In a season where steps forward have too often been followed by steps back, it’s difficult to know where this goalless draw, a predictable result from a predictably low-quality game, ranks.
In the context of Tuesday’s tepid defeat at Plymouth, it was a marked improvement. Sure, the Cobblers were far from brilliant and hardly peppered Bury’s goal with chance after chance but, with key players missing and others playing out of position, they were the better team for longer periods, producing some good football, regularly getting into good positions and creating enough openings to take all three points.
But in the context of Town’s overall campaign and their quest to avoid a season-long battle against relegation, they will need a lot more than what they served up on Saturday.
After all, they were up against Bury side who not only came into this game bottom of the table and in wretched form but who also have the second-worst away record across the EFL, not not registering a single victory on the road in nine attempts prior to their visit to Sixfields.
Of course, they had the extra motivation of a new manager in addition the confidence of beating leaders leaders Shrewsbury in midweek but, on the evidence of Saturday’s game, it’s difficult to see either team clambering clear of the bottom four any time soon.
It was a scrappy, low-quality and typically frenetic scrap between two struggling teams. The best chances mostly came via mistakes, Michael Smith’s header the prime example of that following Ash Taylor and Matt Ingram’s horror mix-up.
If it was not for those two, though, Saturday might have turned ugly. Ingram twice denied Rohan Ince while Taylor’s excellence at the centre of defence limited Bury to very few other chances.
At the other end, Northampton’s best moments regularly came from one of two players: Brendan Moloney or Matt Crooks.
With the full-backs pushing up, the Cobblers could at least play with more width and balance and create overloads in wide areas, which provided their most likely source of a goal.
Moloney was one to profit. He constantly ventured into Bury territory and delivered a number of teasing crosses that could so easily have yielded more, with Marc Richards, twice, and Crooks guilty of fluffing their lines.
Crooks’ finishing was poor on the day, failing to hit the target when well-placed on two occasions, but he always seemed the most likely player to make something happen despite stationed over on the left flank. He was willing to both cut inside and go on the out and was the architect of Northampton’s best opportunity when leaving the defender for dead and squaring for Richards, only for Leo Fasan to block with Matt Grimes’ follow-up effort cleared off the line.
Another chance came and went for Leon Barnett, who headed Grimes’ corner wide, while Chris Long cracked a terrific 30-yarder fractionally wide, though in truth he struggled to assert himself on proceedings bar the odd jinking run.
All in all, it was an improvement but not enough of an improvement to get them out of trouble, and the audible discontent among many at Sixfields was understandable, especially given that this was the 11th different league game Town have failed to score in, with their latest goal drought now over 400 minutes.
Indeed, the fact that this performance is even being viewed in a positive light by so many, including manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, is an indication of how much of a struggle this season has been.
Regression has followed progress too often this season and it’s that stagnation that has prevented the Cobblers from pulling clear of the bottom four. Any positivity and optimism generated by good performances, like the one at Oxford for example, has immediately been dampened by a significant drop-off within the next week or two.
Regression has followed progress too often and it’s that stagnation that has prevented the Cobblers from pulling clear of the bottom four. Any positivity and optimism generated by good performances, like the one at Oxford for example, has immediately been dampened by a significant drop-off within the next week or two.
This past week, with games against Scunthorpe, Plymouth and Bury, was an opportunity for Town to put breathing space between themselves and the bottom four. Instead, one point from those three eminently winnable games has kept them firmly in a dogfight.
How they rated...
Matt Ingram - Rescued a point for his side with a series of terrific second-half saves, twice thwarting Ince and also brilliantly racing back to claw Smith’s header off the line after Taylor’s misguided clearance.. 7
Brendan Moloney - Seemed a conscious effort to make more forward forays into the final third and, unlike his poor crossing show on Tuesday, he whipped in some beauties here, two or three of which could have yielded a goal with better finishing from his team-mates... 7
Leon Barnett - Not always convincing on his first start in over two months as the channel between him and Moloney led to Ince’s two chances but warmed to the task as the game progressed... 6
Ash Taylor - Got away with a horror mix-up with Ingram but that the only time he let his guard down as he contained and limited Bury’s threat bar Ince’s two quick chances. Also showed a willingness to step out of defence and bring the ball into midfield... 7
David Buchanan - Wasn’t put under much pressure defensively, which in turn allowed him to venture beyond the halfway line. Delivered one great cross into the six-yard box that would have led to a goal had someone gambled... 7
Regan Poole - Passing can be hit and miss, both excellent and wayward in the same game, but he’s a real battler in Town’s midfield and his tenacity and good positioning on Saturday allowed the full-backs to bomb on while also keeping Bury’s midfield quiet... 7
Shaun McWilliams - Seems to have become Town’s utility man this season and again acquitted himself admirably out of his natural central midfield position, this time on the right wing. Got stuck in first-half, though became less effective in the second... 6
Matt Grimes - Could do with him utilising his passing ability and creativity further up the pitch as he often drops incredibly deep to pick possession, almost slotting in as a third centre-back at times. Set-pieces were disappointing again... 6
Matt Crooks - Responsible for a large share of the game’s few bits of genuine quality, using his deceptive pace to surge down the left while also drifting inside on occasion. Forgot his shooting boots, missing two decent chances, but was the heartbeat of Town’s best spells.. 7 CHRON STAR MAN
Chris Long - Having a strike partner helped him see more of the ball but he needs to be closer to Richards, spent too much time away from goal and rarely got into shooting positions, one superb long-range effort aside... 6
Marc Richards - As involved as he has been for some time but was guilty of missing his side’s clearest chances with Fasan equal to both of his close-range efforts... 6
Dean Bowditch - 6
Billy Waters - 6