Millwall 3 Northampton Town 0 '“ match review, player ratings and highlights
Such has been the pattern of Northampton's season, this defeat to Millwall did not come as any great surprise but it was the manner of the performance that may have prompted a few more concerned looks downwards to ensure relegation remains an unlikely prospect.
Whilst this display and result did not sink to the depths of previous away days, there were certain elements and familiar problems that have plagued Northampton all season long, and that, allied with a couple of moments of Millwall brilliance, was enough to be condemned to defeat.
Injuries too played a part on this forgettable afternoon, both Luke Williams and Michael Smith forced off, and now Justin Edinburgh must move on to Monday and the visit of Shrewsbury Town in his search to find that elusive victory which will put paid to lingering relegation fears.
In a sport where the winning team is invariably the one that makes the fewest mistakes, you can ill-afford to give your opponents a head start by coming out of the blocks slowly, especially away from home and especially at a team hungry for points.
The tone for this disappointing afternoon was set within the first few minutes and from the moment of Adam Smith’s fluffed clearances that only encouraged the play-off chasers forward and increased the volume levels by a notch or two.
The Cobblers were off the pace and second to everything in the opening 27 minutes and it took a piece of stunning quality to wake them from their slumbers.
Aiden O’Brien’s goal was quite something, a slick one-two and a first-time volley into the top corner, but, if anything, it prompted an impressive response from the visitors.
Luke Williams spurned their best chance when denied by Tom King, who also produced an excellent diving save from Shaun Hutchinson’s miscued clearance.
As half-time approached, it seemed they were building a head of steam, only to then be hit by the sucker-punch – twice.
Another superb goal from Jed Wallace, albeit one which was the result of a third poor Smith clearance, was followed by a second emphatic finish by the same man and suddenly Millwall were in control and out of sight.
The Cobblers salvaged some kind of respectability in the second period but, in truth, it mattered not.
Events in the stands added perspective to Northampton’s troubles on the pitch and it was a relief to hear positive news regarding the fan who had received prolonged medical treatment through much of the second-half.
Both sets of fans acted with class and respect in difficult circumstances and we all wish the supporter a full and speedy recovery.
Looking ahead, Northampton remain unable to complete shake off relegation. The glance back to those fighting the drop may have become more of a stare in the wake of this defeat but, fortunately, results elsewhere were the only silver-lining on an otherwise irredeemable afternoon.
Gillingham earned a dramatic victory and Shrewsbury nicked a point against Walsall but defeats for Port Vale and Bury keep the Cobblers a safe distance back to the bottom four.
But they need to stop relying on events elsewhere and start winning games again. The past five looked tricky on paper and three defeats, two draws, eight goals conceded and only three scored suggest any pessimism was well-founded.
Beating teams below them and losing to those challenging for promotion has been the story of their season. In fact, their wretched record against the stronger teams in League One can be no better highlighted than in hard facts.
This season, the Cobblers have collected just 14 points from 24 games against teams in the top half, the joint-worst record in the whole division, matched only by Bury and Chesterfield.
Fortunately, that statistics balance themselves out and in games against teams in the bottom half, the Cobblers rank sixth.
The good news is that if they can continue that trend for the remaining three games, all will be well. All three are against sides below them but, by the same token, the opposition in each game will be no pushovers given they are desperately fighting for their lives.
Even if Town stay up, though, that is something which must be addressed for next season. Whether that’s through better players, a bolder approach or a little bit of both will be down to Justin Edinburgh.
It might even be a psychological problem given they are new to this division but a return of two points from 12 games against the current top six is simply not good enough and must be improved upon because relying on beating others is a risky tactic; you are essentially depending on 34 games to gain the points required to stay up.
Good Friday’s game at Millwall showed Northampton still have a long way to go to. Fortunately, they have an immediate opportunity to right those wrongs and bounce straight back.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Two early sliced clearances set the tone, and another poor kick led to Millwall’s second. Never looked comfortable from corners either, though recovered some loss ground in the second-half by keeping the scoreline down... 5
Aaron Phillips - Beaten too easily in the build-up for the third but was far from the worst culprit on a day when nothing went right for his team. Made two vital clearances right under his own crossbar, making up for Smith’s failure to claim corners... 6
Zander Diamond - Had a penalty appeal against him turned down early on, perhaps fortuitously, but it mattered not as Millwall subsequently cantered to victory. Not directly at fault for any of the goals and if anything helped limit the damage... 6
Lewin Nyatanga - Played some risky passes back to Smith, resulting in wayward clearances, and needed to get tighter to Wallace for the third. Fell below his recent high standards... 5
David Buchanan - Delivered a competent display which, in the context of his team-mates’ efforts, was an achievement and made him the best of a below-par bunch... 6 CHRON STAR MAN
Matty Taylor - Kept King busy with a series of long-range drives, albeit without ever really testing the Lions keeper. Regularly given too much to do and too many men to cover in midfield as Millwall found acres of space... 6
Paul Anderson - Never shied away from getting on the ball and trying to make something but his positive contributions were countered by poor decision-making in the final third... 6
Luke Williams - Missed his side’s best chance when denied by King. Produced some neat moments but needed more from him. Season looks over after pulling his hamstring... 6
Keshi Anderson - Did well for Town’s best chance when leading a swift counter-attack but that was his only contribution on another tough day. Has struggled to impose himself since his Coventry hat-trick and this may be his last start in a Cobblers shirt... 5
Michael Smith - Barely had a kick before being withdrawn with a first-half injury... 6
Marc Richards - An immensely frustrating afternoon for the skipper, despite his best efforts to get into the game. Barely fed on crumbs due to almost a complete lack of service as Northampton toiled in attack throughout... 6
Hiram Boateng - 6
Alex Revell - 6
Brendan Moloney - 6