They say all good things must come to an end and that was the unfortunate case for Northampton Town with this frustrating 2-1 defeat to a classy Portsmouth outfit who will surely be a League One club come next season.
It had to happen eventually. Seven straight wins, one defeat in 15 league games and their position atop the League Two table were all brought to an crushing end on Saturday thanks to Conor Chaplin’s 87th minute strike.
It was a contest which fluctuated one way and then the other between two sides who both showcased the necessary quality and capabilities to seriously contend for automatic promotion this season, and a draw would have perhaps been a fair reflection of an even encounter.
The first quarter was dominated by Northampton who got their reward through Ryan Cresswell’s thumping header following a corner from Joel Byrom, a combination which would become something of a recurring theme throughout the game.
And indeed it was another Northampton corner which brought about another excellent chance. After last week’s slick set-piece routine against Luton, Chris Wilder’s men had something similar up their sleeve but this time a goal was not forthcoming as Nicky Adams’ fizzing cross somehow eluded everyone when only the faintest of touches would have sufficed.
And such are the fine margins between success and failure in football, and indeed sport, that that miss proved vital in the context of the match as back came Portsmouth, whose front four caused problems all afternoon, especially the outstanding Caolan Lavery and Marc McNulty, and it was the latter’s cross which teed up Gareth Evans for the equaliser, despite strong suspicions of offside, moments after Cobblers had spurned the chance to go two ahead.
Though the game remained opened, the teams remained locked at one apiece up until the second half when the wind picked up and things turned scrappy.
Portsmouth were in the ascendency but they struggled to create much in the way of clear-cut chances before Northampton, aided by the introduction of Ricky Holmes, took control of proceedings and seemed to be ending the stronger as a succession of Byrom corners repeatedly posed Portsmouth problems.
Cresswell hit the woodwork and John-Joe O’Toole somehow managed to head over from just yards out as the Cobblers sensed a late winner.
And the winning goal duly arrived and all stemmed from a Byrom corner, but unfortunately for the home fans, it came at the other end.
Just as a draw appeared inevitable, which would have been a fair outcome, Portsmouth broke, Northampton were caught short at the back and substitute Conor Chaplin was on hand to turn home after Adam Smith had saved well from Ben Tollitt.
It was a cruel blow for the home side but even then, Dominic Calvert-Lewin had a golden chance to immediately equalise but he could only rattle the crossbar with a header from Holmes’ superb cross.
Ultimately, it wasn’t to be as Town slipped to their first defeat in nine League Two games, a run which stretches all the way back to October 17.
The result also means their time at the League Two summit lasted just seven days, but Cobblers fans shouldn’t be too downhearted.
Pompey are a team who ooze quality and as Chris Wilder alluded to afterwards, his side were often caught between a rock and a hard place.
As a team and a manager who always want to win, Northampton didn’t just settle for what would have been a satisfactory draw as they pushed men forward, albeit tentatively, in search of a winning goal as time ticked away, but on the one occasion when they did over-commit men forward, they were punished in the most ruthless fashion.
As disappointing as this defeat was, Cobblers fans can take solace from the fact that their side more than matched perhaps the best team in the division and on another day, could very well walked away with all three points.
As both Wilder and Cresswell stated afterwards, whoever finishes above Portsmouth this season will surely be promoted.
As it is, Northampton drop to second, level on points with Plymouth.
Given everything that has happened in 2015, I’m sure most fans would have taken that.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Mixed day. Should have done better with Evans’ equaliser and struggled with his kicking throughout but quick off his line to spare his team-mates’ blushes on more than one occasion... 7
Brendan Moloney - Got beaten on his outside too often in the second half but not the only one to struggle... 6
Ryan Cresswell - Thumping header gave his side the lead but partly at fault for Pompey’s equaliser when he went diving in unnecessarily. Also hit the woodwork just before Pompey’s winner. Otherwise excellent... 7.5 CHRON STAR MAN
Zander Diamond - Had his hands full with the troublesome Marc McNulty but defended well and helped restrict the visitors to few clear-cut chances, bar a couple of shaky moments in the windy conditions after half-time... 7
David Buchanan - Tough day. Had rings run around him by the quality and movement of Pompey’s front four, Lavery and McNulty in particular... 6
Joel Byrom - His corners were a constant source of danger, one of which resulted in the opener, but left too space for Pompey to exploit on the break... 6
John-Joe O’Toole - Maybe his worst display since his resurrection, which is not to say he was particularly bad. Just couldn’t get a grip on the game and somehow managed to put a free header over from just yards out... 6
Alfie Potter - Tireless running caused problems and almost brought about errors from the visitors, though faded after half-time before being replaced... 6
Lawson D’Ath - Couldn’t get into the game at all. Somewhat fortunate to play the full 90 minutes... 5
Nicky Adams - A rare off day. Largely ineffective though did play his part in another well-worked set-piece routine which could and perhaps should have put Town 2-0 ahead... 6
Marc Richards - Missed one good chance, hold up play was as good as ever in the first half but had little impact after half-time as he was marked out of the game by Pompey’s two centre-backs... 6
Dominic Calvert-Lewin - 6
Ricky Holmes - 6.5
Sam Hoskins - 6