Northampton Town 1 Bristol Rovers 2 '“ match review, player ratings and highlights
Just when it seemed the Checkatrade Trophy would inject some life back into Cobblers' faltering season, they throw in another performance that only reminded us why this competition has taken on such significance in the first place.
The much-maligned EFL Trophy was always unlikely to be a source of joy for Town this season but, having got as far as the third round and given their flat-lining league form, a window of opportunity had emerged ahead of Tuesday’s visit of Bristol Rovers.
But any thoughts of a cup run and potential Wembley final lifting spirits among an apathetic fanbase were dashed thanks to goals either side of half-time from Tom Broadbent and Stefan Payne, with Matt Crooks’ fine late strike only a consolation.
In isolation, this home defeat to a team from the league above in a competition so few seem to have any interest in would not be reason to panic, except it’s part of a developing and ever-worrying pattern that is threatening to derail Northampton’s season, if it hasn’t already.
It is now one win in 12 games across three separate competitions, and none in the past six. If people had doubts over Keith Curle and his players’ ability turn things around and finish the campaign strongly before, Tuesday would have done little to make them think otherwise.
It feels a long time ago since Curle was appointed and won six of his first nine games in charge but even back then the were doubts over whether Town could sustain that form because it was not the first time the arrival of a new manager had coincided with a brief upturn, only for results to return to normal.
The truth is, the players, whilst talented, continue to flatter to deceive. That they cannot string together positive results over a long period of time reflects poorly on them and reinforces the theory that the issue is mental rather than physical.
It’s understandable and perfectly reasonable for Curle to talk about putting building blocks in place and overseeing a transition phase given he is working with someone else’s squad but, over three months into the job, there comes a point when hard and consistent evidence is required on the pitch.
That didn’t come on Tuesday and it hasn’t been seen for a while. With 20 games to go, Curle and the Cobblers have much work to do.
How they rated...
David Cornell - Was out quickly to charge down the onrushing Payne early on and also tipped Rodman’s header around the post, but given no chance for either Rovers goal... 7
Shay Facey - His misdirected header presented Rovers with a gift of a chance to double their lead, one which Payne accepted with glee. Didn’t do much else wrong but that was a key and decisive moment... 5
Ash Taylor - Relatively sound in defence as Rovers didn’t get too many clear sights of Cornell’s goal, though will be disappointed that Broadbent was all on his own to take a free shot from so close in... 6
Jordan Turnbull - Shrugged off by Payne for an early chance and then just couldn’t get rid in the build-up to Broadbent’s opener, but was otherwise impressive at centre-back... 7
Sam Hoskins - Improvised superbly when his overhead-kick landed on the roof of the net, but his attacking forays from wing-back were kept to a minimum... 6
David Buchanan - Might have had a strong case when he saw penalty appeals waved away having taken a tumble in the box. Little else to shout about though... 6
Jay Williams - He will naturally blow hot and cold as a young player but there was enough here to illustrate why he had been given a professional contract just hours earlier. Composed for one so young and deceptively strong too... 7
Sam Foley - Full of running and energy as always in midfield, giving Cobblers the impetus when he took over as captain in the final 20 minutes... 7
Matt Crooks - Always looked the one most likely to make something happen so it came as no surprise when his sweet strike gave Cobblers a lifeline. The architect of most of Town’s better play, creating chances for Bowditch and Powell... 7 CHRON STAR MAN
Dean Bowditch - Had one of Town’s two clear opportunities on the night, his shot blocked well by Upson. Not heavily involved otherwise before injury prematurely ended his involvement... 6
Junior Morias - Spent much of the evening separated from his team-mates in a lone front role. Could have gone another 90 minutes without a decent chance falling his way... 6
Jack Bridge - 7
Daniel Powell - 7
Aaron Pierre - 6