Cobblers will play no further part in this season’s FA Cup after their six-game unbeaten run came to a disappointing end with a timid 1-0 defeat at Scunthorpe United in Tuesday’s first round replay.
A makeshift Northampton team got nowhere near the heights they hit three days earlier at Oxford United as they struggled to make much of an impression on their hosts, aside from a late burst, in deservedly being dumped out of the competition at the first time of asking.
They barely had a kick in the first-half and, as a result, unsurprisingly found themselves trailing to Hakeeb Adelakun’s wonder strike going into half-time.
The second-half witnessed a slight improvement, both as a spectacle and in terms of Northampton’s performance, as both teams wasted chances but there was no addition to the score, leaving the Cobblers to focus on league duties, with this Saturday’s visit of the Iron an immediate opportunity to gain swift revenge.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink rung the changes for his side’s trip to Glanford Park with only the two centre-backs surviving from Saturday’s win over Oxford United.
Full-backs Brendan Moloney and David Buchanan were rested completely while John-Joe O’Toole and Lewis McGugan dropped to the bench alongside fit-again Leon Barnett, who made the matchday squad for the first time in nearly two months after an Achilles injury.
There were starts for the likes of Ryan McGivern, George Smith, Matt Crooks and Dean Bowditch, who started in a wide right role in a 4-3-3.
Adelakun steered a third-minute volley wide in an early warning to the Cobblers and that was a sign of things to come in a first-half that was almost exclusively played in the visitors’ half.
That said, for all their control of possession and territory, Scunthorpe did not possess the cutting edge nor quality to really carve Town open with half chances and pot shots the order of the day.
Lee Novak headed over and Adelakun’s near-post shot was turned behind by David Cornell while the grand total of Northampton’s sporadic attacking efforts in the opening half-hour boiled down to Crooks’ 25-yard shot that was easy for home goalkeeper Matt Gilks.
Scunthorpe were bossing proceedings and it was from one of their several long-range efforts that broke the deadlock on 33 minutes, scored by the game’s outstanding player up to that point.
The tricky Adelakun received a pass with his back to goal on the edge of the area, swivelled his man and then unleashed a rocket into the top corner, with Cornell emphatically beaten.
The visitors mustered a brief response but, with Bowditch unable to connect cleanly and Gilks easily collecting, Scunthorpe soon regained the ascendancy and looked the more likely to add to their lead.
Funso Ojo’s crisp volley nearly did so as Cornell reacted smartly to tip around the post before Cameron Burgess headed wide from a corner in the last act of the opening period.
The interval did little to disrupt the flow of the game and Duane Holmes was a whisker away from doubling United’s advantage when whistling a first-time shot no more than a foot wide of the post.
The chances kept coming for the home side with Cornell doing well to claw away Burgess’ header before it crossed the line.
Slowly but surely, Town reversed the tide and gained more of a foothold as the second-half wore on - and they were oh-so close from levelling when Crooks’ side-footed shot, which left Gilks rooted to the spot, landed inches wide.
Scunthorpe had noticeably dropped off in trying to defend their slender lead but even so, substitute Paddy Madden could have settled nerves when pouncing on a misjudgement in the visiting defence, only to blaze over.
A fantastic mazy dribble from Billy Waters, only just on, ended with him shooting straight at Gilks and that was followed by Town’s clearest opening of the whole game.
Waters had given his side a spark and he released Crooks who in turn squared for Foley but, eight yards out and unmarked, his weak header was poorly directed.
Hasselbaink threw on McGugan and O’Toole as a last roll of the dice, however with Crooks toe-poking their final chance of the game off target, there were to be no repeat of the dramatics of last week, with Madden’s late miss not proving costly as United saw out five minutes of added time to progress.
Scunthorpe: Gilks (c), Clarke, Townsend, Wallace, Ojo, Hopper, Adelakun (Butroid 87), Novak (Madden 66), Holmes (Van Veen 77), Goode, Burgess
Subs not used: Watson, Sutton, McArdle
Cobblers: Cornell, McWilliams, Taylor, Pierre, McGivern, Kasim (O’Toole 83), Foley, Crooks, Bowditch (Waters 73), Smith (McGugan 83), Richards (c)
Subs not used: Coddington, Barnett, Hanley, Long
Referee: Andy Haines