Football matches are invariably decided by which team makes the fewest mistakes, and unfortunately for Northampton on Saturday, it was they who made one mistake too many in this galling and somewhat cruel defeat to Gillingham.
Their prolificacy in front of goal and carelessness in defence was ultimately their undoing on this occasion and Gillingham, and in particular Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, were in no mood to reject such an act of generosity from their charitable visitors.
Given they came as a result of two poorly-defended set-pieces and one woeful defensive clearance, all three goals were easily avoidable, however that won’t bother Gillingham who gleefully accepted when Paul Anderson opted to send his weak clearance straight to Emmanuel-Thomas, who was waiting to pounce.
If you miss chances, make basic defensive errors and don’t finish the opposition off when the opportunity arises, the likelihood of winning any football match dramatically diminishes.
That said, the final scoreline was harsh on Northampton who did enough to earn at least a point here and, if truth be told, a draw would have fairly portrayed a keenly-contested affair between two well-matched sides.
Because despite Gillingham’s shot count looking impressive to the casual observer – 15 to Northampton’s 10 – the fact of the matter is that many of those were speculative efforts from distance, rarely did the home side open up their visitors and force Adam Smith into drastic action.
The hosts did indeed a carry a greater and more consistent threat throughout but their patient build-up play often lacked much punch, whereas Northampton posed problems on the break but their attacks were too few and far between to overly trouble the home side.
The two halves took a similar trend; Gillingham came out quickly and started on the front foot but whilst they fizzled out and faded, Northampton only grew stronger and finished each 45 minutes in the ascendancy.
Essentially, though, the game hinged on two key moments either side of half-time.
After John-Joe O’Toole had headed the Cobblers into a 36th minute lead, JJ Hooper was presented with a glorious opening to extend it, only for his close-range shot to strike the post via a deflection.
Upon such moments are games won and lost, and so it proved here.
Within three minutes of the restart, Max Ehmer lashed in an equaliser and instead of being deflated at 2-0 down, Gillingham were suddenly all square and sensed their first win in eight league games.
But for all their pressure, it was in fact the Cobblers who had the two clearest chances thereafter as O’Toole planted a free header wide before Gills keeper Stuart Nelson blocked from Brendan Moloney.
And then came the sting in the tail.
The irony to the late twist was that it was in fact Northampton who ended the game on top and though both teams appeared content with a point, the visitors were applying the pressure and did the pressing, albeit without posing too much of a goal threat.
But if you fail to deal with a simple ball into the box, you’re asking for trouble and when Anderson’s misdirected clearance fell straight at the feet of Emmanuel-Thomas, there was only one outcome.
This defeat should not prompt need for long-term concern but there is still that lingering sense of what might have been had Page and his team shown more ambition and played more on the front foot.
That’s all the more galling when taking into account that Gillingham were there for the taking given that this is a team who have leaked goals galore this season and whose last clean sheet came seven months and 22 games ago.
But Page cannot be held accountable for basic individual mistakes because when all is said and done, that is what cost his team on this occasion.
Whilst organisationally they looked solid and restricted Gillingham to pot shots – very rarely did the home side carve open their visitors – a failure to defend two crosses into the box proved fatal.
It’s become something of a recurring theme in recent times. Since their solid start to the season, defensive vulnerabilities have become an increasing problem - that’s now 16 goals conceded in seven league games
Jak McCourt’s miss was notable too because it meant Matty Taylor playing in a deeper, more withdrawn role which takes away his underrated attacking influence.
What will also be of some concern is that Gillingham are one of the division’s supposed weaker sides, on paper at least, having failed to win any of their previous seven games to slide down the League One table.
And what’s more frustrating is how important a victory would have felt. It would have cemented Northampton’s place in the play-offs ahead of a tricky run of fixtures against rivals Peterborough and high-flying duo Bolton and Bradford.
Alas, it was not to be. Next up: revenge.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Hesitant to come off his line almost proved costly more than once, however this was a quiet game for the Cobblers stopper despite Gillingham’s 15 shots, of which only four were on target... 6
Brendan Moloney - Calamity almost struck when heading back past his own goalkeeper but his pace saved him. Several tremendous bursts forward, one of which almost led to a goal. Another fine game... 8
Zander Diamond - Restricted Gillingham to largely pot shots as he headed clear most of what came his way, although won’t be best pleased with the manner of the equaliser having lost his man... 7
Lewin Nyatanga - Seldom seems flustered by any situation which presents itself, always portraying a calm figure. Did little wrong here and will feel he’s done enough to keep Zakuani out of the side... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
David Buchanan - Had a fascinating battle up against the dangerous and troublesome Emmanuel-Thomas. Coped relatively admirably despite the latter’s winner... 7
John-Joe O’Toole - Nodded his side ahead in the first-half before missing a free header to restore the lead in the second. Solid if unspectacular performance... 7
Matty Taylor - Sat in the deep role in McCourt’s absence and whilst he did little wrong, Northampton missed in influence higher up the pitch. Set-pieces provided a real source of threat as usual... 7
Sam Hoskins - Always so positive, first instinct is to go forward whenever he gets the ball. Won the corner that led to the goal. End product remains the missing piece of his jigsaw... 8
Paul Anderson - Terrible clearances led to the winner. Shame as most of his best work on the day came from a defensive viewpoint, a brilliant block from Nouble the highlight. Needs to offer more in attack... 6
JJ Hooper - Unlucky with a cracking 30-yarder and then hit the post via a deflection which proved the turning point. Went off injured... 6
Marc Richards - A fruitless day for the skipper who fed off scraps for most of the afternoon... 6
Alex Revell - 6
Kenji Gorre - 6