Two pieces of slack defending and another lacklustre attacking performance sent the Cobblers crashing to a potentially damaging 2-0 defeat away at fellow strugglers Plymouth Argyle on Tuesday.
It’s one thing to lose to a team chasing promotion, but it’s another altogether to be beaten in such feeble fashion against a side second from bottom and with just three league wins all season.
That was the case for Town at Home Park on Tuesday when Sonny Bradley scored two identical goals, one in each half, to put Argyle well on the way to only a second home victory of the campaign.
The Cobblers were in a similar predicament at Rochdale last month, but there was to be no repeat of that comeback once they fell 2-0 behind this time, barely able to muster a single meaningful chance throughout the 90 minutes, almost entirely ineffectual as an attacking entity.
The only saving grace for manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and his players is that they are still not out of touch from the teams above them, just three points adrift of as high as 16th, but what will be of real concern in the long-term is the repetitive manner of many of their performances, suggesting their chances of climbing the table remain bleak.
As predicted, the Cobblers were without key man John-Joe O’Toole for the long trip to Devon as he missed out through injury and was replaced by Regan Poole in the only change from Saturday’s home defeat to Scunthorpe.
There was precious little for anyone to get excited about in a laboured start that perhaps highlighted why both sides have badly struggled for goals so far this season.
Joel Grant’s deflected shot did have Matt Ingram scrambling before hitting the wrong side of the net, but there appeared to be no threat to either goalkeeper until Town’s marking let them down on 28 minutes.
Plymouth had edged what action there was in the first half-hour and they struck the crucial first blow when David Fox’s free-kick found Bradley all alone and, unmarked from just yards out, he had the simple task of nodding beyond Ingram.
It was a bad goal for the Cobblers to concede but they had a glaring opportunity to make amends almost instantly, however Aaron Pierre, picked out by Grimes’ fine cross, headed straight at Remi Matthews from inside the six-yard box.
That was the only occasion Town put the home defence under any real pressure as the hosts comfortably saw their lead through to half-time.
There was some encouragement at the start of the second-half for Northampton who came out with purpose and enjoyed more possession, but they were soon left counting the cost of more slapstick defending.
In almost a carbon copy of the first goal, a cheap foul gave Argyle the chance to get the ball in the box and Graham Carey duly delivered, crossing for the elusive Bradley who got in front of his man for a second time and headed past Ingram.
Like in the first-half, the Cobblers missed a terrific opportunity to hit straight back with Chris Long, who endured a hugely frustrating evening as the lone front man, lifting over the onrushing Matthews having got behind Plymouth’s back four.
Hasselbaink switched it up by throwing on Marc Richards and Dean Bowditch and moving to 4-4-2 but next to go close was Jake Jervis who was a fraction away from converting a left-wing cross.
Plymouth had dropped the tempo at this point and sat back, easily soaking up what pressure Town could apply, though Bowditch’s curler almost nestled into the far corner.
That was about as close as the visitors came all evening and it was far too late to have any influence on the final result, with the full-time whistle confirming another night of grim disappointment for the Cobblers.
Plymouth: Matthews, Sawyer, Songo’o, Bradley, Taylor-Sinclair, Sarcevic, Diagouraga, Fox, Carey (Ainsworth 90), Grant, Jervis (Fletcher 88)
Subs not used: Childs, Miller, Ciftci, Lameiras, Wylde
Cobblers: Ingram, Moloney, Taylor, Pierre (Barnett 56), Buchanan (c), Poole (Richards 63), Grimes, McGugan, Waters (Bowditch 67), Crooks, Long
Subs not used: Cornell, McGivern, Foley, McWilliams, Bowditch
Referee: Anthony Coggins
Cobblers fans: 208