The bare facts at this very early stage do not paint the best picture – two defeats, no goals scored and one red card – but if the general idea is to make steady progress game-by-game, this performance at Queens Park Rangers augurs well.
It’s unlikely to set any pulses racing, admittedly, and there remains rough edges to smooth out but, in comparison to Saturday’s tepid defeat at Shrewsbury Town, it was a significant step forward.
Again setting up 3-4-1-2 with four changes in personnel, the Cobblers were more balanced in and out of possession, and they at least carried an attacking threat for most of the game, albeit without overly troubling Matt Ingram.
Even when down a man following Leon Barnett’s second-half red card, they battled and pushed for an unlikely equaliser, which may have came had the referee awarded a penalty for what seemed a clear push on Billy Waters in stoppage-time.
No matter, in the grand scheme of things, the result was not the be all and end all. It would have been a boost to the confidence to progress, not to mention another major scalp claimed in this competition, but an improved performance was the least that was required and expected.
That was delivered right from the off, helped by the four players who were drafted into the team.
Aaron Phillips brought a good balance between attack and defence and provided width from right wing-back, while Chris Long and Alex Revell’s partnership up front meant Waters could flourish in the free role.
It was a position he seemed to relish. His driving runs forward from deep positions became a regular theme throughout the game as he caused endless problems for the home side.
With Matt Crooks and Yaser Kasim pulling the strings, Town played some fancy stuff and their only real downfall was a lack of cutting edge in the final third; Ingram was only twice forced into serious action.
Without doubt the biggest positive so far has come in defence where for two games the Cobblers have been rock-solid and well-organised, reducing David Cornell’s workload to mainly catches from corners and the odd routine stop, although he did produce a fine save from Ryan Manning in Tuesday’s tie.
You don’t want to read too much into a cup tie against a side who made nine changes from their previous game, but there were undoubtedly signs of progress at Loftus Road, even if reservations remain over the validity of 3-5-2.
And in many ways the performance was more important than the result. A scruffy and fortunate 1-0 victory would have done little to silence the doubters but Town’s positive display in defeat hints at better things to come.
The true test, however, will come on Saturday. Still winless and goalless in 2017/18, Fleetwood Town will be no pushovers.
How they rated...
David Cornell - Continues to do his long-term prospects between the sticks no harm at all. Produced one excellent fingertip save from Manning’s piledriver and was unlucky with the winning goal having kept out Furlong’s initial header... 7
Leon Barnett - First yellow card was harsh despite the lateness of the challenge but can be few complaints over the second after hesitation between him and Taylor allowed Sylla to nip in... 5
Ash Taylor - Has been one of the biggest positives to come out of Town’s first two games, and this was another rock-solid outing. Carries a commanding presence as the middle centre-back.... 7
Aaron Pierre - Cleared what danger came his way without much of a fuss as his efforts at the back helped keep QPR relatively quiet in front of goal... 7
Aaron Phillips - Struck the right balance between attack and defence, and provided good width on the right where he delivered a couple of teasing crosses. Not overly troubled defensively, though caught ball-watching a bit for Ngbakoto’s goal... 7
Matt Crooks - His partnership with Kasim showed flashes of real potential. Oozes class at times and his strength and tight close control were a feature of the evening. Certainly feel there’s more to come when he’s fully fit and up to speed... 7
Yaser Kasim - Pulled off some terrific flicks and first-time passes, one of which led to Town’s best chance. Set-pieces were again hit and miss but overall impressed on his first start and should have done enough to earn another this weekend... 7
David Buchanan - Was able to get further forward where he made up an extra body in attack. Seems to be gradually settling into the wing-back role, was only let down by his end product... 7
Billy Waters - Sparkled in the free role first-half with flicks, turns and bursting runs, causing all sorts of problems for QPR. Faded out of the game more as it wore on but should have won a late penalty. Will be interesting to see where he plays on Saturday... 7 CHRON STAR MAN
Chris Long - Built on his vibrant cameo on Saturday with positive 70-minute outing at Loftus Road. His hassling forced mistakes at the back and went as close as anyone when twice thwarted by Ingram. Again, another who may have forced his way into the team... 7
Alex Revell - Frittered in and out of the game. Put up a battle with QPR’s defence without really imposing himself. Still working his way to full fitness... 6
Marc Richards - 6
Leon Lobjoit - Came so close to scoring within minutes of coming on for his Cobblers debut when his header was cleared off the line... 6
George Smith - Not on for long but showed enough in that time to suggest he has a role to play in the not-too-distant future... 6