Opening day defeat for Cobblers as Saddlers secure narrow victory
Cobblers kicked off the new Sky Bet League Two campaign with an underwhelming 1-0 defeat to Walsall at the PTS Stadium on Saturday.
Town played well enough in the first-half and could easily have been on level terms or even ahead at half-time but wasteful finishing meant it was Walsall who held a slender advantage via James Clarke's well-directed header.
The hosts continued to create chances in the second period but in truth they failed to sustain pressure for long enough, and with Saddlers goalkeeper Liam Roberts in fine form they had to settle for another opening-day defeat.
The extent of Keith Curle's summer overhaul was evident in his first team selection of the season when nine of Town's 12 new signings made the starting line-up.
David Cornell got the nod ahead of Steve Arnold in goal while Sam Hoskins was the only other player from last season to start, excluding new captain and former loanee Charlie Goode.
Nicky Adams was in for his second debut and he only needed nine minutes to deliver one of his teasing crosses, although neither Harry Smith nor Matty Warburton could apply a telling touch.
Cameron Norman and Hoskins had earlier exchanged long-range efforts before Walsall moved in front on 14 minutes when Danny Guthrie's corner was poorly-defended and captain Clarke headed in via the crossbar.
Cobblers juddered into life midway through the opening period and only some excellent goalkeeping from Roberts kept them at bay as he brilliantly denied Hoskins, who latched onto Smith's header inside the box, and then held onto Goode's header.
Adams also saw a goal ruled out for offside before a frenetic period of play followed when Cobblers were guilty of overplaying inside their own half, with Josh Gordon's effort well held by Cornell at his near post.
Town were so nearly level at the break, though, after Mat Sadler's vital intervention agonisingly prevented Smith from converting Joe Martin's cross before the striker was then denied by another last-ditch defensive block.
The half-time interval came at a bad moment for the Cobblers who were slow to get going in the second period with Walsall, still protecting a slender lead, looking comfortable and in control.
Town's cause was made harder when Alan McCormack's fitness troubles resurfaced on the hour-mark as he went down and had to be replaced by Shaun McWilliams.
McCormack left the field with his upper right leg heavily strapped.
Stuart Sinclair and Cameron Pring went close for Walsall either side of that, while Hoskins blazed over the crossbar in a rare chance that fell Town's way.
The home side, still chasing an equaliser, carried more of a threat in the final 15 minutes with Joe Martin's free-kick landing inches wide and then Goode's close-range header brilliant tipped over by Roberts.
Seven minutes of added-time gave Town plenty of time to find an equaliser but it wasn't to be.
Cobblers: Cornell, Hall-Johnson (Watson 78), Goode (c), Wharton, Martin, McCormack (McWilliams 60), Lines, Adams, Waburton (Williams 65), Hoskins, Smith.Subs not used: Arnold, Turnbull, Pollock, Roberts
Walsall: Roberts, Norman, Pring, Sadler, Clarke (c) (Jules 87), Scarr, Sinclair, Kinsella, Gordon (Holden 89), Adebayo, Guthrie (Liddle 72)
Subs not used: Rose, Hardy, Cockerill-Mollett, McDonald
Referee: Nick Kinseley
Walsall fans: 1,455