There was a point in the second-half of Saturday’s dreary goalless draw against AFC Wimbledon that perfectly encapsulated the problems currently faced by Rob Page as his side continue to struggle in front of goal.
Going in search of that elusive first league victory, at home and up against a side who have yet to claim a single point from their opening three games, Page opted to replace Kenji Gorre with Harry Beautyman in the hope of trying to make something happen.
That left the Cobblers with no genuine winger, no width and no supply to Marc Richards and Alex Revell up front, making it all too easy for the Wimbledon back four who had few problems in seeing out a clean sheet.
That’s not to say Northampton’s threat was any greater before Gorre’s departure – it wasn’t – but it only served to emphasise the extent at which they are struggling for fluency and cohesion in attack as Page strives to find an effective combination.
The last 180 minutes of football has yielded a grand total of four shots on target, and you feel they could have played for another 180 minutes on Saturday and still not score, such was their lack of threat.
There’s something ironic about the sluggish nature of Northampton’s start to the current season following last year’s helter-skelter ride which was anything but dull.
Perhaps, though, this is the issue: the transition from one style of football to another style under a different manager with different players whilst also making a step up in quality is one that was always going to take time to perfect.
And it might simply be a case of patience and waiting for it all to come together, but, at present, the Cobblers are a team without an identity.
It’s also getting to the point now where it must be asked if the unbeaten run is becoming a burden, if players are becoming hampered by the thought of not losing.
On Saturday, there was no sense of urgency as time ticked away, no willingness to push men forward and at least try to grab all three points, and there were no late onslaughts or a sustained period of pressure on the Dons goal.
If the warning signs weren’t apparent before this past week, they were clear for all to see on Saturday.
A bright start quickly fizzled out and proved only a false dawn as it made way for a scrappy, disjointed and lacklustre encounter that was edged by the visitors but, in truth, neither side possessed the necessary quality and skill to break the other down.
It was a game which highlighted the problems faced by teams who win promotion and then must find that extra step up in quality to survive and thrive at a higher standard.
For all their problems in attack, Adam Smith’s reduced workload at the other end has been a reassuring sign and again he had a quiet afternoon on Saturday, but that alone is not enough.
Speaking afterwards, Page conceded it was performance that fell below the required standard and for the third or fourth time already this season, he bemoaned his side’s inability to take their chances.
But what should be of more concern is just how few and far between those chances are arriving.
Over the last 180 minutes of football, the Cobblers have created perhaps three clear-cut goalscoring opportunities, a ratio that will need to be drastically improved over the remainder of the season because it’s unrealistic to expect that all chances created will be taken.
The search for another striker goes on but that alone might not be enough based on the evidence seen so far.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Showed good agility to tip over a miscued clearance and handling was decent as long-range shots rained in from Wimbledon... 7
Aaron Phillips - Steady and assured but is sometimes guilty of panicking in possession instead of taking his time to find a pass... 7
Zander Diamond - A supreme and composed performance at the back, maintaing his excellent form this season with his timely interventions... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
Gabriel Zakuani - Equally dependable at the back, always there to mop up the danger and win key headers... 7
David Buchanan - Has picked up from where he left off last season and this was a typically business-like display... 7
Sam Hoskins - Unconvincing on the right. Not a natural winger and that was evident in his performance as he did little with the acres of space he was afforded at times... 5
John-Joe O’Toole - Tidy in midfield and broke up play well but yet to rediscover the kind of the purposeful, commanding midfield presence he had last season... 6
Matthew Taylor - Hasn’t quite found his mojo since signing and again found himself doing the dirty stuff instead of having a positive influence at the other end... 6
Kenji Gorre - Started so promisingly with that weaving run that ended with a well-struck shot but it proved to be a false dawn... 6
Alex Revell - Ran his socks off as he always does but the supply just wasn’t there. Spent majority of the game chasing lost causes rather than getting himself into the box... 6
Marc Richards - Can’t fault his endeavour but hadn’t trained all week and it showed.... 5
Harry Beautyman - 6
Emmanuel Sonupe - 6
Jak McCourt - 6