Northampton Town 1 Shrewsbury Town 1 '“ match review, player ratings and highlights
If, as expected, the Cobblers finally rubber-stamp their survival over the next two weeks, you cannot say they have achieved it with any great conviction.
Their ultimate goal this season was to ensure their time in League One lasts longer than 12 months and that now seems a mere formality thanks to Easter Monday’s helter-skelter 1-1 draw with Shrewsbury Town, but you feel it owes as much to the deficiencies of others as it does to anything else.
For certain, they are not one of the worst four teams in this division and it cannot be denied that Justin Edinburgh has done well to arrest their mid-winter slump which put them on a one-way road to relegation.
But this is far from a vintage League One season; there are several poor teams and very few outstanding ones, so the fact there is even an outside chance of relegation with two games remaining does not reflect positively.
Performances of the team and various individuals have generally improved under Edinburgh’s guidance so these past two showings against Millwall and Shrewsbury, both of which fell below the required standard, can be forgiven, especially at this late stage of the season when bodies are tired and minds begin to drift elsewhere.
But there is no question the Cobblers can ill-afford to standstill over the next few months. With Portsmouth, Plymouth and Doncaster on the way up, next year is set to be more competitive and more evenly-matched. There are unlikely to be any Coventrys or Chesterfields who fall by the wayside without offering much of a fight.
For now, Northampton must muddle through to the summer when they can rebuild and almost start afresh ahead of a new campaign.
Because the current season has often been a struggle and a battle and many nerves have frayed along the way, as underlined by Monday’s ragged and scrappy but, in the end, important draw.
The squad lacks balance, depth and pace and all three were conspicuous by their absence in the latest tense watch at Sixfields.
It must be noted that this was a resilient and determined defensive effort from the Cobblers and though Shrewsbury applied much of the pressure, Adam Smith was rarely brought into strenuous action.
The two red cards and an abject refereeing performance didn’t help matters but even with 11 men, Town were often chasing shadows and disjointed against a tidy if toothless Shrewsbury side.
For the first time in a long time the Cobblers went into a game as favourites; this was supposed to be the day they once and for all wrapped up their place in League One for another season.
The point, coupled with results elsewhere, probably ensured that is now the case but it was edgy and unconvincing and rather encapsulated the past six months.
The closing stages of the first-half and most of the second was a familiar sight for regular visitors to Sixfields this season: Northampton out of possession, sitting deep and defending.
Obviously, the red card was a mitigating factor, but even before David Buchanan’s dismissal, harsh though it was, the pattern had been set and the Cobblers were already lacking fluency and cohesion.
There was some anxiety about their play throughout, even after Marc Richards’ header put them front, and Shrewsbury’s equaliser was coming before the hosts lost a man.
Matt Sadler headed the visitors level, but the subsequent Shrewsbury onslaught did not materialise as expected and credit must go to Edinburgh for his changes.
Aaron Phillips’ impressive cameo nullified the dangerous Shaun Whalley, who played the role of pantomime villain following his part in Buchanan’s red, while Shaun McWilliams brought some mobility, energy and balance to midfield.
For the period after Sadler’s leveller, Shrewsbury seemed caught between a rock and a hand place; unsure whether to go all out for the win or just settle for a potentially crucial away point.
John-Joe O’Toole’s dismissal, harsh also, helped make their minds up for five tense minutes of injury-time but by that point it was too late to snatch victory.
Results elsewhere mean this point virtually seals Town’s survival but do not be fooled: they have much work to do if they are to better or even match their efforts next time round.
Again the problems stemmed from midfield where the Cobblers had little control, something only accentuated following Buchanan’s harsh red card.
The defence withstood Shrewsbury’s bombardment impressively, led by the excellent Lewin Nyatanga and Zander Diamond, while the front two battled admirably, but it was the space in-between that let Northampton down and you feel Edinburgh will be quick to seek reinforcements in that area of the pitch.
When all is said and done, however, Northampton have followed promotion with survival, and for a team new to the division and one which lost their manager in-between, that’s ultimately all that matters.
There is enough for Edinburgh to work with and build on but, equally, Easter Monday showed there’s still a long way to go.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Struggled with his kicking again, sending a couple of wayward clearances either out of play or not far enough up field. For all Shrewsbury’s dominance though, he had little to do... 6
Brendan Moloney - Rare occasion where he was forced back and unable to bomb forward, giving him the opportunity to prove he’s more than just an attacking full-back and that’s what he did. Excellent in helping to withstand the onslaught... 8
Zander Diamond - Was central to his side’s rearguard action, winning headers and tackles galore as Shrewsbury flung in the crosses. Has barely put a foot wrong in these past few weeks... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
Lewin Nyatanga - Made an important block to prevent a free header on goal at 1-0 and played his part fully in a gritty overall defensive effort, ensuring Shrews didn’t work many clear sights of Smith’s goal... 8
David Buchanan - Was in the wars first-half, twice left crumpled on the floor, but didn’t shy away from battle. Was given the run around by Whalley after half-time but his red was soft at best. Record-breaking run of consecutive starts will finally end at Bury... 5
Matty Taylor - Set-pieces were disappointing and generally offered little in attack. Better defensively where he covered ground, got stuck in and made timely blocks, one of which helped save a goal... 7
John-Joe O’Toole - Many of his more important contributions were in defence, the highlight being a superb goal-saving tackle to deny Dodds. Red was petulant but harsh given the referee had blown his whistle barely seconds before he kicked the ball away... 6
Hiram Boateng - Excellent thinking and execution set up Richards for the goal. Started well before fading and was sacrificed following Buchanan’s red... 6
Paul Anderson - Terrific work to create the space and the opening for Town’s goal. A willing runner throughout and always made himself available for a pass... 7
Alex Revell - Smith’s injury opened the door for his first start since January and you can never question his desire or determination to help the cause. Just didn’t quite come off for him this time, and understandably lacked sharpness... 6
Marc Richards - Perfectly placed to delicately nod Northampton ahead. Held the ball up well first-half but became more of a lone, frustrated figure in the second, unsurprisingly given the circumstances... 7
Aaron Phillips - 7
Shaun McWilliams - 7
Rod McDonald - 6