The Cobblers required their get-out-of-jail-free card to pinch a point against rivals MK Dons on Saturday, but if their quality in this thrilling derby encounter can be questioned, their spirit and new-found resolve under Keith Curle most certainly cannot.
Some points are better than others and after a succession of draws that felt like defeats, this one felt as good as any win Town have registered throughout a disappointing year as they recovered from a two-goal deficit and a strong Dons performance with a stirring late rally.
It has not been a year that many Cobblers fans will remember with much affection but 2018 at least served up an exciting and dramatic spectacle on its final day. Should Town’s spirit be a sign of things to come, 2019 will bring more success, although that only applies if their quality improves to the same standard.
It’s just as well points are not given out for performances in football because, if they were, the Cobblers would have been beaten long before Andy Williams grabbed a lifeline and then Junior Morias snatched a dramatic equaliser in stoppage-time.
They started well enough but had the wind taken out of them by referee Graham Scott’s decision to point to the spot for a 19th-minute penalty. It was soft and debatable at best but Ash Taylor did not need to run such a risk when he grabbed a hold of Chuks Aneke in the penalty box.
David Cornell kept out Aneke’s spot-kick only for Alex Gilbey to tuck home the rebound and from then on the Cobblers struggled to get a grip on things. Exposed at the back, loose in possession and blunt in attack, Town’s 3-5-2 system and persistence of passing it out of defence did not work and only encouraged the visitors.
Taylor cleared off the line from Kieran Agard, redeeming his mistake seconds earlier, and then Cornell came to the fore in the second-half, thwarting Agard and Conor McGrandles with fine saves in quick succession. But again his heroics went unrewarded as Aneke was given time to turn and score from eight yards out.
At this point - 2-0 down, 68 minutes played and having been second best - it was a damage limitation exercise for the Cobblers. Under Curle though, they’re not quite so easily beaten.
While in times gone by they may have crumbled and lost by three or four, here they came roaring back. Andy Williams headed in his fifth goal in five league appearances with 12 minutes remaining and that set up a grandstand finish.
They still seemed destined for defeat until injury-time. Moments after Cornell raced off his line to keep out Rhys Healey, Northampton launched the ball forward, Sam Hoskins flicked it on and fellow substitute Morias did the rest, producing an exquisite lob over Lee Nicholls and into the net.
That sparked scenes of unbridled joy from players and fans, though still the drama was not over. With both teams sensing a winner, the Cobblers almost found it as Daniel Powell saw a shot saved and Aaron Pierre headed inches wide with the final act. Despite no winner forthcoming, this was certainly a point gained.
Even the most ardent, most passionate of Cobblers supporters would struggle to convince themselves that their team deserved to come out of this game with a draw, but you don’t often get what you deserve in football.
How they rated...
David Cornell - A busy but excellent game between the sticks. Unlucky to concede after keeping out Aneke’s poor penalty before thwarting Agard, McGrandles and Healey with fine saves in the second-half, the last of which came just seconds prior to Town’s equaliser... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
Should Town’s spirit be a sign of things to come, 2019 will bring more success, although that only applies if their quality improves to the same standard.
Ash Taylor - The penalty was soft at best but he didn’t need to take such a risk so early on in the game. Cleared off the line after failing to pull off a Cruyff turn on halfway and also made it too easy for Aneke to turn and score in the second-half... 5
Aaron Pierre - Ruffled by the visitors at times and didn’t dominate the way he normally does, though showed his strength more in the second-half and was inches from winning it at the death... 7
Shay Facey - Tangled with Healey more than once but stood strong to regularly come out on top. Defended well for the majority as he returned to centre-back... 6
Jordan Turnbull - Back in midfield again and followed his efforts against Swindon with a similarly excellent performance here. Did everything you need and expect from a defensive-minded midfielder as he plugged gaps and was strong in the challenge. He’s no mug with the ball at his feet either... 8
Shaun McWilliams - Can’t fault his endeavour and willingness to put himself about but quality wasn’t there on this occasion. His touch was off and his passes failed to hit their target, though he was often quick to rectify any mistakes... 6
Jack Bridge - Carried Town’s most consistent threat in the opening hour as he looked to get at his man and put crosses into the box, two of which led to goalmouth scrambles. Delivered a perfect corner for Williams to thump in... 7
Matt Crooks - Played too deep, almost as a defensive midfielder at times, to have an impact and really hurt Dons. Was also hampered by an early yellow card and took a back seat to the all-action Turnbull... 6
Billy Waters - Ineffective at right wing-back where he was seemed caught between defending and attacking and in the end didn’t do enough of either. Couldn’t get past his man... 5
Kevin van Veen - One of his quieter afternoon as Dons successfully kept him on a tight leash. Spent too much time away from the danger zones and in wide areas where he’s harmless... 6
Andy Williams - Frustrated by a combination of poor service into him and strong Dons defending for the most part, but his thumping header - his fifth goal in five league appearances - changed the whole complexion of the game... 7
Daniel Powell - Nearly squeezed in the winner but Nicholls denied him... 6
Junior Morias - Wonderful finish to grab a point for the Cobblers, judging his lob to perfection to beat Nicholls and find the net. It was also his deflected shot that won the corner for Williams’ header... 8
Sam Hoskins - Lovely flick to send Morias racing through to score... 7