Cobblers were beaten 1-0 by Brackley Town in their fifth pre-season friendly on Tuesday night.
Tendai Daire scored the only goal of the game to inflict a third straight defeat on Northampton, who have also been beaten by Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United.
Reflecting on Tuesday’s game, here are five talking points...
No time to panic
Although three defeats in the space of a week is hardly ideal preparation for the new season, it still remains far too early to press the panic button. Defeats to Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United were understandable – even if the former was a little more one-sided than hoped for – but Tuesday’s loss to non-league Brackley perhaps gave more cause for concern.
It must be said the Cobblers started well at St James Park and their dominant first 20 minutes would have been rewarded with a goal had either Andy Williams or Matty Waburton converted close-range chances.
But Brackley, coming off successive third-place finishes in the National League North, are no pushovers and they illustrated their quality by edging the second-half. As Cobblers became disjointed and lost fluency, Saints grew in confidence and warranted the only goal of the game through Daire’s well-taken goal.
Manager Keith Curle was visibly frustrated afterwards and admitted it was ‘disappointing’ to be turned over by a non-league outfit, but he knows as well as anyone that results in pre-season mean little when the real stuff starts. If Cobblers beat Walsall, it will all be forgotten.
One area that might be of concern is in the final third. The Cobblers have struggled for creativity and goals over the past couple of campaigns but it was hoped that the signing of Nicky Adams, among others, would solve that issue.
Whilst that might still be the case, three successive pre-season games without a goal does not bode particularly well. What’s more troubling is the lack of chances. Bar a strong first 20 minutes at St James Park, Cobblers were unable to overly test Brackley goalkeeper Jake Weaver.
Fluency and cohesion will improve with every training session and Curle will most likely add another couple of faces to his squad - ideally someone with pace - but for now it is a worthy concern for fans to have.
McWilliams returns to midfield – and impresses
Shaun McWilliams has spent much of pre-season on the right side, mostly at wing-back, but on Tuesday he returned to his favoured central midfield role and was arguably Town’s standout performer.
The academy graduate, who’s still only 20, bristled with energy and purpose, embarking on one driving run through the heart of Brackley’s midfield. He linked up especially well with Nicky Adams, spraying a 50-yard pinpoint ball into the winger’s feet and also splitting the defence with a perfect through pass to create another goalscoring opportunity.
Given Curle’s summer business – notably the signings of Alan McCormack, Chris Lines and Ryan Watson – McWilliams faces stiff competition for a midfield spot but he undoubtedly possess the talent and attributes to be a regular in Curle’s team.
Curle has opted for a 3-4-2-1 shape for most games in pre-season but on Tuesday he reverted to four at the back. Joe Martin and Reece Hall-Johnson were the two full-backs, either side of Charlie Goode and Jordan Turnbull.
That allowed Nicky Adams to push further forward on the right side and most of Town’s best stuff went through him, including their best chance when Andy Williams struck the crossbar.
It remains to be seen whether or not Curle will stick with 4-2-3-1 or return to three at the back but it is hopefully a sign of the team’s flexibility heading into the new season.
Finish with a win
Results in pre-season are ultimately irrelevant but there’s no doubt the Cobblers could do with a strong performance and positive result in their final friendly against MK Dons on Friday.
Given Town want to follow in Dons’ footsteps and follow them out of League Two, it’ll be a good test and will provide a more accurate measure as to their progress ahead the visit of Walsall next weekend.