Talk of the play-offs will have to be placed on hold for the time being because, on current evidence, the Cobblers still do not have the attributes required to embark on the type of winning run required to go from 15th to top seven in half a season.
Progress under Keith Curle has stuttered rather than stalled in recent weeks as Northampton again demonstrated both the best and worst of them with another Jekyll and Hyde home performance against fellow mid-table outfit Swindon Town.
This Boxing Day clash at a gloomy PTS Stadium followed the pattern of previous games, particularly on home soil, as Town played well in patches, deservedly nudged themselves in front and then paid the price for not tucking away their chances when they came along.
Surrendering a winning position for the third match running, the Cobblers have now taken the lead in 12 of their 24 games this campaign but only converted five into victories, frittering away 14 points in the process. They have not lost from a winning position but neither have they won enough, drawing seven to go with those five wins.
Six of those 14 lost points have come in the three most recent games and Saturday’s latest tale of disappointment was easily the most frustrating because Town produced some of their best football for an age in the opening 45 minutes.
Raising eyebrows has almost become the norm for Curle since he took over and he was at it again here, albeit not necessarily with the personnel he picked but the shape he picked them in. Jordan Turnbull moved into central midfield, Shaun McWilliams shifted across to wing-back and Hakeem Odoffin came in at centre-back.
It certainly lived up to his mysterious nickname. It also worked as any grumblings of discontent were banished within six minutes when the hard-working, hard-tackling Turnbull won possession back in midfield and released Kevin van Veen on the right and he produced a wonderful cross that gave Andy Williams a simple finish for his fourth league goal in four appearances.
That was to be just the first of a series of chances before half-time. Van Veen’s swivel and shot was well-saved by Lawrence Vigouroux, Matt Crooks side-footed the rebound over, Williams had a second effort saved and a third cleared off the line while David Buchanan saw a volley blocked near the goal-line.
Much of Town’s good play in the first-half was centred around Turnbull in midfield. His defensive work shielded the back three and gave forward players the freedom to regularly join attacks. Van Veen was also bright and Williams found some excellent positions.
But once those chances went begging and the half-time whistle sounded with the lead a slender 1-0, everyone knew what was coming. The predictability of Keshi Anderson’s equaliser, one of just three shots on target for the visitors, made it no less frustrating when it arrived around the hour-mark.
The Cobblers have now taken the lead in 12 of their 24 games this campaign but only converted five into victories, frittering away 14 points in the process
Cobblers’ second-half display, not for the first time, lacked the conviction and quality of the first as chances were far harder to come by, although Jack Bridge almost won it with a terrific curling effort that struck the bar while referee Antony Coggins summed up his own poor performance by awarding and then overturning a penalty for the home side.
Again this goes down as two points dropped. The Cobblers are now closer to the relegation zone than the play-offs and progress under Curle continues to be slower than most fans would like.
After a sharp incline at the start of his reign, things have plateaued and unless Town are able to maintain their performance levels for 90 minutes, the season looks destined to end in mid-table disappointment.
How they rated...
David Cornell - A spectator first-half, but seemed a bit too easy for Anderson to beat him from a relatively acute angle as Swindon levelled. Took the pace off Woolery’s late effort which allowed Pierre to get back and clear... 6
Ash Taylor - Well placed to make a couple of crucial clearing headers first-half, but bailed out by Turnbull when he took his eye of the ball in the second... 7
Hakeem Odoffin - Returned to the side as the middle man of the back three and held the defence together well for the most part, so much so his withdrawal for Foley came as a surprise... 7
Aaron Pierre - Vital clearance off the line from Woolery was the highlight of another very tidy performance by the in-form centre-back, who read the play excellently to make important interventions, both with head and feet... 8
David Buchanan - His crosses from the left created issues for the visiting defence during Town’s dominant opening period, and went close himself with a well-hit volley. Made way for Bridge as Curle looked to wrestle back the momentum... 7
Shaun McWilliams - Throws everything into his performance wherever he plays, this time at wing-back. Great chasing back helped snuff out Swindon’s best first-half chance, but his enthusiasm sometimes goes against him and he made it too easy for Taylor to step into midfield and start the move for Anderson’s equaliser... 6
Jordan Turnbull - Midfield maestro! Raised eyebrows when he started in central midfield but justified his manager’s gamble with a terrific display that belied his relative inexperience in the position. Versatility, anticipation and physicality all on show as he did a great job shielding the back three. Instigated the move for Williams’ goal... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
Dean Bowditch - Picked out some nice passes as Town’s forward players enjoyed themselves in the first-half, but his influence waned and it was no major shock when Powell took his place... 6
Matt Crooks - Guilty of overplaying at times and attempting the Hollywood pass when his team would perhaps benefit from taking the simpler option. Has the quality to pull off such high-risk passes but his team-mares are not always on the same wavelength. Side-footed over with the goal gaping at 1-0... 6
Andy Williams - Scored his fourth goal in four league appearances with a controlled finish on the volley just six minutes in, one of three chances in the first-half as Vigouroux twice denied him... 7
Kevin van Veen - His glorious cross for Williams was as good as you’ll see as he put the ball on a plate for his strike partner to side-foot home Thwarted by the smart reactions of Vigouroux moments later and was generally vibrant at the top of the pitch... 7
Sam Foley - 7
Jack Bridge - Desperately unlucky to smack the crossbar with a late curling effort... 6
Daniel Powell - 6