Although a galling way for 2019 to start, it’s difficult to imagine that this defeat in the Cotswolds, inflicted in cruel fashion by Theo Archibald’s injury-time strike, will have a significant bearing on the outcome of Town’s season, which is fast fizzling out.
The reality now for the Cobblers is that, barring a major drop-off or a sustained winning run, they’re facing the grim prospect of playing out almost half a league season with seemingly little on the line after Mark Cooper’s Forest Green Rovers hammered another nail into their play-off coffin.
Twelve points off the play-offs and nine above the bottom two, getting sucked into a relegation battle appears as unlikely as making a surge for the top seven but it is not entirely impossible, especially when you look at the bare facts which do not reflect kindly on the Cobblers.
After winning six in seven across October and November, they have just a single victory from their past 10 games, collecting an underwhelming three points out of a possible 12 during the Christmas period. That’s a disappointing return and has almost certainly put paid to any lingering play-off aspirations.
While they played well for the most part in the Cotswolds, the last-gasp defeat does nothing to discourage the general feeling that their season is on a collision course with mid-table mediocrity. That’s not Keith Curle’s fault, of course, but it only served as a reminder why he has been so keen to sink his teeth into this month’s transfer window to inject fresh energy into his underachieving, misfiring squad.
It will be hoped that the first 61 seconds of Town’s footballing year will not be an omen for the rest of it, although that could be said for the final 61 seconds too as George Williams and Theo Archibald struck at either end of an otherwise enjoyable encounter in Gloucestershire.
It’s somewhat ironic that Town, just three days on from scoring late to claim an undeserved draw against MK Dons, were this time robbed of what would have been a deserved point by an injury-time goal for the opposition.
It was a cruel sting in the tale for the Cobblers who had actually played as well as they have done for some time away from home, particularly second-half. After recovering from the early blow of Williams’ quickfire opener, there was little in the first-half before Town dominated the start of the second.
Sam Foley, outstanding all game in midfield, brilliantly headed the visitors level and that gave them the momentum to play some decent football and create further chances for Matt Crooks, Andy Williams and Kevin van Veen , but once again failure to take those chances would prove costly.
The best opportunity fell to Sam Hoskins only moments before Rovers won it, but his scuffed finish from Dean Bowditch’s low cross, wide of the mark when well-placed, summed up his frustrating season.
While they played well for the most part in the Cotswolds, this last-gasp defeat does nothing to discourage the general feeling that Town’s season is on a collision course with mid-table mediocrity.
Other good individual performances, alongside Foley, came from Jordan Turnbull, who was no less impressive having moved back in defence, and teenager Jay Williams, who didn’t look out of place in midfield on his full league debut.
The game was ultimately decided by Cooper’s bold substitutions. At a time when his side were flagging and on the back foot, the introductions of Paul Digby and Dayle Grubb gave them fresh impetus and wrestled back the initiative.
Both went close, Digby denied by a flying David Cornell and Grubb hitting the post, before fellow replacement Archibald won it with his crisp strike, though Cornell will be disappointed not to have done better having got a hand to it.
Cooper’s post-match assessment of the Cobblers was perhaps a little flattering but he was not wrong when he said Curle’s men played well and deserved something from this game. Hopefully the performance, and not the result, is a sign of better things to come in 2019.
How they rated...
David Cornell - After a quiet first-half, his services were required during a flurry of chances around the 75th minute mark, pulling off smart stops from Digby and Williams before getting a hand to Archibald’s winner... 7
Shay Facey - Fine sliding tackle looked to have seen off the danger in stoppage-time, only for Archibald to hammer home. Solid and mostly untroubled at centre-back... 7
Ash Taylor - Looked far more secure here than he did against MK Dons three days earlier, cutting down the mistakes and limting the amount of clear chances for Rovers... 7
Jordan Turnbull - Back in his customary role at centre-back and was no less impressive, making some terrific sliding interventions and showed there’s more than one string to his bow when sending in a pinpoint cross for Foley to head home. Caught up the pitch when Green broke for their winner... 8
David Buchanan - Toiled against the impressive Shephard in the first-half, beaten in a one-on-one battle several times. Superb tackle to denied Rovers a clear sight of goal after a team-mate lost possession... 6
Jay Williams - In for his league debut and showcased why his manager thinks so highly of him. Side-stepped for the opener, but looked the part in midfield and produced plenty of classy moments that hinted of much more to come... 7
Sam Foley - Wonderful all-round display from the midfielder, who was the driving force behind Town’s improved second-half on his return to the starting line-up. Came up trumps in the midfield battle time and again as he won challenges, covered ground and made surging runs from box-to-box, capping his performance with a fine header for his first goal of the season... 9 CHRON STAR MAN
Sam Hoskins - His late miss, unable to hit the target from the centre of the goal just a few yards out, was rather indicative of his frustrating season. Good run to create the chance but couldn’t finish it off. Had he done, Town would have taken the points - those are the fine margins... 5
Matt Crooks - Became more influential in the second-half after a lacklustre first. His passes didn’t always come off but they usually end in a chance when they do, as shown in the build-up to Hoskins’ late miss... 7
Junior Morias - Lasted an hour on just his third league start of the campaign and put in a good shift. Busy and vibrant at the top of the pitch though nothing came his way in front of goal... 7
Andy Williams - Couldn’t extend his fine run of form to six goals in six games as only a couple of half chances fell his way, heading off target in the first-half and lifting just over from the edge of the box in the second... 6
Kevin van Veen - 6
Dean Bowditch - 6
Jack Bridge - 6