It is often said that the forrmbook goes out the window when derby day comes around but the opposite could not have been more true on this torrid Saturday afternoon when the Cobblers sunk to rock-bottom and their rivals moved top of the table.
Going into this game on the back of four straight defeats, expectations were always going to be low. But even taking that into account, it’s difficult to imagine anyone could have foreseen such a pitiful, feeble and desperately dispiriting defeat as the one much of Sixfields was subjected to on Saturday.
It could have been the day when their faltering season finally spluttered into life; instead their fortunes plunged to a desperate new low as they were easily swatted aside by an efficient but hardly outstanding Peterborough outfit who barely broke sweat in cruising to victory.
That’s the thing: it’s not as if Posh are an especially great side. They are a good team with good players who each know their roles but nothing more, yet they were made to look like world beaters by their all too charitable hosts on Saturday.
Everything about Peterborough’s play was a level above Northampton. They were sharper, quicker and first to everything as they ruthlessly exposed the opposition’s shortcomings to devastating effect.
They were full value for their 4-1 victory, and in fact it would not be unfair to suggest they so easily could have scored more. Jack Marriott, Junior Morais and Michael Doughty all had chances to do so at 2-0 up before the prolific Marriott made it three and then Marcus Maddison’s injury-time spot-kick gave the scoreline the one-sided reflection it so richly deserved.
At the other end, meanwhile, Jonathan Bond’s afternoon – aside from picking the ball out of the net for Alex Revell’s late header – consisted of plucking harmless high crosses out of the air and saving weak shots as Northampton became almost non-existent as an attacking entity.
Bar that complete lack of cutting edge, the most striking aspect of the afternoon was the remarkable ease at which Peterborough simply played through their wide-open hosts, gleefully exploiting the huge spaces vacated by Town all across the pitch.
There was no structure or discipline to Northampton’s shape once they fell behind, and that was no better illustrated in the first goal itself.
Losing possession in the opposition half will happen in any game but it was what followed that epitomised Town’s problems. Having picked up the ball 70 yards from goal, and with Brendan Moloney caught up field, Gwion Edwards simply strode forwards, and kept striding and kept striding.
He almost seemed bewildered himself not to be closed down, and sure enough, having charged 40 yards unchallenged, the inevitable happened: he cut inside Matt Crooks’ lacklustre challenge and hammered into the bottom corner.
That set the tone for the following hour of play. Previously they had been competitive but the Cobblers were then put to the sword and had no answer to the pace, movement and incision of their visitors’ play.
Maddison is far too good a player to be given so much space to pick his passes while the movement of Morias and Marriott and the energy of wing-backs Leonardo Da Silva Lopes and Gwion Edwards was all too much for the hosts to handle.
Peterborough barely got out of second gear; they simply didn’t need to.
Everything about Peterborough’s play was a level above Northampton. They were sharper, quicker and first to everything as they ruthlessly exploited the opposition’s shortcomings to devastating effect.
This game also provided us with an example of how, when successfully implemented, 3-4-1-2 can be a productive formation. Unfortunately, however, that demonstration came from the slick, well-oiled visitors.
Defending and attacking as a unit, with the width provided by two natural wingers at wing-back, they had all the tools to outwit and outplay the Cobblers, who adopted the same formation but with very different results.
The difference in the teams can be illustrated by what happened in one passage of play. It came on 21 minutes when one United wing-back, Edwards, charged forward and whipped in a peach of a cross for the other wing-back, Silva Lopes, to volley over from close-range.
That was a perfect demonstration of how wing-backs can pose a real threat going forward, yet in the five games Northampton have played with the same formation this season, it’s difficult to remember a similar scenario.
There were few positives to take from Saturday but the performance of young Shaun McWillians in midfield was one. His boundless energy and touches of quality were central to the few bits of good player that the Cobblers did manage to knit together.
Matt Grimes, on his full debut, never shied away from the action and always tried to make something happen while Luke Coddington, despite conceding four times on his Football League debut, produced a fine stop from Marriott.
But it’s as a collective where the Cobblers are coming up way short.
The performances so far this season beg the question: is this team, individually speaking, really as poor as results suggest? Are these players really incapable of putting in a better display than the one fans were subjected to on Saturday? Is five defeats from five games a fair reflection of their ability as individuals?
The answer to all three is a resounding no. They are all good players who have been brought to Sixfields for a reason – because they’ve either already shown the ability to play at this level or have the potential to.
As a team, though, they are falling well below the required standard, and the pressure now falls on manager Justin Edinburgh as a result.
I will always be a big believer in giving managers time and patience because it’s an exceptionally tough job and Edinburgh will be doing his damnedest to put things right but, ultimately, this is a results-driven business and Northampton’s results – five straight defeats and no wins in 13 going back to last season – are currently not good enough.
With no game next weekend due to international call-ups, Edinburgh and his players have the opportunity get together and try to somehow turn things around over these next two weeks.
It won’t be easy but something has to change, otherwise the Cobblers will head in only one direction.
How they rated...
Luke Coddington - Not likely to look back on his Football League debut with too much fondness having been beaten four times, even if he was given little chance for any of them. Produced a good stop from Marriott... 5
Leon Barnett - Found the going tough against the slick movement of United’s attack, none more so than when Morias spun him for the second. The fact that three of the four goals stemmed from Town’s inside right channel doesn’t reflect kindly... 5
Ash Taylor - A difficult first-half at the heart of Town’s back three before being withdrawn at the break as Edinburgh switched to four at the back... 5
Aaron Pierre - Tripped Marriott to concede a late penalty and complete a woeful afternoon. Was far from the worse culprit, making a couple of important blocks first-half, but powerless to do anything about United’s fleet-footed front three... 5
Brendan Moloney - Found himself regularly caught between attacking and defending, no better illustrated than when he was caught up field for Edwards’ goal.... 5
Shaun McWilliams - Can’t fault his endeavour or energy as he bounded about the pitch afternoon. Was central to the few bits of good play at the Cobblers managed to knit together. A rare shining light... 7 CHRON STAR MAN
Matt Crooks - Individually he performed adequately but was part of a midfield that became too easily overrun. Could have been stronger and more robust when Edwards breezed past him for the first... 5
Matt Grimes - Provided the assist for Revell’s goal with a terrific corner, and he deserved that for a hard-working performance on his Cobblers debut. One of only two viable options, alongside McWilliams, for man of the match.... 6
David Buchanan - Most of Peterborough’s more threatening attacks came down the other flank, and he struggled to impose himself in attack either from wing-back first-half or full-back after half-time... 5
Alex Revell - His goal, which was well-taken, could not even be described as a consolation such was the deep disappointment of the afternoon... 6
Marc Richards - Skipper toiled hard up front but his overall impact on the game was kept to a minimum. Needs to be partnered with a nippy striker who can run in behind to really flourish... 5
Daniel Powell - 5
Chris Long - 5
Billy Waters - 5