s first game as Cobblers manager ended in a tepid defeat as his new side took another worrying step towards relegation when beaten 5-3 by Milton Keynes Dons in a frenzied and action-packed affair on a bitterly cold Saturday afternoon at Stadium MK.
He has only been in charge for eight days but it was hoped Edinburgh would make an immediate impact given Northampton’s wretched run of form that has brought the threat of relegation closer by the week.
However, despite an initially bright start, any hope of starting his reign with victory was virtually blown away by five suicidal minutes on the cusp of half-time when Dons struck two telling blows. before a crazy second-half produced six goals and ultimately saw the home side prevail.
Again the Cobblers were their own worst enemy when calamitous defending allowed Kieran Agard and then Chuks Aneke to put Dons in control and leading 2-0 at half-time, despite what had been a largely even first-half.
A scrappy opening period made way for a more open and end-to-end second which saw the teams trade blows.
Aneke fizzed in a third for Dons, cancelled out by Greg Wylde’s screamer, before Darren Potter’s deflected effort was followed by Marc Richards heading in a second for Northampton.
But every time Town gave themselves a sniff, Dons moved further in front and Harvey Barnes’ debut strike ensured the home side would end victorious, despite Richards bagging his second from the spot late on.
The Cobblers at least showed plenty of character and heart in a frenetic second-half but, in the end, this was another disappointing and damaging defeat that was the result of lackadaisical defending, something which Edinburgh must address to have any hope of turning around their poor form.
If he didn’t already, Edinburgh now knows he has plenty of work to do as Northampton slip to 18th, just four points adrift of the bottom four.
Northampton’s afternoon began on a sour note with the news that Sam Hoskins will miss the rest of the season after suffering knee ligament damage in training this week.
Hoskins’ absence was the Edinburgh’s only change to the team that lost to Scunthorpe last weekend as Harry Beautyman came into the side and started behind Marc Richards and Alex Revell in a 4-4-2.
With Matty Taylor at the base of a midfield diamond, the Cobblers made a purposeful, bright start and saw plenty of the early possession despite Nicky Maynard fluffing the game’s first half chance.
Richards and Revell almost got on the end of Taylor’s corners, however whilst they didn’t have as much of the ball, Dons several times threatened to get in behind the visiting defence early on and but for a superb Zander Diamond block, Chuks Aneke may well have put the hosts ahead.
Though a decent start promised a good game, the first-half turned into a scrappy, disjointed affair that had all the hallmarks of a relegation battle between two sides that clearly lacked in confidence and quality
Northampton suffered more injury woe midway through the half when Revell was forced off with what appeared to be a leg problem, meaning a first glimpse in Cobblers colours of new boy Keshi Anderson.
But it was at the other end where the next piece of action arrived as Adam Smith seemingly brought down an onrushing Maynard inside the box, prompting vociferous penalty appeals which referee Roger East waved away.
That was about as exciting as it got in a flat and largely uneventful first 35 minutes which yielded little of genuine goalmouth action.
But a lax piece of defending and one clinical strike later and everything fell apart for Northampton.
With half-time approaching, Taylor misjudged the ball in midfield and the hosts broke through Aneke who released Agard on goal and the stirker made no mistake, slotting through the legs of Smith.
And things went from bad to worse just four minutes later.
Once again the Cobblers were the architects of their own downfall, this time John-Joe O’Toole needlessly handled from a Dons corner inside the penalty area, resulting in a spot-kick which Aneke calmly converted.
Suddenly, from holding their own in an evenly-contested firs-half, a brainless five minutes had killed Northampton who went into the break trailing 2-0 and with a mountain to climb.
Things didn’t improve much after the break and a moment of indecision between Smith and David Buchanan almost let Agard in while Maynard then shot into the side-netting via a deflection.
A lack of structure, pace and width hurt the Cobblers at the other end, and when a rare opportunity did arrive, the finishing was wayward with Beautyman slicing horribly wide having worked himself into a good position.
It was Dons who continued to pose a much more potent threat and just short of the half-hour mark, they had their third.
After another strong penalty shout was turned away, Aneke picked up the ball 20 yards out and unleashed a fearsome low effort that whistled through a crowd of bodies and into the bottom corner.
There was some respite for Northampton a few minutes later and it came in sensational fashion when Wylde, who had been on the pitch for barely 10 seconds, unleashed a blockbuster of a volley that flew into the top corner from 20 yards.
That reignited hope of an unlikely comeback, however Town’s joy lasted all of 90 seconds with Dons restoring their three-goal cushion in fortunate fashion and within moments of the restart, Darren Potter’s long-range strike taking a huge deflection to wrong-foot Smith.
Like at Bristol Rovers two weeks earlier, it now seemed just a question of damage limitation for the Cobblers.
Again, however, they were given a lifeline when Richards headed home Taylor’s corner on 71 minutes.
That again gave the visitors a sniff of the unlikeliest of comebacks, only for any lingering hope to again be extinguished by more sloppy defending at the other end when a crazy second-half continued as Dons new signing Barnes, only just introduced to the action, found space inside the penalty area and fired beyond Smith.
That wasn’t to be the end of the drama, though, and with seven minutes left, a trip on Anderson resulted in a penalty for the Cobblers, which Richards emphatically hammered beyond substitute goalkeeper Lee Nicholls for the game’s eighth goal.
But this time it came to late for there to be any hope of a fightback and that was the last notable act of a frantic second-half - although Smith did produce a fine flying save from Maynard in the closing stages - as Dons held on for victory while Northampton dropped to 18th, four points above the drop zone.
Dons: Martin (Nicholls 69), Baldock, Downing, Walsh, Lewington (c), Upson, Potter, Williams, Aneke (Barnes 76), Agard (Muirhead 76), Maynard
Subs not used: Powell, Rasulo, Brittain, Tshimanga
Cobblers: Smith, Eardley, Diamond, Nyatanga, Buchanan, Beautyman (Wylde 61), O’Toole, Boateng, Taylor, Revell (Anderson 23), Richards (c)
Subs not used: Cornell, Hanley, McCourt, Potter, Sonupe
Referee: Roger East
Cobblers fans: 3,039