There is no secret formula behind Northampton’s upswing in results and performances over the past couple of weeks, with defender Ash Taylor attributing their timely turnaround to simple hard graft on the training pitch.
A month on from being thrashed 6-0 by Bristol Rovers and left languishing second-bottom in Sky Bet League One, the Cobblers made it four games unbeaten and back-to-back clean sheets with a 0-0 home draw against Scunthorpe United in Saturday’s FA Cup first round tie at Sixfields.
Northampton were the better team for sustained periods of the game, particularly first-half, only denied a place in round two of the competition by the woodwork on two separate occasions as Aaron Pierre smacked the crossbar and Lewis McGugan crashed a free-kick against the post.
But, despite being unable to break the deadlock and prevent a replay at Glanford Park, their performance still represented a marked improvement in comparison to what they were serving up only a month prior.
What’s more, it was especially promising given the perceived strength of opponents Scunthorpe, who reached the play-offs last season and are again among the early frontrunners this time around.
“You can see all the hard work we’ve been putting in is paying off,” said Taylor afterwards. “We’re unbeaten in four games and that’s back-to-back clean sheets which is reward for the hard work.
“We kept them relatively quiet. They could have won it with a set-piece at the end but we had two great chances and hit the woodwork twice so we could have won it as well.
“We’ll just take the positives from it and look forward to the replay.
“The most important thing is that we’re in the hat and we can look forward to the draw.”
Conceding just once in their last three games and unbeaten in four, Northampton’s improvement has come in the nick of time, with their season on the line following back-to-back home defeats to Bristol Rovers and AFC Wimbledon.
We’ve put in a lot of hard work on the training ground and gone through a lot of drills to make sure we know our positions all over the park.
So, what’s been the secret? “We’ve put in a lot of hard work on the training ground and gone through a lot of drills to make sure we know our positions all over the park,” explained Taylor.
“We work defensively as a whole team and the final piece of the puzzle is in the final third and creating a few more chances and putting the ball in the net.
“But, as a whole, our performances have been fantastic recently and the results show the hard work is paying off.”
As the only all League One affair in the entire first round, Saturday’s game at Sixfields was always going to be a tough sell and that proved to be the case with only 2,820 fans in attendance, including just 277 from Scunthorpe.
The sparse crowd and flat atmosphere was hardly conducive to entertaining football but the two teams still served up a decent contest, although the fact neither could find a goal means they will have to do it all over again at Glanford Park next week.
Taylor added: “It’ll be tough because they’re are a good side and have great players and they’re in-form but I’m sure, with the performances we’ve been putting in, we’ll give it a right go.
“As a player, I still think the magic is there. It’s a fantastic cup competition to play in.
“Maybe the fans have a different view of it and it was disappointing we didn’t get more through the gate but they got behind us on Saturday and we couldn’t ask anymore from them.”
Tuesday’s Checkatrade Trophy game with Southampton is certain to attract even fewer people through the gates, but Taylor and the Cobblers will be keen to get the point they need to qualify and therefore extend their unbeaten run.
“We look at it as another game because we’ve got a bit of momentum at the moment and we want to keep that,” he continued.
“If it means us getting through to the next round of the competition, so be it. We’ll need to put in another good performance and get another clean sheet and then build on that and keep the momentum going.”