Milton Keynes Dons’ 2-1 win over the Cobblers on Tuesday night would have been a far more substantial beating but for the brilliance of goalkeeper Matt Duke.
Of that there can be no debate. Duke made at least three stops that prevented certain goals in the kind of performance he contributed throughout Bradford City’s run in the Capital One Cup last season.
Without such quality, Northampton could have been beaten by four or five by a team that were significantly more comfortable on the ball than them, and whose passing game was exemplary at times.
Aidy Boothroyd was right to be furious after the match – his players did not acquit themselves well against an admittedly strong league one side but one with a soft side, as highlighted by their wobble in the game’s final quarter.
He will be notably disappointed with JJ Hooper, who was given his full debut and did little to suggest he will retain his place for the visit of Newport County on Saturday.
But that dissatisfaction is balanced out by the strong displays registered by the three players who came on as substitutes in this match and altered its complexion.
Ishmel Demontagnac, in a high-octane 19-minute cameo, had what might be his best game for the club, playing a superb 70-yard pass for another new introduction, David Moyo, to latch onto and narrowly miss with a shot that would have levelled the scores.
Yet more managerial food for thought was provided by Ivan Toney. Still only 17, Toney’s introduction sparked the near-recovery – his persistence was vital in Roy O’Donovan’s goal, and he did not look out of place in professional company.
Whether he is ready to start league games is an entirely different question altogether.
But he gave an idea, during his brief time on the pitch on Tuesday night, as to why Boothroyd has grown reluctant in recent weeks to sign another striker and to put his faith in the club’s young guns.
Was good at York City on Saturday and even better in this game. Ensured the game remained a contest right to the end ...8
Faced a very strong opponent for the second game running but dealt with him effectively enough and recovered well ...7
Another good night for the centre-back, who seems to be fitter and lighter than he was last season ...7
Picked up a cheap booking for a professional foul after his sloppy pass had played the side into trouble ...6
The left-back is not quite up to the high standards of the first half of last season but competed well against talented opposition ...6
Did not appear to enjoy playing on the right of the diamond but grew into the contest and played some neat passes ...6
Seems uncomfortable in his midfield role and his evening improved when he moved to right-back ...6
Much quieter than at York on the opening day, he switched from the hole to right midfield in the second half ...6
Improved in central midfield and was strong on the ball but saw very little of it as the visitors dominated possession ...6
Took his goal excellently and was an annoyance for the Dons defenders throughout the contest ...7
Did little to advance his cause; seemed slow off the mark at times and won’t be happy with his overall contribution ...5
ISHMEL DEMONTAGNAC (for Amankwaah 71)
An electrifying cameo in which he created two chances that should have resulted in goals ...8
IVAN TONEY (for Hooper 74)
Made a very good contribution to the game and will have given Boothroyd some thoughts for the near future ...7
DAVID MOYO (for Emerton 86)
Should have hit his shot across the goalkeeper instead of at the near post but did well to get in the position ...6
Not used: Snedker, Artell, Dias