A 15th league draw of the campaign and by far the most underwhelming of the lot, Saturday’s turgid goalless stalemate against Crawley Town was a strong contender for the worst game of the season, not just at the PTS but at any ground in any division.
While some 0-0 draws can be deceptively entertaining affairs, this one certainly wasn’t. Instead, it was very much a case of the final scoreline reflecting a dour game as Northampton and Crawly laboured their way through an error-strewn, defence-dominated encounter.
It left us in no doubt as to why these teams sit in the lower reaches of League Two, seemingly unable to escape the fringes of a relegation battle.
There are still 13 games remaining but it should perhaps be no surprise that Saturday’s match had an end-of-season feel to it given both Cobblers and Crawley already look to have their fate sealed. They are too far off to even think of a late surge towards the play-offs and while relegation remains a possibility, it seems highly unlikely.
After taking a couple of steps forward with good performances and positive results on the road to Tranmere and Lincoln, this represented at least one step backwards for the Cobblers, no matter how you try and dress it up.
There were some good individual displays at the back, notably from Charlie Goode and David Buchanan, and just a seventh clean sheet of the season was reward for an improved defensive showing. Other than that though, straws are being clutched.
What gripes most is not so much the lack of quality or lack of entertainment on show, but rather the lack of ambition to take risks and win the game, particularly when it became apparent one goal would be enough to claim all three points.
The Cobblers looked a side almost haunted by their home mauling against Colchester United two weeks earlier when they were picked off all too readily. This time, they were guilty of placing caution over ambition and with Crawley happy with an away draw, it made for a negative, dull football match.
Ultimately, there’s a balance to be struck and Curle is yet to find it. If he is intent on making the Cobblers hard to beat, goals and entertainment may well be in short supply for the foreseeable future, at least until he feels that solid base has been put in place.
Despite all this, Cobblers did have their chances on Saturday, just not enough of them. Who knows, maybe things might have been different had John-Joe O’Toole kept his close-range attempt below the crossbar or Timi Elsnik steered his volley on target instead of narrowly over.
Half chances also fell for Sam Hoskins, Joe Powell and Ash Taylor but the fact is visiting stopper Glenn Morris was forced into only one save of note and as the game wore on, Town appeared increasingly resigned to accepting a point and no more.
In the end, they were indebted to goalkeeper David Cornell who at least ensured the Cobblers avoided the ignominy of becoming just the fourth team to lose a home game to Crawley this season. He was out in a hurry to block from Ollie Palmer and also reacted smartly to thwart Dominic Poleon in the final minute.
It all added up to a 15th league draw of the season, two more than any other team in the division and one more than anyone at all across the entire EFL.
To highlight the curiosity of Town’s season, just three League Two teams have won fewer than their eight games and yet only six have lost less. When you factor in the wild swings in performance levels, from their impressive efforts against Tranmere and Carlisle to the struggles against Colchester and Crawley, they remain a difficult team to work out.
Sacrificing attacking intent for defensive solidity, the Cobblers looked a side haunted by conceding four times on their last home outing and subsequently they became overly cautious and unwilling to take risks, culminating in a bore draw and generating discontent among supporters.
One thing is for certain though, performances like Saturday’s against Crawley will not sit well among paying supporters.
Check out the following link for player ratings: Cobblers 0 Crawley 0 player ratings in pictures