If the Cobblers are serious about turning their slow start into a play-off challenge this season, then they can ill-afford to make a regular habit of allowing three points to become one, especially in games like this one against Stevenage.
It’s not that they necessarily played poorly against their 10th-placed visitors at a rain-soaked, wind-swept PTS on Saturday – not before half-time anyway – it’s that when you hold of a position of dominance and control and look so untroubled, you must make it count, all the more so when you’re trying to make up ground.
There were many similarities to be drawn between this game and Town’s last home clash against Grimsby Town three weeks ago when another two points were blown away as a promising first-half performance was followed by a disappointing, disjointed second, during which the home side surrendered the initiative and paid the price.
And just like the Mariners, Stevenage too returned home with something to show for their efforts, riding their luck thanks to Town’s poor finishing and then taking their chances when it came along. Add four points to Northampton’s current tally and they are right in the mix for a top seven berth.
As it turned out, the Cobblers did actually make inroads on Saturday. Results elsewhere, plus a couple of postponements, brought them a point closer to the play-offs; seven behind instead of eight. It could and should have been five though.
The conditions were truly horrific. Driving rain, gusting wind and freezing temperatures made life exceptionally difficult for both teams, but the Cobblers adapted well in the first-half and created most, if not all, of the chances.
Stevenage played in bursts as Ash Taylor defended strongly when the Cobblers needed him to and Kurtis Guthrie twice headed off target from set-pieces, but the more consistent threat came at the other end.
The best opening of the half saw Daniel Powell balloon over from 10 yards when under no pressure, while Kevin van Veen should have played a better pass to the unmarked Dean Bowditch, who also shot off target and had an effort blocked.
It would be third time lucky for the former Stevenage man in first-half stoppage-time when Powell, atoning for his earlier miss, floated in the cross and Bowditch finished well to give Cobblers a lead they had just about merited by that point.
But their failure to build on it upon the resumption was not a new problem. Instead of being roused and galvanised by going ahead, they retreated into their shells and that was all the invitation Stevenage required.
Suddenly playing with more urgency, the visitors produced some decent stuff and only lacked quality when it mattered most. Fortunately for them though, they were gifted an equaliser when Aaron Pierre’s under-hit back pass contributed to David Cornell’s slip, allowing a composed Ben Kennedy to score with Stevenage’s first and only shot on target 75 minutes in.
There was no response from the home team in the remaining time and so, for the second home game running, the Cobblers saw victory slip away when it was well within their grasp.
But while many rightly lamented two points dropped on Saturday, it’s also worth noting that the draw made it eight successive home games unbeaten in all competitions, four of which have been victories with only six goals netted by visiting teams in that time. Compare that to one win, three draws and four defeats in the previous eight home matches, conceding 13.
That stark transformation owes to the impact of Keith Curle and suggests the Cobblers will only keep improving. It’s not especially pretty or entertaining to watch but with every point gained comes confidence and helps lay a platform for bigger and better things.
While many rightly lamented two points dropped, it’s worth noting that the draw made it eight successive home games unbeaten in all competitions, four of which have been victories with only six goals netted by visiting teams in that time.
Northampton are now less susceptible in defence and more competitive all over the pitch. If they can add a ruthless touch in the final third, a late play-off push might not be beyond them.
How they rated...
David Cornell - The treacherous conditions made life difficult for both goalkeepers and he unfortunately came unstuck, slipping at the crucial moment to fluff his clearance and hand Stevenage their leveller on a plate. Particularly frustrating as that was the visitors’ only shot on target... 5
Ash Taylor - Enjoyed a strong first-half, well-placed to clear dangerous crosses on three or four occasions. Came off as an injury precaution at half-time and that seemed to upset the balance of the defence... 7
Jordan Turnbull - Got up well to head clear balls into the box as Stevenage sought a way back into the game in the second 45. Composed and unruffled and looked like he wouldn’t be breached until Kennedy’s well-taken strike... 7
Aaron Pierre - Solid again for the most part, as he has been for much of the season, but his under-hit back pass put Cornell in trouble and ultimately culminated in the away side’s equaliser... 6
Shay Facey - Encouraged by the freedom afforded at wing-back in the opening period when regularly motoring beyond halfway. Taylor’s injury saw him move to centre-back in the second where he was a little less sure-footed... 6
David Buchanan - Almost curled in a beauty prior to Bowditch’s goal, one of many instances when he got into advanced positions. Not really tested in a defensive sense... 7
Sam Foley - Usual tireless display as he and his midfield partner provided the base for Town to build their first-half control, only for that to subside in the second 45 minutes when Stevenage gained more of a foothold... 7
Shaun McWilliams - Looked up for it from the word go and was back to his best after a below-par few weeks. His scuttling and energy in midfield were a real feature of the game as he worked hard to help out in defence while also providing an extra body in attack... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
Dean Bowditch - His best game for the club and might well have walked off with a hat-trick on another day. Twice off target and also denied by a good block before he got the goal he deserved with a nice touch and finish. Linked up well with van Veen throughout... 8
Daniel Powell - Missed a glaring early chance, ballooning over from 10 yards when under no pressure, but made amends by teeing up Bowditch’s goal with an excellent floated cross... 6
Kevin van Veen - Involved in almost everything Town did right in the first-half but, unusually for him, his end product was a little off. Became isolated after half-time as the hosts lost their shape... 7
Sam Hoskins - 6
Matt Crooks - 5
Hakeem Odoffin - 6