It would be a little unfair to describe this goalless draw as two points dropped but, so small is the margin for error in Northampton’s improbable play-off pursuit, they must grasp every opportunity that comes their way.
In isolation, any point picked up on the road, especially one earned in extremely difficult conditions, is not to be sniffed at. But when time and games are running out and when you’re playing catch-up with several teams above you, wins and not draws are needed.
Draws have become Northampton’s speciality this season. Saturday’s was their 16th in the league, more than anyone else in the EFL bar Stoke City, although it was sufficient in shifting them back up to 11th place having briefly dropped to 12th due to Newport’s win on Friday night.
A hefty 20 teams have lost more games than the Cobblers in League Two this term and yet only the bottom six have won fewer. Turn some of those draws into wins and a play-off spot would be within grasp. Saturday was another example of two points getting away, even if a draw was no disgrace.
The Cobblers were three-quarters of the way to a textbook away performance at Blundell Park. In a defensive sense, they were particularly excellent en route to a fourth clean sheet in five games.
The back four and goalkeeper, plus the two central midfielders, adapted to the difficult conditions expertly to barely cough up a chance. David Cornell was quick off his line to make two key blocks in the first-half but, that aside, he was reduced to a watching brief as his defence, led by the dominant Aaron Pierre, were in stubborn mood to keep Grimsby under wraps.
Northampton were also good in possession during the second-half. Whilst an error-strewn opening period was relatively even, only one team ever looked like winning it during a second 45 minutes dominated by the visitors, at least in terms of possession and territory.
The problem they had came in the final third. Despite getting into some good positions, a lack of quality and composure meant home stopper James McKeown was only called into action once – and that was from Sam Foley’s speculative 45-yard shot.
The stats make for pretty grim reading with the two teams combining for just one shot on target apiece, but that doesn’t tell the full story. Several times the ball dangerously bounced around Grimsby’s box. Had it fallen a little kinder, the visitors might well have been celebrating another hard-fought three points.
The Cobblers deserved to win this game more than they deserved to win Tuesday’s encounter with Newport County but football is a game of fine margins. Where Joe Powell’s thunderbolt snatched victory in midweek, Aaron Pierre’s late chance on Saturday whistled wide.
The visitors did at least go for it. There’s little point playing for draws at this stage of the season and the decision to send on a striker, Marvin Sordell, for a midfielder, Daniel Powell, and go two up front with 20 minutes to go showed intent, as did the purposeful way Town ended the game.
The overwhelming positive for Northampton is that they continue to look impressively resilient and solid in defence, making it increasingly difficult for opposing teams to create clear chances. With that the case, all it takes is one moment of fortune or a touch of quality – as Joe Powell showed in midweek – to turn one point into three.
That moment never arrived at Blundell Park on Saturday but that’s not to say Town didn’t have their opportunities. Whilst clear-cut chances were kept to a bare minimum, Pierre slashed wide from a tight angle, Foley’s cross-shot only needed a touch and Marvin Sordell looked certain to score when the referee’s whistle pulled play back.
So the game ended goalless. Despite favourable results elsewhere, it feels as if Town have just left themselves a little too much to do in trying to hunt down a play-off spot.
Their recent resurgence has been commendable and impressive, and it bodes well for next season, but it looks to have come a little too late to sneak into the top seven this year, though their hopes shouldn’t be written off just yet.
Their recent resurgence has been commendable and impressive, and it bodes well for next season, but it looks to have come a little too late to sneak into the top seven, though their hopes shouldn’t be written off just yet.
Failure to make the play-offs shouldn’t detract from their excellent performances in recent weeks. Even a top-half finish would represent a fine effort given the depths they’ve sunk to at times earlier in the season.
After losing 4-0 at home to Colchester, you’d be labelled a madman and carted off to the madhouse if you predicted the Cobblers would not lose any of their next eight matches. Add in five wins and only four goals against and there are plenty of reasons to be positive.