If the Cobblers could take solace from positive aspects of previous performances after starting their season with four games, no wins and just two points, they can no longer do so following Tuesday’s dismal trip to Morecambe.
Instead, the mood at full-time was one of deflation and concern as Town delivered the type of inept display that would not have looked out of place at any point of last season. That alone is a shuddering thought.
This is where the failure to win any of their first three matches becomes a problem. If everything was equal and the Cobblers had turned their previously superior performances into an acceptable points return, defeat to Morecambe on Tuesday, whilst obviously disappointing, would not be judged quite so harshly.
But playing well without winning is ultimately futile, and if it continues to happen, a pattern is emerging. Dean Austin’s men can’t even point to chances missed or bad luck on this particular evening, however, as the Shrimps deservedly prevailed with all three points and left Town 21st in League Two.
It is a risky ploy to give it the big talk until you start producing the goods. Yes, Town had played well against Cambridge and Lincoln and yes, they should have won both matches, but playing well in two games does not mean wins are just a matter of time. You actually have to go out and do the business.
At the Globe Arena, it didn’t take long to see that the visitors were off their game against a Morecambe team who looked up for the fight. They played with greater gusto and intensity in a low-quality first-half.
Even so, the visitors again had chances – though not nearly as many as past games – as Matt Crooks spurned two clear openings prior to A-Jay Leitch-Smith’s well-taken but poorly-defended opener. One long ball was all it took for him to escape the visiting back four and beat David Cornell, who otherwise had a fine evening.
The start of the second-half reflected a worrying trend for this set of players: the inability to react positively after going behind. Despite having half-time to regroup and reassess, the Cobblers found themselves camped inside their own half for the first 15 minutes of the second period, run ragged by a Morecambe team who were yet to score in the league this season before Tuesday.
Cornell kept his side in the game with a series of saves before they eventually reversed the tide and ended on top, but nothing summed up Town’s dismal last 12 months than a dramatic finish at Globe Arena.
Even when goalkeeper Barry Roche was sent off and outfield player Alex Kenyon put on the gloves, they couldn’t find the back of the net. The makeshift stopper somehow kept out Crooks, Daniel Powell and Junior Morias before O’Toole cleared the crossbar with the best chance of the lot, consigning the visitors to yet another defeat.
Morecambe are a decent side when given licence to play and they were afforded plenty of that on Tuesday. The hosts passed through and around their visitors with alarming simplicity, finding pockets of space in dangerous areas all too easily.
The Cobblers weren’t necessarily outplayed on Tuesday but they were out-fought and, at times, out-thought. And as encouraging as elements of their previous performances have been this season, certain worrying traits remain.
The most worrying is the amount of space opposition teams have found down the sides and through the middle. Morecambe are a decent side when given licence to play and they were afforded plenty of that on Tuesday. The hosts passed through and around their visitors with alarming simplicity, finding pockets of space in dangerous areas all too easily.
The defence regularly cops a lot of the flak but it is more than that. Fundamentally, it is a team problem. The make-up of the midfield can leave the back four exposed and that puts pressure on individual defenders, resulting in mistakes and, more often than not, goals for the opposition. It’s been an ongoing issue for 12 months and requires fixing.
It’s hard to believe at times like these but Town do possess good players who should, on paper, be able to cut at League Two level. That then begs an obvious question, if quality is not the problem, what is?
The fact that many of these players are now under their third different manager – five for some individuals – suggests it runs deeper than who’s in the dugout, so then you must question their mental fortitude and wonder if the pressure is too much, whether that’s when trying to hold onto a lead or responding to a setback.
A certain amount of that can be put down to a lack of confidence, but Austin needs to find a way of overcoming that hurdle because it gets no easier this weekend when he takes his side to third-placed, unbeaten Colchester United who smashed six past Crewe in midweek.
All logic dictates a home victory. But then again all logic dictated a Cobblers victory on Tuesday. It’s still only August but patience is already starting to wear thin.
How they rated...
David Cornell - That he was his side’s best performer is an indication of how poorly the team played. Not a reflection on him though as he made numerous routine saves in addition to two excellent stops... 7 CHRON STAR MAN
Shay Facey - Boost to have him back from injury but spent more time defending than he’d have liked, pushed back by Morecambe and only ever really getting forward when Town pushed in the closing stages... 6
Leon Barnett - In for Pierre and was one outfield player not to do his prospects much damage. Won his headers and covered for team-mates well in limiting the home side to few clear-cut chances... 6
Ash Taylor - Had a reasonable game from an individual standpoint but collectively the defence again appeared fragile and at times disorganised, though the lack of protection from midfield didn’t help matters... 5
David Buchanan - Morecambe targeted him with crossfield balls into Leitch-Smith who was a menace all night and deservedly got his goal, out-sprinting Town’s left-back and the rest of the defence to net... 5
Sam Foley - Showed energy and willingness to get from box to box but the two opportunities that fell his way went begging and he alone could not offer Town’s defence the protection it required as Morecambe found plenty of space in dangerous areas... 5
Matt Crooks - Threatened to take the game by the scruff of the neck in parts but never really did so as Town lost the midfield battle. Could have four or five goals for the season by now after missing two good chances here... 5
Dean Bowditch - Handed his first league start of the season and it’s doubtful he did enough to keep his place for Saturday. Drifted across the pitch in an attempt to find pockets of space but saw precious little of the ball... 5
Sam Hoskins - Offered width and pace for Town and played a key part in his side’s best move of the match, however he was never able to impose himself on proceedings and influence the game in a positive sense... 5
Andy Williams - On the fringes of the match throughout as Morecambe’s back four kept things tight and restricted the the supply line to the front two, though did produce one lovely piece of skill to tee up Crooks... 5
Kevin van Veen - Half chances at best were the order of the day as nothing clear-cut fell his way. Failed to test Roche with any of his three first-half efforts before a defender blocked his best opening in the second... 6
Daniel Powell - 5
Junior Morias - Injected some spark and impetus into Town’s play and so nearly dragged them level with a fine solo effort... 6
John-Joe O’Toole - Skied over when perfectly placed to nick a point... 5