A serious-looking injury to midfielder Jak McCourt overshadowed Cobblers’ second pre-season friendly at the A1 Gasforce Stadium on Tuesday night as they slumped to a 1-0 defeat to Nuneaton Town after a lethargic performance.
McCourt appeared to land awkwardly in the closing moments of the game and Town’s new recruit remained flat on his back until well after full-time before eventually leaving the pitch with his arm in a sling.
Earlier, a disjointed and laboured first-half display brought few openings for the Sky Bet League Two champions, who were never able to impose themselves on their National League North counterparts.
Instead, it was Nuneaton who carried the greater threat throughout the opening 45 minutes, particularly as they came up against an at times susceptible Town defence.
A few hesitant moments presented the hosts with chances to go ahead and finally they took one when Shaq McDonald drilled home a low effort following an error from Zander Diamond.
Northampton marginally improved after half-time and they had their opportunities to level, but too often the final touch or pass was lacking and the home side held on for victory, with the referee blowing for full-time early due to McCourt’s injury.
An intense pre-season training programme may be to explain for the lacklustre nature of Northampton’s display in a game which they were more than matched by an impressive Nuneaton side.
Adam Smith returned in goal for the Cobblers after sitting out Saturday’s friendly with an ankle problem as manager Rob Page again named two different teams for each half.
Academy players Jamie Hall and James Hammond both started in a strong-looking first-half XI which included Smith in goal alongside John-Joe O’Toole, David Buchanan, Marc Richards and Joel Byrom.
Despite that, though, it was Nuneaton who made the brighter start and the home side saw most of the early possession - and they almost went ahead inside 10 minutes but Elliott Whitehouse drove his low effort just wide after the Northampton defence had dropped off and allowed him the space to shoot.
New Cobblers right-back Aaron Phillips responded with his own long-range effort that Zeus De La Pas tipped behind for a corner before Sam Hoskins dragged a shot wide, but those were rare sights of goal in an otherwise quiet opening half for the Nuneaton back four.
At the other end, by contrast, the Northampton defence didn’t look entirely assured and a shaky period towards the end of the first half presented two openings for their hosts but neither former Cobblers man Sam Warburton nor Connor Anderson could capitalise on moments of indecision.
But the Cobblers remained unconvincing at the back and eventually the home side took advantage when a slip from Diamond was pounced upon by Colby Bishop who squared for McDonald to drill low past Smith for the opener.
Northampton’s first-half team were unable to mount a recovery in the 12 minutes that remained, the only half chance falling to Richards who headed Byrom’s corner over the crossbar.
Despite both teams changing pretty much their entire teams at half-time, the pattern of the game continued into the second half and only a fine dave from David Cornell prevented Joe Ironside from doubling the Nuneaton lead.
There was more fluency to Northampton’s play in the second half as young Joe Iaciofano had an effort blocked following a searing run from Raheem Hanley who appeared to pull a muscle in the process.
Ryan Cresswell rose well to head over a corner while Lawson D’Ath pounced on a loose pass and shot low down but former Cobblers goalkeeper Dean Snedker blocked well.
Rod McDonald was next to go close when he squandered Northampton’s clearest sight of goal up until that point, somehow conspiring to head against the post from two yards out and with the goal at his mercy.
Nuneaton’s threat had dwindled since the break but they were inches from a second when Josh McCammon was in the right place at the right time to clear Jordan Keane’s header off the line.
There were few openings in the time that remained and defeat was confirmed three minutes earlier than scheduled due to McCourt’s injury.
Cobblers first-half XI: Smith, Phillips, Diamond, Zakuani, Buchanan, O’Toole, Byrom, Hall (academy), Hammond (academy), Richards, Hoskins
Cobblers second-half XI: Cornell, Phillips, Cresswell, McDonald, Hanley (McCammon 55), D’Ath, McWilliams, McCourt, Hammond (academy), Iaciofano (academy), Revell
Nuneaton first-half XI: De La Pas, Penny, Grayson, Scott, Langmead, Anderson, Warburton, Daniels, Bishop, Whitehouse, McDonald
Nuneaton second-half XI: Snedker, Clifton, Gibson, Cleet, Keane, Wheatley, Cartwright, Fry, Ironisde, Kabeya, Demkiv
Referee: Carl Henry