Finding positives in Cobblers performances has been a tough task of late, but the debut display of new signing Timi Elsnik against Morecambe on Saturday gave supporters something to smile about.
The 20-year-old only had his loan move from Championship outfit Derby County confirmed the day before but, with Keith Curle facing something of a midfield crisis, he was straight in the team to face Jim Bentley’s Shrimps.
Unlike Town’s other January recruits George Cox and Joe Powell, Elsnik has plenty of League Two experience having made 26 appearances for Swindon Town and 24 for Mansfield over the last 18 months.
And that experience showed in his performance on Saturday. While midfield partner Powell looked in need of a bit more time to get up to full speed, Elsnik was the driving force behind Town’s strong first-half performance as his scrambled finish broke the deadlock midway through the half.
“I’m really pleased with my debut and to get my first goal for the club,” he said afterwards. “I took a shot, someone blocked it and the ball came back to me and I struck it well.
“The keeper got a hand to it but the ball went in so I’m very pleased with that on a personal note. It would have felt so much better had it come with three points but it wasn’t to be.”
We got a bit frustrated in the second-half and I think we were a bit reckless with the ball. We played too many long balls
The ongoing problem the Cobblers have is an inability to convert draws into wins, as demonstrated by Saturday’s second-half struggles when Kyle Bennett’s far-post tap-in earned Morecambe a deserved point.
No team across the entire EFL has drawn more games (13) this season and neither has a team registered as many home draws (9), comfortably more than anyone else.
Some of those have gone down as good draws, most notably against MK Dons over Christmas or at Exeter in November, but the vast majority have seen points chucked away. Indeed, of their last 11 league fixtures, Town have taken the lead in eight and yet only won two.
The 13 points lost from winning positions during that time is the chief reason why they remain marooned in the lower reaches of League Two and unable to break free from the relegation dogfight going on beneath them.
Are they in that dogfight themselves? Well, the seven-point gap back to the bottom two with a game in hand means they have margin for error, but it would be unwise to assume all will be well, especially given their next three fixtures are against teams currently placed eighth, 10th and first in the table.
“It’s not the result we wanted,” admitted Elsnik after Saturday’s latest draw. “We just weren’t able to replicate the first-half performance when we were on the front foot and dominated the game.
“We had many chances but we weren’t clinical enough and couldn’t get that second goal which was important because that would have given us a big lift and made it so much easier to control the game.
“We got a bit frustrated in the second-half and I think we were a bit reckless with the ball. We played too many long balls and they just went over the top for their goalkeeper to catch it.
“Whereas every time we stepped on the ball and put a few passes together, there was always a free man out wide and that’s something we should do more of.
“But they dominated the midfield more, landed on the second balls and it was a draw in the end. There’s nothing we can do about it now so we’ve just got to look forward.”
The plan now is to muddle through until the summer when Curle will undertake a rebuilding job. Between now and then though, individuals are playing for their futures, whether that’s with the Cobblers or elsewhere.
Elsnik is one of those payers with plenty on the line as he looks to impress for Northampton in an attempt to break into Frank Lampard’s first-team plans at parent club Derby County.
“We’ll see but I just got into every game with the mentality of trying to score goals and set goals up for my team-mates and win games,” he continued.
“I think this club belongs higher up the table, if not in League One like last season. The lads are brilliant and so is the gaffer.
“Everything has been positive since I came in. It’s a bit unfortunate to be where we are but I’ve come here to do my best and help the team climb the table – not fight for relegation.”