If ever there was a season that did not deserve such an entertaining and enterprising finale, this was surely it.
But Cobblers supporters have had enough dark days over the past couple of years so they will take anything they can get, even if it comes in a dead rubber on the final day of a disappointing campaign 150 miles up north.
Few could have predicted such an emphatic and impressive away win to bring the curtain down on the 2018/19 campaign but Town were full value for their five goals and three points at Boundary Park, albeit against an Oldham Athletic side who appeared to have their minds elsewhere.
There was a hint of what was to come during a bright opening by the Cobblers but it seemed their strong start would be for nothing when Johan Engone-Branger’s excellent strike, scored against the run of play, took the sting out of the visitors.
But the sting was emphatically put back into them thanks to a screamer from Sam Hoskins, who rivalled himself for goal of the season when sensationally arrowing a first-time half-volley into the top corner from 25 yards.
That was his seventh of the season and he then turned provider in helping Aaron Pierre to take his own tally to eight, left completely unmarked to thump home a header from 10 yards.
The visitors, playing with energy and purpose, were a constant threat as Shaun McWilliams, Scott Pollock and Sam Foley bossed the midfield, and it wasn’t long before Daniel Powell’s hard graft ended with Andy Williams tapping in for 3-1 at half-time.
Williams ended the season as Town’s top scorer with 12 goals after sweeping in a fourth early in the second-half but the award for best minutes-per-goal ratio went to Junior Morias, who drilled home Northampton’s fifth after Callum Lang had briefly sparked home of a comeback.
Cobblers were beaten 5-1 on their last visit to Boundary Park so this made a welcome change and it was another reminder of what they are capable of when it all comes together, though that only adds to the feeling it has been a season of missed opportunities.
This win in Greater Manchester didn’t move the Cobblers up or down in the final League Two standings but it did take them over the 60-point mark and ensured they ended the campaign with a positive goal difference.
Given where they have been at various points this season – not least when Keith Curle was appointed – that is an acceptable, if not entirely satisfactory, outcome. In a league table from the day of Curle’s appointment, Town finished eighth with 54 points from 36 games.
The overriding emotion at the end of the season is one of frustration though, particularly after they threatened to make a late charge for the play-offs. After beating Newport County in mid-March, the Cobblers were two points above the Exiles and in with a shout of making the top seven.
Fast forward two months, however, and it was Newport who sneaked into the play-offs, 10 points and eight places above Northampton.
Cobblers’ tally of 13 defeats this season also matched that of MK Dons, who clinched third spot and automatic promotion with victory over Mansfield Town on the same afternoon. All those draws – a league-high 19 – ultimately cost them a chance of climbing away from mid-table.
Cobblers’ tally of 13 defeats this season matched that of MK Dons, who clinched third spot and automatic promotion with victory over Mansfield Town on the same afternoon. All those draws – a league-high 19 – ultimately cost them a chance of climbing away from mid-table.
Town’s performance and win at Boundary Park should not be used as a indicator for next season but there were encouraging signs and perhaps a hint of the team Curle wants to build next season, especially with young trio Jay Williams, Shaun McWilliams and Scott Pollock making up the spine.
Whilst significant changes are expected this summer, it’s not inconceivable to think that the majority of Saturday’s starting line-up will still be at the club come August. Aaron Pierre may well be the subject of interest from bigger clubs and Charlie Goode’s future remains uncertain but there’s no reason why the rest cannot line-up for Northampton next term.
But there’s no doubt that Curle can’t wait to delve into the transfer market and put his own stamp on the squad. There will be big changes over the next couple of months and if Curle can find the right players to complement what he already has at his disposal, a better, more successful campaign beckons.
With another season now over, the real work can begin.