Whether or not the Cobblers deserved to leave Devon with a point on Saturday is up for debate, but what can no longer be disputed is their battling spirit and refusal to go down without a fight.
Long gone are the days when they crumbled under pressure and wilted once behind. Now, even on an off day, they are a team not to be taken lightly.
Against Exeter City on Saturday, Northampton were far from their best. Hesitant at the back, sloppy in possession and blunt up front, they were second best and fortunate their curiously out-of-sorts first-half display was not more severely punished by the superior home side.
Jake Taylor’s well-taken opener was the second instance of him finding too much space and room to shoot inside the first 14 minutes. Having tamely fired straight at David Cornell just 90 seconds in, he made amends second time around.
In glimpses, the Cobblers resembled the team they’ve become under Keith Curle but it was only in glimpses. Billy Waters’ terrific breakaway goal, with help from Sam Hoskins and John-Joe O’Toole, was followed by a fine chance for Kevin van Veen but Jayden Stockley’s header meant Exeter deservedly reclaimed the advantage at half-time.
Curle’s irritation with his side’s performance became clear when the teams emerged for the second-half as fit-again duo Shay Facey and Ash Taylor were both introduced in place of Jordan Turnbull and Hakeem Odoffin.
They worked, too. More solid in defence, bar one glaring miss by Stockley, Town improved in the second 45 minutes and gradually cranked up the heat before Andy Williams, via a home defender, snatched a point at the death, making up for the disappointment of last weekend’s late defeat in the FA Cup.
While not overly troubling just yet, there were elements of Town’s performance at St James Park that will need to be worked on and improved in the long-term. The most pertinent of those relates to their defence which, following three clean sheets in four games, looks vulnerable again.
After shipping three at Lincoln last week, they let in another two on Saturday and were grateful for Exeter’s loose finishing that it was not more. Town’s susceptibility at the back prompted Curle into making two defensive changes at half-time despite his side chasing the game at that point.
What’s more, it sounds like a broken record to keep mentioning how sorely Northampton miss Matt Crooks but there is no other way of putting it. His eye for a pass and presence in the final third was again conspicuous by its absence at St James Park as the Cobblers struggled for guile and creativity in the final third. His return can’t come soon enough.
The Cobblers have lost just once in eight league games under Curle. That would be an impressive record in any context but given they tasted defeat in three of the previous four before he took charge, it represents a fine turnaround and a platform to build from.
Currently eight points off both the play-offs and the bottom two, Town are slap bang in the middle of mid-table in League but, thanks to Williams’ late exploits on Saturday, they remain firmly on an upward trajectory.
How they rated...
David Cornell - Blocked smartly from Abrahams but, despite several chances for the home side, his services were not required on too often. Next to no chance for either goal... 6
The Cobblers have lost just once in eight league games under Curle. That would be an impressive record in any context but given they tasted defeat in three of the previous four, it represents a fine turnaround and a platform to build from.
Hakeem Odoffin - Far from the worst offender for Town’s defensive frailties in the first-half but that didn’t stop him from being hooked at the break... 6
Jordan Turnbull - Surprising to see him withdrawn alongside Odoffin during half-time given his recent fine form. Wasn’t at his best here but still made some timely defensive contributions... 6
Aaron Pierre - Spent much of the contest tussling with Stockley, to varying degrees of success. Some questionable refereeing decisions didn’t aid his cause but was again Town’s best defender on the day... 7
David Buchanan - The target for crosses and balls into the box as Exeter looked to utilise Stockley’s aerial prowess against him, which they did to perfection in the 44th minute. Half-time tweaks worked though and he enjoyed a much better second-half, delivering the crucial late corner... 6
Shaun McWilliams - Fine work to initiate the counter-attack that led to Waters’ goal, but it was an otherwise subdued display from the midfielder. Had limited options when on the ball, often meaning he had to go backwards... 6
John-Joe O’Toole - Kept things moving in midfield when his side were chasing an equaliser and battled away as ever, unfortunate not to score himself seconds before Waters made it 1-1... 6
Sam Hoskins - Involved in Town’s first equaliser and swiftly followed that by whipping in a beauty of a cross that van Veen should have converted. Roamed across the front line to good effect... 7
Billy Waters - Arguably his best display for the club. Element of fortune about his second goal of the season but deserved that luck having done brilliantly to set up the counter-attack. Took confidence from then on and was a constant outlet, regularly showing nimble footwork to beat his man... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
Daniel Powell - Played the whole game up front but the lack of quality service up to him coupled with Exeter’s defending made it a frustrating and ultimately chance-free afternoon... 6
Kevin van Veen - Not a surprise to learn he was playing through injury after a lacklustre 70 minutes. Best opportunity was the diving header from Hoskins’ cross, well saved by Pym, while also shot wide with two half chances... 6
Ash Taylor - Helped tighten things up in the second-half... 7
Shay Facey - 6
Andy Williams - Not sure the late equaliser will go down as his goal but he’ll sure claim it for his third of the campaign... 7