Well, what more can you say? In a season that has had so many low points, so many disastrous days, so many inept performances, so many disappointments... this pitiful, wretched defeat to Charlton Athletic on so-called Good Friday may well have been the worst of the lot.
And for anyone even vaguely familiar with how the Cobblers have lurched from shocker to another over the past nine maddening months, that is quite some statement. The most damning thing you can say about Friday’s game, in particular, is that the final scoreline was flattering. Not on Charlton, of course, but on Northampton, who were fortunate they did not lose by many more than four having been spectacularly outplayed.
It’s almost impossible to put across to anyone who was not at Sixfields (lucky you) just how utterly one-sided this game was, and how Charlton played with purpose, energy and unity and how the Cobblers did everything but.
If we ignore the goals for now and look at the other chances Charlton created, you’ll get an idea of how lopsided it was. David Buchanan produced a goal-saving block from Jake Forster-Caskey, who was later superbly denied by Richard O’Donnell, while Nicky Ajose twice went close, Joe Aribo was thwarted from close-range and the troublesome Tariqe Fosu could have had four or five instead of two.
It was an outstandingly awful afternoon for the home fans inside Sixfields, and it is no surprise that their disappointment and their frustration turned to anger, most of which was directed at manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.
Hasselbaink is obviously under pressure and rightly so. He has overseen the type of run that would see off many of his counterparts in the cut-throat world that is football management. And it’s not only the results, it’s the fact that their performances are, almost beyond belief, getting worse. Rotherham two weeks ago was bad, Charlton was horrendous.
This is a team that is lacking in every department. They are now less effective going forward than they have been at any other point of the season – despite such an array of attacking options at Hasselbaink’s disposal – and their defence is disintegrating almost every other game, with the Addicks the latest beneficiaries.
Worst of all, though, they are a team who appear to have lost the appetite to fight and to guts it out and that is something supporters cannot forgive. A lack of quality is understandable, a lack of work-rate is not. As fans at the game and on social media said in the bucketload, Friday’s contest was seriously missing some aggression, some tenacity, just someone to put in a challenge or two. Barely a tackle was made in the entire first 45 minutes, and when there was one, it was out of frustration and resulted in a booking.
In fairness to the players, and speaking as someone who has been there for numerous downbeat, dejected post-match interviews this season, they do care. They do want the best for the club. But it isn’t showing. They are so low on confidence and they are in such dire straits that they look utterly lost and out of ideas.
Friday was the type of game we’ve seen before this season, far too many times. A game between one team resembling a disjointed mess and another team competent enough and willing enough to gleefully take advantage.
Suffering a heavy defeat is inevitable over the course of a season. If it happens once, fine. Twice? Acceptable. Three times? Pushing it. But my count Saturday was the seventh – Charlton (x2), Peterborough, Bristol Rovers, Doncaster, Oldham and Rotherham – occasion when Town’s performance level was nowhere near up to scratch and they were heavily beaten as a consequence.
The Cobblers have now conceded at least three goals in nine different games this season and it is no coincidence that they own both the worst goal difference (-31, four worse than rock-bottom Bury) and the worst goals against record (67) in the division.
The fact is, unless Town pull something miraculous out of the bag, relegation is what they deserve.
After lasting 17 minutes against Rotherham not so long ago, this time the Cobblers stumbled their way to the 14th minute when it all unravelled. One swing of Lewis Page’s left peg found 5ft 7in Ben Reeves who got between and then out-muscled Town’s bigger, stronger defenders to nod Charlton ahead.
The Cobblers have now conceded at least three goals in nine different games this season and it is no coincidence that they own both the worst goal difference (-31, four worse than rock-bottom Bury) and the worst goals against record (67) in the division. If they go down, it will be no more than they deserve.
From there, it was depressingly predictable.
Charlton’s slick forwards had too much for Northampton’s slack defence, but it was also too easy for the visitors to go from harmless possession to shooting opportunity. Northampton just did not challenge them enough, sitting off and sitting back and waiting for the inevitable to happen, which it did.
And while Charlton sliced through their hosts with alarming ease at one end, they were comfortable at the other as the Cobblers once again failed to create anything at all. In the past four games against Shrewsbury, Rotherham, Fleetwood and Charlton, they have created just three clear chances and had eight shots on target, with half of those coming in one game.
They are a blunt attacking force and seemingly can no longer defend. That is a devastating combination for all the wrong reasons.
Just like Rotherham two weeks ago, it was embarrassingly easy for Charlton. Are they a good team? Perhaps. Is Fosu really that great? Maybe. Is Lee Bowyer a managerial genius? Possibly. But the fact is we don’t know the true answers to any of these questions because it’s not fair to gauge how good they are against this Cobblers team. They wouldn’t have had – and will not for a long time – an easier game.
The derby should be fun.
How they rated...
Richard O’Donnell - Did his best to keep the score down and it says everything that, despite conceding four times, he was probably the only valid option for man of the match. Almost brilliantly kept out Reeves’ opener and pulled off a binder from Forster-Caskey. Could have been double without him... 6 CHRON STAR MAN
Brendan Moloney - Endured a torrid time against the silky Fosu who ran rings around Town’s entire defence and midfield throughout. Hardly his fault his team were so outclassed but Hasselbaink had to make a change and unfortunately he suffered the ignominy of being withdrawn for half-time... 4
Ash Taylor - Too slow to react to the danger and was fortunate not to be punished by Charlton’s slick forward play more often, which was far too hot for the home defence to handle. Only mitigating factor was the lack of protection from those in front... 4
Jordan Turnbull - Had to be stronger when out-muscled by the 5ft 7in Reeves who nodded Charlton ahead and that was the last thing Town needed in their situation. All downhill from there with the centre-back unable to keep taps on the visiting forwards... 4
Shay Facey - Either at wing-back or full-back, he scarcely featured in the game, particularly going forward. Didn’t get tight enough to Page to prevent the cross coming in and then should have made sure he brought down Fosu when he was galloping through. His worst 90 minutes for the club having been so impressive prior to this game... 4
David Buchanan - His inclusion and first start for nearly three months came out of the blue but it failed to improve the team’s fortunes, though there’s no doubting his commitment. Aside from one trademark block against Forster-Caskey, he was powerless to stem the tide. Also didn’t do enough in forward positions despite getting into decent areas... 5
Matt Grimes - Was nowhere to be seen when Fosu cantered through the middle of the pitch to score his first, and had to put in a better tackle for the midfielder’s second goal. Remains debatable whether or not he has the attributes to play in the deep role, at least not without a more industrious partner alongside him... 4
Shaun McWilliams - Again, you can’t question his dedication to the cause but Cobblers required a lot more than that here. His frustration got him booked and then subbed, much to the crowd’s annoyance. At least he put in a few challenges... 4
Matt Crooks - The theory that his return from suspension would be the lift Town needed was in tatters within 20 minutes. Did not shirk or hide, however neither did he produced the type of performance he’s capable of and the team needs... 5
Kevin van Veen - Not his fault the service up to him was virtually non-existent but could have done more to rough up Charlton’s defenders and give them a tougher ride as nothing stuck when the ball came up to him. Must be wondering why he made the move south... 4
Chris Long - Probably the least worst of the outfield players, which admittedly is not a ringing endorsement. Ran about and tried his best to make something happen although no chances dropped his way. He’s used to that this season though... 5
Gboly Ariyibi - 5
Hildeberto Pereira - 5
Boris Mathis - 6