Stevenage 2 Northampton Town 1 - Jeremy Casey’s view and player ratings

NOWHERE TO HIDE - Joel Byrom shows his disappointment following the defeat at Stevenage (Pictures: Sharon Lucey)
NOWHERE TO HIDE - Joel Byrom shows his disappointment following the defeat at Stevenage (Pictures: Sharon Lucey)

As the old cliche goes, it’s the hope that kills you.

And that is so true when it comes to the Cobblers’ campaign over the past four weeks or so.

The season isn’t over yet of course, but it feels like it after Saturday’s last-gasp 2-1 defeat at Stevenage finally put paid to Town’s play-off chances.

It was a disappointing result, but on the face of it, when compared to this time last season, Cobblers fans should be basking in the warm glow of a mid-table finish.

They should be happy in the knowledge that there is no relegation battle (and there have been three of those in the previous four seasons) to frighten the life out of everybody.

In fact, scratch looking back a year, just look back to where the Cobblers were on January 1 - just a little over three months ago.

A run of eight defeats in 10 games saw them sitting precariously in Sky Bet League Two, a few points off the relegation zone.

Cue a change in personnel as manager Chris Wilder launched a mini cull and recruitment drive, with the likes of Ricky Holmes, Brendan Moloney and Jason Taylor signing on.

And cue a magical month of results that saw the Cobblers crush all before them, claim four wins out of five and draw the other - and in the process raise the hopes and expectations of every supporter.

And when you raise hope and expectation, as the Town team managed to with a run of 10 wins out of 15, that leaves the door open... leaves it open for disappointment and irritation when the fun stops.

And that is what has happened to the Cobblers, and why some supporters are upset and a little angry that the team are going to miss out on the play-offs this season.

That run of great results from January to March had them dreaming of glory and a Wembley play-off final, but sadly, the team has come up short, dropping 14 points out of 18 when it really mattered.

And while I can understand the frustrations of any supporter who believes the team has failed, and can understand the disappointment, it is not something I would necessarily agree with.

This season hasn’t been a success, of course it hasn’t, but there have been positives, and there has been progress.

After the stresses and strains of last season and previous campaigns, if back in August they were offered it, who wouldn’t have taken a 10th, 11th or even 12th-placed finish this term?

Jeremy Casey

I mean, after the stresses and strains of last season and previous campaigns, if back in August they were offered it, who wouldn’t have taken a 10th, 11th or even 12th-placed finish this term?

Who wouldn’t have settled for watching a team that is one of the top scorers in the country?

Who wouldn’t have settled for watching a team that has Marc Richards leading its line, or has a talent such as Ricky Holmes buzzing around its frontline and Brendan Moloney rampaging up and down the right flank?

Who wouldn’t have settled for watching a team that has twice coasted to 5-1 wins this season, and has at times played some of the most attractive, attacking football seen from a home team at Sixfields?

I can’t believe there are many supporters who haven’t enjoyed most of the above.

No, it’s not been perfect, and the team and squad has many flaws and weakneses, nobody is denying that.

The most glaring deficiency is in defence.

It is still too easy for opposing teams to score against Northampton - even in the past week, Wimbledon, Cambridge and Stevenage haven’t had to work hard for their rewards.

There have been far too many soft goals conceded, countless leads and points squandered to late strikes - as was the case on both counts at Stevenage on Saturday, with the first in particular an absolute gift for the home side.

But, looking at the bigger picture, this season has seen progress, and has seen the team moving in the right direction, even if it’s not quite as quickly as most people would have hoped.

Even at Stevenage on Saturday, the Cobblers could have won the game and this article could have been all about how the play-off bid is still alive.

Substitute John-Joe O’Toole had a great chance to win it three minutes from time, but his shot was hit straight at Chris Day in the Stevenage goal, and a matter of seconds later, the home side won it with a shot from Simon Walton that deflected off Ryan Cresswell and flew into the top corner.

They are the fine margins that determine football matches, and there are so many moments in the season where you can look back and think ‘if only’.

But that’s all gone now, it’s history, and the bottom line is, the Cobblers haven’t been good enough often enough this season.

But with a summer of strengthening, there is every reason to believe that the team will be able to produce a more consistent promotion challenge next season.

Player ratings

MATT DUKE

The goalkeeper’s kicking can still be a concern, but he was in good shot-stopping form at Stevenage. Can’t be faulted for the goals - 6

RYAN CRESSWELL

Two yellow cards in the second half, the second for a needless handball, marred an otherwise solid afternoon for the central defender - 5

ZANDER DIAMOND

The Scotsman took his goal beautifully, and played well while in the central defensive comfort zone, not as happy on occasions he was forced wide - 6

LEE COLLINS

Typically committed performance from the captain, but won’t be happy at Whelpdale being left unmarked for Stevenage’s equaliser - 5

BRENDAN MOLONEY

Starting in unfamiliar wide midfield role, the Irishman was at times caught out positionally. Was better in the second half, and provided support in attack - 5

JASON TAYLOR

Picked up his 10th booking of the season and misses next two games. As usual he was happy to do all the midfield nitty gritty, and did it well - 5

JOEL BYROM

An unhappy return to his old stomping ground. Byrom tried to get his foot on the ball, but the terrible pitch was a hindrance. Worked hard - 5

EVAN HORWOOD

Like Moloney on the right, struggled at times with the change in his position early, but it was a surprise when he was substituted early in the second half - 5

DIEGO DE GIROLAMO

Played as part of a front three and saw plenty of the ball, particularly in the second half, but failed to have any real impact where it mattered, in the final third. - 5

JAMES GRAY

Eight days prior to this game, Gray was exceptional in the 2-2 draw at AFC Wimbledon, but he has been virtually anonymous in defeats to Cambridge and Stevenage, despite plenty of graft - 5

IVAN TONEY

After a quiet first half, he came into things a lot more in the second. Showed touches of genuine class, but needs to rediscover the end product that has been lacking for a while - 5

SUBSTITUTES

BEN TOZER (for Horwood, 50 mins)

Showed his versatility on his return from injury by providing midfield protection before moving into the back four. Allowed Dean Parrett too much time to get cross in for equaliser - 5

LAWSON D’ATH (for Gray, 50 mins)

Looked lively after coming on, and aded a real spark to the Cobblers attack in the second half - 5

O’TOOLE (for Diamond, 71 mins)

Created a great opportunity for himself in the dying minutes, but couldn’t finish it - 5

Not used: Jalal, Hackett, Perry, Carter