Not all goalless draws are as bad as the scoreline suggests. Some, in fact, can be surprisingly enjoyable encounters. Unfortunately, however, this one between the Cobblers and Notts County was more of the former and less of the latter.
It was not all bad but a clash between one team in 20th and another in 24th – two who share a solitary victory from 16 games between them this season – was never likely to set pulses racing, and while the game was not completely devoid of excitement, it had all the hallmarks of a lower-table battle.
Indeed, it was difficult to make a judgement on what was worse during Saturday’s drab stalemate: the weather, the officiating or the standard of football on display.
The weather was persistently wet, the officiating was atrocious and the football was dour as Northampton spurned another opportunity to give their floundering season the jolt it so desperately needs. They failed to back up the win at Colchester with another at home to Tranmere, they failed to beat lowly Cheltenham and now they failed to stop Notts County from collecting their first away point of the campaign.
There were moments during this game when you felt Town were on the cusp of taking it by the stranglehold as Matt Crooks, shifted across to the right side of midfield, carried the creative burden and the excellent Sam Foley hoovered up seemingly every loose ball in midfield.
But those moments failed to materialise into something more substantial as visiting goalkeeper Ross Fitzsimons had it a little too easy in keeping County’s first clean sheet since the opening day of the season, making only two real saves of note from Crooks in the first-half and then Leon Barnett late on.
And while Town’s wait for their own long overdue clean sheet may have finally came to an end, the fact it was not accompanied by victory meant this was ultimately an afternoon that generated more frustration for fans.
It was a game viewed as a glaring opportunity for the Cobblers to put aside recent troubles and belatedly kick-start their season given County’s dreadful form, but they were unable to do so and, as a result, now face mounting pressure to ensure their downward slide does not become permanent.
With just five points separating them in 21st from bottom side Macclesfield, the atmosphere on Saturday turned from cautious optimism at kick-off to one of familiar frustration at full-time as disgruntled fans witnessed their team fail to once again do the business on home turf.
It must be noted though that neither the Cobblers nor the Magpies were aided by a frankly woeful officiating performance as referee Paul Marsden insisted on blowing his whistle at every opportunity; punishing perfectly fair tackles, missing several baltant fouls and dishing out the softest of yellow cards.
Dean Austin, booked himself for a first-half outburst, and counterpart Harry Kewell took it in turns to unleash their fury on the fourth official but in truth the performance of the man in the middle can hardly be blamed for their teams’ respective struggles. Both have work to do if they are to get anywhere close to their lofty pre-season expectations.
The clean sheet hardly made up for the disappointment of the result from Northampton’s perspective but the fact it was kept owed as much to the excellent performance of the returning Leon Barnett as as anything else. The experienced centre-back, in for the suspended Aaron Pierre, defended with strength and composure against the wily Jon Stead and ensured County had few sniffs of goal.
There were still a few too many scares for Austin’s liking as Kane Hennings struck the woodwork, via a flying David Cornell save, and Stead sporadically threatened but a first clean sheet of the season at least provides a platform to build on.
Without three points, though, the frustration and pressure will continue to build.
While Town’s wait for their own long overdue clean sheet may have finally came to an end, the fact it was not accompanied by victory meant this was ultimately an afternoon that generated more frustration for fans.
How they rated...
David Cornell - Not overworked but produced one fabulous full-length stop to tip Hemmings’ effort onto the bar late on, at least ensuring his side didn’t suffer another defeat. Quick, decisive off his line again in keeping a long overdue clean sheet... 7
Hakeem Odoffin - Returned to the side in place of Facey and was solid if not always convincing at right-back. Kept things simple and did enough to retain his spot for next week... 6
Ash Taylor - Careless on the ball in the first-half, conceding possession in poor areas when under little pressure. Walked a tightrope having picked up an early booking but remained disciplined to stay on the pitch... 6
Leon Barnett - A first clean sheet of the season owed as much to his excellent performance as anything else. Replaced the suspended Pierre and defended strongly and with authority, keeping County’s forward line under wraps... 7
David Buchanan - Was an afternoon of few alarms for the left-back who restricted the amount of joy County had on their right side. Got off a rare shot at the other end, albeit not an especially threatening one... 6
Sam Foley - Gets through so much work in midfield with his tenacious, bustling style and impressive work ethic. Always seems to be the one to hoover up loose balls and win possession back. Also instigated several counter-attacks throughout including one superb driving run through the middle... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
John-Joe O’Toole - Three half chances came his way in the opening period but wasn’t able to seriously worry Fitzsimons with any of them. Battled away alongside Foley and looked about as sharp as he has all season on his return to the team... 6
Matt Crooks - Pushed to the right side of midfield to accommodate O’Toole but was no less influential to Town’s attacking play. Carried the creative burden and was denied by Fitzsimons in the home side’s best chance... 7
Dean Bowditch - Architect of Crooks’ opportunity thanks to an excellent touch and pass but otherwise struggled to stamp his mark on the game despite taking up some good positions. Was withdrawn late on... 6
Kevin van Veen - His increased willingness to get involved in general play was noticeable but that often came to the detriment of his team as he floated around aimlessly and often dropped too deep, leaving his strike partner stranded. Snatched at a decent last-gasp chance to win it.... 6
Sam Hoskins - Moved up front and didn’t give County’s back four a moment’s peace with his movement and ever-willing running but chances were few and far between... 6
Jack Bridge - 6