Northampton Town 0 Scunthorpe United 0 – review, player ratings and match action

Lewis McGugan's set-pieces were a constant threat on Saturday. Pictures: Sharon Lucey
Lewis McGugan's set-pieces were a constant threat on Saturday. Pictures: Sharon Lucey

An FA Cup tie against a team in the same division will rarely set pulses racing and the apathy felt by many towards Saturday’s visit of Scunthorpe United was matched by an inevitable outcome, but there were enough positives in Northampton’s performance to make this a worthwhile exercise.

The inconvenience of adding another game to their already busy schedules was not the desired outcome for anyone involved, least of all the two managers, but it was nonetheless encouraging to see Town add further weight to the general feeling that they are a team very much on an upward curve.

For certain, going into this clash, they could ill-afford to standstill and undo recent good work – and a second straight clean sheet and fourth game unbeaten later, they did more than that.

Recent victories over Gillingham and Blackpool could not have been more timely considering their perilous position in the league, but there were mitigating factors in both wins; one came over an equally struggling Gillingham side in horrendous weather conditions and the other came at the expense of a dismal Blackpool team (who incidentally lost at non-league Boreham Wood on Saturday).

So the visit of Graham Alexander’s Scunthorpe, play-off losers last term and among the top five again this time around, offered a more accurate barometer of Town’s recent progress, and the fact United made only one change from their previous league game was proof of how seriously they took their visit to Sixfields.

With that in mind, it was promising to see Town boss much of the play and create the better, more frequent chances, even if scoring goals remains their perennial conundrum this season.

As one of only two same-division games in the entire first round, this FA Cup tie was never going to draw in the crowds – less than 3,000 at Sixfields on Saturday – but not losing is a handy knack to have, all the more so for a team who have too much experience in tasting defeat over the past 12 months.

The flat atmosphere was hardly conducive to entertainment but both sides mustered a decent game, although an enjoyable first-half did rather fizzle out and make way for a disappointing second.

There were stages of this game, mostly in the first-half, when Northampton appeared on the brink of hitting top gear and finding full flow, only to quickly lose their way once chances went begging.

From general play, barely a chance of note was created by either side throughout the whole 90 minutes. Instead, it was at set-pieces where the chief threat came and it was the home side, thanks mainly to Lewis McGugan’s sweet right foot, that caused almost all of the problems.

The midfielder’s deadly set-piece delivery presented two golden chances for defender Aaron Pierre, both of which were hacked away off the line, while McGugan himself clattered the post with one of several fine efforts from free-kicks.

If he can reproduce that kind of pinpoint delivery on a consistent basis, it will be a huge asset for this strong and imposing team who should be utilising their often superior physical attributes far more effectively than they have so far this season. .

McGugan completed 90 minutes for the first time since signing and he looked as sharp as ever in Cobblers colours, while another positive from Saturday’s game was more in a defensive sense.

Out of possession, the Cobblers were organised and well-drilled and made their visitors wait until stoppage-time for their only clear-cut chance when a corner found Cameron Burgess totally unmarked.

There were stages of this game, mostly in the first-half, when Northampton appeared on the brink of hitting top gear and finding full flow, only to quickly lose their way once chances went begging.

The defender should have saved us all a trip to Glanford Park by nodding home from six yards out but, in the end, nothing could prevent an inevitable yet frustrating conclusion and we’ll have to do it all over again in 10 days’ time.

If nothing else – and let’s face it, there was little to get excited about – Saturday was an opportunity for the Cobblers to maintain momentum and continue recent progress.

They did that, and now with six games to come in 18 days, this is no time to standstill.

How they rated...

David Cornell - Reduced to a mere spectator for a large portion of the game, only making one save of note when tipping away Morris’ fine effort. Not his best kicking day... 6

Shaun McWilliams - His least assured display at right-back to date, which isn’t to say he played badly. Had little to do in a defensive sense and never really provided a threat in the final third, seemed almost hesitant to get forward at times... 6

Ash Taylor - His usual unflappable self in the centre of Town’s defence, solid and untroubled throughout. Won his duels and kept United largely quiet when it came to genuine chances, bar Burgess’ last-gasp header... 7

Aaron Pierre - Should really have opened the scoring on two separate occasions in the first-half, smacking the crossbar and then denied by Novak’s goal-line clearance. But his priority is at the other end where he was competent and generally solid... 7

David Buchanan - A classic Buchanan performance, determined and dogged at one end while always seeking out chances to attack. Ended the game sporting a giant head bandage after taking a whack to the face... 7

Regan Poole - Robust and energetic out of possession and will never shirk the physical side of the game, but had an off day in possession, passing was particularly iffy... 6

John-Joe O’Toole - Provided the Cobblers with a focal point and was often the link between midfield and attack, winning flick-ons and cannily positioning himself between the lines. His premature withdrawal shortly after half-time coincided with Town’s drop-off, and they’ll be desperately hoping his injury is nothing serious... 7

Lewis McGugan - Ran the show from midfield first-half before his influence gradually dwindled. Might easily have had an assist and goal to his name inside 10 minutes through two superb free-kicks. His deadly set-piece delivery could be a real asset for Town if he can get himself match fit, and 90 minutes here will do him the world of good... 7 CHRON STAR MAN

Sam Hoskins - Unable to effect the game in an attacking sense. Kept making runs away from the play instead of towards the ball, which in turn made it hard for his team-mates to find him in good positions... 6

Daniel Powell - Seemed on the verge of spluttering into life with the occasional burst forward and piece of positive play, but that never really translated into anything of note. Still, encouraging to see him build on recent good showings... 7

Chris Long - Ran his socks off up front, chasing down numerous lost causes, but became exasperated at the very little quality service he received. Wants and needs to score goals as Town’s sole striker in their 4-2-3-1 but requires some help from those around him... 6

Substitutes

Marc Richards - 6

Billy Waters - 6

Dean Bowditch - 6

FAMILIAR FACE: Northampton face Graham Alexander's side for the second of three meetings in 14 days on Tuesday

FAMILIAR FACE: Northampton face Graham Alexander's side for the second of three meetings in 14 days on Tuesday