To play poorly and still grind out a result is considered the mark of a good team by many in the footballing community, which bodes well for the Cobblers after they again demonstrated that ability on a successful night across the border.
While Town cannot expect to get away with this level of performance in the long-term, despite having done so against Exeter, Grimsby and now Cambridge United in recent weeks, Tuesday’s spot-kick victory at the Abbey Stadium was the latest example of the new-found resilience they are developing under Keith Curle.
It is a handy knack to have, all the more so when good performances are hard to come by. Given the Cobblers have not played well in any of their last five games, three draws and two defeats represents a useful return.
Defeat on Tuesday would have been met with little more than a collective shrug of the shoulders by supporters who continue to ridicule this competition, but with the Cobblers now having prevailed, a small glimpse of the Wembley arch has just become visible on the horizon.
They are still three games and three wins away from gracing the hallowed turf again but it is both a growing possibility and an increasing incentive. It is also sure to spike interest levels.
Keith Curle may have delivered the understatement of the season when he concluded that his side’s clash with managerless United on Tuesday was ‘not a classic’ following the end of the shoot-out.
Indeed, those responsible for piecing together a two-minute highlight package would be better served ignoring the game itself and skipping straight to the 89th minute when things eventually came to life.
Prior to that, the encounter lacked action, quality and excitement, boasting all the hallmarks of a Checkatrade Trophy game and, coupled with the subdued atmosphere and paltry attendance, providing an apt representation of the apathy felt towards this competition.
Cobblers were poor but Cambridge were not much better, despite having the early boost of George Maris’ goal, as they failed to take advantage of a wobbly visiting defence.
A makeshift Cobblers team played like a side that was made up of a combination of young players, those in need of game-time and others looking to find their form. There were some decent individual performances but the collective effort was disappointing.
Chances were painfully few and far between. Maris missed a golden opportunity to double his tally and put the game to bed in the second-half and Junior Morias, finally back in the first-team picture, carried Northampton’s chief threat for 67 minutes, seeing two dangerous efforts to close.
It was not until the introduction of Kevin van Veen when the Cobblers finally perked up. With a minute to go, and moments after being denied in the mother of all goalmouth scrambles, he prodded home Daniel Powell’s cross to force penalties and hand his team a somewhat fortuitous draw.
Van Veen set the tone in the shoot-out and although Ash Taylor let the side down, Billy Waters and Sam Foley followed suit, leaving the stage clear for Shaun McWilliams to blast home the wining spot-kick and take Cobblers through.
The end-of-season highlights package might skip this one, but Town are unlikely to care if it helps them reach Wembley. Three games to go.
Defeat on Tuesday would have been met with little more than a collective shrug of the shoulders by supporters who continue to ridicule this competition, but with the Cobblers prevailing, a small glimpse of the Wembley arch has just become visible on the horizon.
How they rated....
Lewis Ward - Not the most convincing during the game itself, especially hesitant at coming out to clear through balls as evidenced by United’s early goal, but more than made amends with his spot-kick heroics. Got close to all four penalties, crucially saving a couple... 7
Jay Williams - Took his appearance tally to six for the campaign and the teenager by no means looks out of place at this level. Occasionally lacks composure and decision-making needs improving, but that’ll come. Coped admirably with the physical challenge... 7
Ash Taylor - Hit the crossbar with his penalty and that rather sums up his season so far. Whether it’s a lack of confidence or something else, he’s not playing with the same authority and decisiveness as before... 6
Jordan Turnbull - Maris skipped past his ill-judged sliding lunge to score, but that didn’t deter him as two brilliantly-timed challenges thereafter thwarted dangerous United attacks... 6
Shay Facey - One superb first-half cross so nearly led to an equaliser, and also turned on the afterburners for a terrific burst into the box in the second. Not much else to note as he performed solidly on his return to the team... 7
David Buchanan - A quiet evening at wing-back. Delivered two or three decent crosses and kept it simple at the back... 6
Sam Foley - Industrious in the middle of the park, working hard to cut down the supply into the home side’s front two. Converted his penalty with impressive ease... 7
Shaun McWilliams - Kept things ticking over in one of his better performances of late. Produced some nice moments in midfield before slamming home the winning spot-kick... 7
Billy Waters - Looked eager to impress on his return to the Abbey Stadium but didn’t really hurt United in dangerous areas, one fine pass aside. Another one who took a confident penalty... 6
Junior Morias - In for just his seventh appearance of the season and carried Town’s chief threat during his 67 minutes on the pitch, having three efforts in all. Useful game-time and bright in patches. Hopefully he can kick-start his Cobblers career... 7 CHRON STAR MAN
Andy Williams - Had to make do with bits and pieces as the target man. Headed straight at Mitov with his one and only opportunity of the game on a frustrating night in front of goal... 6
Kevin van Veen - Injected life into the Cobblers as a second-half replacement. Desperately unlucky not to score moments before he converted Powell’s cross. Predictably emphatic penalty... 7
Daniel Powell - Supplied the cross for his fellow substitute’s late equaliser... 7
Morgan Roberts - 6