Though the final scoreline didn’t generate the same shockwaves, there were elements of this latest dispiriting defeat that offered as much reason to be concerned as the previous week’s thrashing, even accounting for the obvious improvement.
Admittedly, the Cobblers produced significantly more effort, organisation and discipline than a week earlier and they competed far better all over the pitch but that should go without saying and if they are to have any hope of escaping their current plight, it is surely these games – at home to a team stuck in a similar rut – that they must win, or at least get something out of.
And perhaps they would have got away with a hard-earned goalless draw if not for one second-half lapse that proved oh-so fatal as AFC Wimbledon became the latest beneficiaries of Town’s ever-deepening woes.
The fundamental reason for defeat here? Same old story: both a lack of confidence and quality in the final third plus another a mix-up at the back, albeit one tinged with misfortune, as an otherwise much-improved defensive performance was undone by one unerring swing of Harry Forrrester’s right leg.
It was a fine finish and a fine goal but so easily avoidable and when you are team so desperately short on goals at one end, you need not make life harder for yourself at the other.
The worry now is that the Cobblers are struggling to even fashion half chances as Dons goalkeeper George Long followed in the footsteps of counterpart Sam Slocombe in leaving Sixfields with a relatively comfortable clean sheet.
At least earlier in the season Town did pose some sort of attacking threat, even at Wigan and Rotherham they forced saves and last-ditch blocks before going down to battling defeats.
Now, they are being too easily rebuffed in the final third. The problem is not so much an absence of a goalscorer, it’s that they are almost entirely devoid of creativity. You could stick the best finisher in the world up front and he would get very little joy; the chances simply aren’t being provided.
Perhaps the most alarming aspect of Saturday’s game was the distinct lack of clear approach from the Cobblers, bar long balls behind Wimbledon’s defence and down the channels for the hapless Sam Hoskins and Billy Waters to chase.
With most of those passes either over-hit or misdirected, that tactic bore little fruit and with scarcely any natural width, the Dons defence easily soaked up what pressure the hosts were able to sustain.
Long did tip over Daniel Powell’s venomous strike while Ash Taylor may have done better when well-placed but, those half chances aside, there was little else to shout about.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink again tinkered with his formation and personnel, bringing in Waters and Hoskins and playing them both up front with Lewis McGugan wide.
It’s already been noticeable during his short reign – and Saturday was the latest example – how Hasselbaink likes to chop and change, regularly making at least two or three changes from game to game while also switching between systems, often favouring 4-4-3 or 4-4-2.
Injuries and suspensions have not helped matters and you can hardly blame him for making those alterations in his quest to stumble upon a winning formula, but, equally, they do not help with building consistency and partnerships across the pitch.
The problem is not so much an absence of a goalscorer, it’s that they are almost entirely devoid of creativity. You could stick the best finisher in the world up front and he would get very little joy; the chances simply aren’t being provided.
Many of the their problems stem from midfield where the Cobblers are so often overrun and overcrowded by opposing teams. It’s not so much the personnel, rather the combination of players.
Going with two in Shaun McWilliams and Matt Grimes on Saturday, they barely ever received possession in the final third as Wimbledon showed more nous to keep them at arm’s-length and therefore restrict Town to harmless long balls.
It’s true that the Cobblers did not give up many chances and neither did they look particularly troubled when tested defensively but it’s worth remembering that they were facing a Wimbledon side who were the second lowest scorers across the EFL and who were also coming off the back of a big defeat, yet still lost.
All in all, it was another disappointing day. Even the eagerly-anticipated return of John-Joe O’Toole could not inspire this team. If he can stay fit and replicate his form of recent seasons, it will be a timely boost, especially with Chris Long also back in the frame.
Now almost 600 minutes since they last found the net, it begs the question: where is the next goal, let alone win, coming from?
This coming week, with back-to-back trips to two teams in poor form, is absolutely crucial. The Cobblers simply must get something out of both games, otherwise they will find themselves cut further adrift.
Four points from safety already, even at this early stage that is something they can not afford.
How they rated...
Matt Ingram - Thankfully a much quieter day at the office than his previous outing, though not quiet enough. Barely had anything to do aside from picking the ball out of the net. Got a hand to Forrester’s shot but the midfielder’s finish was too good... 6
Brendan Moloney - Defensively solid, making some crucial interventions at the back post. Still seems reluctant get forward, either through a lack of confidence or instructions from the touchline... 6
Ash Taylor - Back to the type of form he displayed prior to last week’s nightmare. Got away with one panicked clearance and also missed his side’s best chance but his defensive contributions kept Ingram’s workload to a minimum... 7 CHRON STAR MAN
Aaron Pierre - His misguided clearance clattered into Buchanan and fell to Taylor who teed up Forrester for the game’s only goal and that wasn’t the only example of him looking nervous or anxious in possession. One of a number of players who seem low on confidence... 5
David Buchanan - Excellent covering tackle prevented Kaja from getting in first-half and made another important challenge after the break. Gave as much to the cause as any of his team-mates, was unfortunate with the way the winning goal came about... 6
Matt Grimes - Constantly looked to get the ball forward at the first opportunity and find one of the front two but didn’t have the quality to pull it off, often over-hitting or misdirecting the pass. Remains on set-piece duty despite his often disappointing delivery... 5
Shaun McWilliams - Few classy touches and demonstrated good vision at times but found himself swallowed up and crowded out in midfield where Dons had more nous. Never really hurt the visitors in the final third... 6
Lewis McGugan - Didn’t get a foothold in the game from the left side, where he often had to cut inside or drop deep to receive possession. Clearly still lacking match sharpness, and probably needs to played centrally to influence proceedings in the way the Cobblers would like... 5
Daniel Powell - Forced the only real save of note from Long all game when spinning and shooting from 20 yards, needs to show that kind of drive and directness more often. Sometimes guilty of hesitating or making the wrong decision, which allows the opposition to get bodies back... 5
Billy Waters - Led the press admirably from the front as he ran himself into the ground but in truth he barely had a sniff of goal, either let down by poor service or out-muscled by belligerent defending... 5
Sam Hoskins - Frustrating afternoon on his first start of the season as he got very little change out of Dons’ back four, and rarely had the opportunity to utilise his pace. The one time he did Robinson made a brilliant challenge to thwart his progress into the area... 5
Dean Bowditch - 6
John-Joe O’Toole - Generated the two biggest roars of the day but even he couldn’t inspire his team-mates. Will be a major boost if he can stay fit and rediscover his form of recent seasons... 6
Sam Foley - 6