The Cobblers’ defeat at Plymouth felt like a game too far for a team whose attacking play is built on high-tempo and bags of energy and on this occasion did not contain enough of either.
After going behind, Plymouth were content to sit on the edge of their own box and play a highly conservative game which was highly effective.
They lined their five-man defence up, parked three central-midfielders in front of that and dared the Cobblers to do their best.
They needed a spark of invention and quite simply didn’t have it. Their two best chances were a free-kick from Evan Horwood which went narrowly over the bar and a deflected shot from Billy Bodin which briefly had Luke McCormick worried but ended up in the stand.
They had lots and lots of possession and the majority of it in attacking areas but didn’t do enough with it.
A big reason for that was the resilience of the home side and the fact they know their defensive strategy inside out, having based their recent successes in other games on precisely that tactic.
But it also felt like Northampton were tired; Ricky Holmes did his best to get the side going but was often isolated or blocked off and his wing partner Lawson D’Ath endured a second quiet game in a week.
Without question, the absences also hurt them. Marc Richards was unavailable last weekend and his loss is a big one because it immediately removes a major goal threat from the team and Chris Hackett’s last-minute withdrawal for illness only sapped the energy levels further.
The biggest miss, though, was Joel Byrom. Darren Carter competed well and played some good passes but Byrom is the engine room of the side and there wasn’t the same quality of delivery from set-pieces without his trusty left foot on the pitch.
More than anything, though, this felt like a Cobblers team running out of steam and that cannot be the case because there is still plenty to play for.
Northampton had lots and lots of possession and the majority of it in attacking areas but didn’t do enough with itJefferson Lake
They have the perfect opportunity to bounce back from the defeat with two very winnable home games against struggling teams next up, after which is a difficult trip to Bury.
Even allowing for a defeat at Gigg Lane, they could still take six points from the three games and therefore maintain the two points a game average they would need to force their way into the play-offs.
There were some bright moments at Plymouth - pretty much all of the defence played well and the full-backs got into lots of good attacking positions; Bodin was a bright spark off the bench and James Gray showed decent pace on occasion without ever really looking like scoring.
There should be no doom and gloom and certainly no disgrace in losing to Plymouth, who must be a solid bet for the play-off places themselves, but for the first time in 2015 there wasn’t the energy in the side that there has been.
And maybe that’s understandable after a relentless two months in which they’ve swept aside just about all before them.
Was perhaps somewhat fortunate to stay on the pitch after handling the ball a good yard outside his area and didn’t really have a chance with either goal ...7
Saw a lot of the ball, especially in the second half, and was bright and adventurous whenever he could be ...7 STAR MAN
Upset a few of the home supporters with his ‘hands on’ approach to dealing with the dangerous Reuben Reid and had a decent game ...6
Continues to maintain a high standard and hard to find too many faults, especially as he was virtually a spectator for much of the second half ...6
Like Moloney on the opposite side, was bold on the ball and always looking to attack. Had arguably Northampton’s best chance with a curling free-kick ...7
Another quiet game and one he will not be happy with; looks like a player who is in need of a rest and will benefit from the absence of a midweek game ...5
Work rate could not be faulted but seemed hurried in possession at times and was fortunate in that the referee was very lenient when it came to the more minor fouls ...5
Showed good energy and went into challenges with plenty of gusto but didn’t provide a smoothness in central midfield and his set-piece delivery was lacking ...5
Embarked on a few good runs which had the home side worried but end product a little bit below bar and drifted in and out of the game at times ...6
A steady debut in which he showed a few good turns of pace but didn’t get into any scoring positions. Arguably wouldn’t have started if Hackett hadn’t been ill ...6
Another player who looked jaded, although he fought right to the end and got through a huge amount of running and physical work ...6
BILLY BODIN (for D’Ath, 61mins)
An encouraging performance of the bench and did well to fashion a couple of chances in very tight areas and against a well-set defence ...6
JOHN-JOE O’TOOLE (for Gray, 61mins)
Might have come straight back into the team but for his recent illness, which definitely seemed to slow him down when he did get on the pitch ...6
Subs not used: Diamond, Newey, Clifton, Jalal