Even when the Cobblers suffer a rare defeat these days, the overriding emotion a few hours after the full-time whistle is one of encouragement.
Even a defeat inflicted in such galling, cruel circumstances did not take away from the positives of Town’s performance at Sincil Bank on Saturday where their hopes of an FA Cup run were dashed at the first time of asking, dramatically defeated 3-2 by Lincoln City.
In this slow-burner of a game, Lincoln overwhelmed the surprisingly timid Cobblers for 45 minutes before a sluggish first-half made way for a breathless second that witnessed four goals, a dramatic late winner and an even later, totally needless, red card for the returning Junior Morias.
For 45 minutes at Sincil Bank, Northampton seemed to forget everything that has made them successful under Keith Curle. Cautious and out-of-sorts, their tentative play was never going to get it done against a good side and the Imps are most definitely a good side. They dominated and deservedly led at half-time.
Harry Anderson’s opener was well-worked and superbly-finished but it was not the only chance City carved out as the outstanding Shay McCartan ran rings around the visitors’ defence and midfield with his clever movement and slick footwork, creating and missing several opportunities.
In the second-half, we got a game. At least after another 10 minutes of Lincoln superiority had passed, during which Tom Pett’s sweet strike whizzed past David Cornell and gave the visitors a mountain to climb.
Climb it they did. Helped by Jack Bridge’s immediate leveller, Town went through the gears and realised they have the quality to give their hosts a game. An open and stretched period of play ended with Hakeem Odoffin and Sam Hoskins combining well to tee up Kevin van Veen, who kept his composure to swivel and shoot past Josh Vickers.
With neither side overly keen on adding another game to their respective schedules, the remaining eight minutes were frantic and breathless, so much so a winner felt inevitable. Unfortunately for the Cobblers, the winner arrived and it came via a terrific finish by City’s Bruno Andrade, his whipped shot from 25 yards going in off the post.
There was still time for things to get worse for Northampton. With time virtually up, Morias, only just back from two months out, seemed to decide he wanted more time on the sidelines with a moment of madness. Running 30 yards to needlessly shove over Pett, his sending off was an act of naivety and craziness, even the subsequent red card was debatable.
So Northampton’s four game winning run ended in dramatic and heartbreaking fashion, but you cannot say their performance at Sincil Bank was a step backwards. While they were deservedly beaten in the end, this was certainly not a momentum-killing result with several positives to be taken.
The Cobblers shipped three goals for the first time under Keith Curle but it was by no means a poor defensive display. All three goals were fine finishes, with the first particularly well-worked. When opposition players pick out precise, powerful shots from distance, sometimes you have to hold your hands up. The fact they scored twice and came from 2-0 down to level at 2-2 away from home at the League Two leaders illustrates the strides Curle continues to make.
The FA Cup still matters to fans up and down the land but a first-round exit will not cause many sleepless nights. It should be no more than a minor blip on Northampton’s road to recovery as they turn their minds back to league duties next weekend.
How they rated...
David Cornell - Didn’t get close to any of Lincoln’s goals as three accurate finishes left him grasping at thin air. Blocked smartly from McCartan and made several routine stops... 7
Northampton’s four game winning run ended in dramatic and heartbreaking fashion, but you cannot say their performance at Sincil Bank was a step backwards. While they were deservedly beaten in the end, there were positives to be taken.
Hakeem Odoffin - Caught out a little for the opener and might have done more to close down Andrade’s winner, but showed his attacking capabilities with excellent work for van Veen’s equaliser. Was fractions away from scoring himself too... 7
Jordan Turnbull - Mixed afternoon for the centre-back who mostly competed well against Akinde and dealt competently with several awkward situations, but it was his poor clearance that allowed Andrade to win it... 6
Aaron Pierre - Lincoln’s direct approach played into his hands and he was just the physical presence Cobblers required at the back, especially with Akinde lurking. Won numerous headers all afternoon... 7
David Buchanan - Caught on his heels as Anderson nipped ahead of him to blast Lincoln in front. Defended stoutly thereafter, making two or three timely interventions at the back... 6
Shaun McWilliams - Covered plenty of ground and never shied away from the thick of the action, but this wasn’t the type of game that played to his strengths as City’s midfield regularly took control... 6
John-Joe O’Toole - Only man to test Vickers in the first-half with a sweet left-footed volley. Battled gamely but again his Lincoln counterparts held the upper-hand on him for much of the contest... 6
Jack Bridge - Opened his Cobblers account with a well-struck effort, squeezing past Vickets to get his side back in the game. Little else came off for him though and he was substituted shortly afterwards... 7
Sam Hoskins - Nicely weighted through pass to slip in Odoffin, leading to the second goal, but that was a rare occasion he got the better of the Lincoln defence... 6
Kevin van Veen - Stayed composed to take his chance, swivelling and finishing confidently for his seventh of the season. Town’s biggest threat throughout and would have added another screamer to his collection if not for Vickers’ acrobatics... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
Andy Williams - Got next to no change out of Lincoln’s robust defence, replaced before the hour-mark having made precious little impression on the game... 6
Junior Morias - Long-awaited return from injury ended on a sour note. Red card was soft but he really didn’t need to get involved and now he faces another three games out... 5
Daniel Powell - 6