Late heartbreak for Cobblers as they suffer opening day defeat at Shrewsbury
Cobblers kicked off their 2017/18 Sky Bet League One campaign with a deeply disappointing performance and result on Saturday afternoon when they went down to a last-minute 1-0 defeat Shrewsbury Town at New Meadow having been distinctly second best.
It was a poor way to start the season on so many levels, not least the disjointed, ragged nature of their performance as well as the timing of the winning goal which game with virtually the last kick of the game.
But the Cobblers could not have any complaints over the result having struggled for fluency throughout against a bright and confident Shrewsbury outfit who were full value for their victory.
The signs were there all afternoon and especially in a first-half that Shrewsbury dominated, with Northampton only spared a half-time deficit by the home side's inability to turn dominance into chances.
Town improved after the break and at least gave their hosts something to think about by carrying some sort of attacking threat, but ultimately Shrewsbury got what they deserved.
And it was something that plagued Cobblers all of last season that did for them again here, beaten by Lenell John-Lewis' goal deep into added time.
That capped off a thoroughly dispiriting afternoon which will give Justin Edinburgh plenty of food for thought going forwards, both in terms of personnel and tactics with his side unable to ever get to grips with their new-look 3-5-2 formation.
Leon Barnett, Ash Taylor, Billy Waters, Daniel Powell, Aaron Pierre and Matt Crooks were all handed their Cobblers debuts by Edinburgh in a starting line-up that contained few surprises.
Dean Bowditch, back for his second spell at the club, played in the free role behind a front two of Waters and Marc Richards as Edinburgh kept to his word by starting with three at the back in a 3-5-2.
But it was evident from an early stage on Saturday that the Cobblers struggled to get to grips with their formation, and it was the home side who flew out of the traps and made all the early running, almost going ahead inside three minutes when Jon Nolan's low-range strike was blocked by David Buchanan.
It was a ragged, nervous start from Northampton who were having to weather an early Shrewsbury storm but, with their only meaningful attack of the first-half, they did manage to fashion the clearest opening when Bowditch failed to get enough power on his cross-shot, allowing the hosts to get enough bodies back to clear.
That chance came very much against the flow of the game itself, and Shrewsbury remained in total charge and on the front-foot throughout the opening 45 minutes, albeit without creating too many goalscoring opportunities.
Barnett produced an important block while Aristote Nsiala headed a corner wide before Salop had a strong penalty shout turned down when Matt Taylor appeared to block Shaun Whalley's close-range shot with an arm.
But for all their superior play, Shrewsbury failed to test once David Cornell in the home goal and Northampton were able to get into half-time on level terms.
But if the Cobblers were hoping to use the 15-minute interval to regroup and come out stronger, they had another thing coming.
Shrewsbury picked up from where they left off and Buchanan was forced into a vital block from Alex Rodman before a well-worked move led to Whalley finding space inside the box but his shot rolled wide via a deflection.
Edinburgh tried to rally his out-of-sorts team by bringing on Chris Long and Yaser Kasim, both for their debuts, but they could so easily have conceded a penalty moments later when Abu Ogogo went flying over Pierre's challenge, only for the referee to book the Shrews man for diving.
Though the second-half was more of an even contest than the first, Shrewsbury continued to look the more likely to win it as Town struggled to create anything of note at the other end.
But with nine minutes to go the visitors came almighty close to breaking the deadlock. A Kasim corner was floated to the back post and after appearing to strike a Shrewsbury arm, the ball fell to Pierre whose shot was blocked on the line.
A goalmouth scramble ensued before the home side eventually smuggled the ball away.
It seemed that would be the last act of the afternoon, but John-Lewis had other ideas and his goal, finishing off a neat move, condemned Town to an opening-day defeat.
Shrewsbury: Henderson, Bolton, Nsiala, Sadler, Brown, Whalley (Gnahoua 79), Ogogo (c), C Morris, B Morris (John-Lewis 79), Nolan, Rodman
Subs not used: MacGillivray, Dodds, Adams, Jules, Ennis
Cobblers: Cornell, Barnett, A Taylor, Pierre, Powell, Crooks, Taylor (Kasim 63), Buchanan, Bowditch, Waters (Long 63), Richards (c) (Revell 73)
Subs not used: Goff, Poole, Phillips, Lobjoit
Referee: Sebastian Stockbridge
Cobblers fans: 1,053