In bleak situations such as this one, it’s sometimes best to let the bare facts do the talking. After all, when it comes to the sorry state of Northampton’s disintegrating season, what more can you say that hasn’t been said already?
They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. It feels like we’ve reached this point with the Cobblers, though even when they do try to shake things up, little changes.
Whether the manager is Justin Edinburgh or Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, whether the opponents are Bristol Rovers or Oldham Athletic, or whether they are playing 3-5-2, 4-3-3 or 4-4-2, it’s the same story caused by the same problems that, invariably, leads to the same result.
That was probably the most depressing aspect of Saturday’s 5-1 demolition at a snowy Boundary Park; the fact it was entirely predictable and oh-so typical of Northampton’s dreary season. Once they had fallen behind to Jack Byrne’s fine strike just four minutes in, their fate had virtually been sealed because this is a team whose one of many drawbacks is not knowing how to respond after conceding the first goal.
That rung as true as ever on another forgettable afternoon in Greater Manchester where the Latics barely broke sweat in their cruise to a commanding victory.
With regards to the sorry statistics of Town’s campaign, well, where do you start? They’ve scored fewer goals (16) than every team bar AFC Wimbledon, only Oldham have shipped more (37) at the other end, they’ve conceded at least three goals on six different occasions, they have the worst goal difference (-21) by far and they have not come from behind to win a game in over 18 months.
It all makes for pretty grim reading. If there is any light at the end of tunnel, it’s an awfully long way off.
For any Cobblers fans not in attendance at Boundary Park on Saturday, a vivid imagination is not required to picture how their team performed and how this defeat unfolded. It may have been a different day against different opponents but it was an all too familiar tale.
You feared the game was effectively over as a contest from the moment Byrne, given too much time and space, brilliantly found the top corner from 20 yards, and so it proved with the 332 hardy souls in the away end already wishing the pitch had failed one of its two inspections prior to kick-off.
This team seem incapable of fighting back once behind and again on Saturday there was precious little response to conceding the first goal as Oldham bossed the play and duly romped to victory.
The Latics were everything that the Cobblers were not: quick, sharp, incisive and, most of all, an attacking threat. They did not create a shedload of chances but they did not need to, such was the generosity of Town’s defending as the visitors stepped off and allowed their hosts to strut their stuff.
It was far too easy for Tope Obadeyi to get in front of his man and head home Byrne’s corner for the second, and then Byrne himself profited from a slice of luck when his deflected effort left David Cornell stranded.
The one crumb of comfort came early in the second period when tenacious work from Chris Long led to Sam Foley prodding a goal back and finally ending Northampton’s 550-minute barren run, but that crumb was quickly taken away.
A combination of Gevaro Nepomuceno and Brendan Moloney slid the ball over the line for Oldham’s fourth and game-clinching goal, and worse was to come in injury-time as Craig Davies added gloss to the scoreline with his close-range finish, completing Northampton’s misery.
The Cobblers have scored fewer goals (16) than every team bar AFC Wimbledon, only Oldham have shipped more (37) at the other end, they’ve conceded at least three goals on six different occasions, they have the worst goal difference (-21) by far and they have not come from behind to win a game in over 18 months.
It’s difficult so say where this particular performance and defeat ranks on a scale that also includes the Bristol Rovers bashing, the Scunthorpe collapse and the Plymouth surrender. Was it as bad, if not worse, than those three? Perhaps, but who knows and, frankly, who cares.
At the end of the day, they were four woeful performances that could perhaps be excused if they came along once a season but that’s now four – plus the derby day humbling against Peterborough United and the big defeat at Charlton under Edinburgh – and we’re not even halfway through the season.
It’s not as if they are consistently bad either, in fact it’s that startling lack of consistency which is most baffling of all.
From being so competent in beating Blackpool and then so excellent in winning at Oxford United, they now look a team of strangers who have never played together.
Even earlier in Hasselbaink’s reign, he had them organised and well-drilled. Performances at Wigan and MK Dons spring to mind when they barely gave up a chance in two difficult away games, yet here they are shipping goals and chances for fun. It’s impossible to explain such a drastic swing in performance level.
Yes, the squad has its shortcomings. It’s imbalanced and devoid of quality in certain areas but it is so much better than this. It’s so much better than second from bottom, it’s so much better than surrendering to feeble defeat after feeble defeat.
There’s no identity and no set style of play, which has been the case for the past 12 months. There’s also a lack of leaders and fighting spirit. But how can that be the case after signing so many players? Perhaps there is more to Hasselbaink’s curious post-match interview when he seemed to suggest there had been – and still is – some ‘issues’ behind the scenes at the time of his appointment. Because on the face of it, they are currently so far less than the sum of their parts that there is no other obvious explanation.
How they rated...
David Cornell - Had plenty of opportunities to impress on a rare league outing but, in the end, he must have become bored of picking the ball out of his net. That aside, the only notable save he made led directly to Oldham’s fourth... 5
Brendan Moloney - Could have got out quicker to block Byrne’s second and then lost the race with Nepomuceno for the fourth. May also have done better for Davies’ late goal... 4
Ash Taylor - Ventured out of defence with ball at feet a few times in the first-half, one such instance leading to a shot that Placide fumbled. Was having a solid game up until his misjudgement for Oldham’s fourth and then it all fell apart... 4
Leon Barnett - One or two sliding interventions prevented the home side from getting in on goal in the first-half but Oldham’s nippy forwards and slick movement proved too much to handle... 4
David Buchanan - Weirdly, despite the scoreline, it was a relatively quiet game for the left-back as most of Oldham’s attacks came down the other side, with the fifth goal the only one he may have prevented. But by that stage the game was well and truly gone... 5
Regan Poole - Surprisingly withdrawn for O’Toole at half-time given he was the one player who appeared up for the battle as he got stuck in first-half, though the Latics did overrun Town in midfield... 5
Matt Grimes - Does have a habit of occasionally going quiet in games and he did so for large parts here as the 90 minutes almost passed him by. Couldn’t get his foot on the ball in key areas as Oldham’s hungrier, more powerful midfield took command... 4
Sam Foley - Bustling figure in midfield who got about the pitch well, none more so than when he was in the right place to prod in Long’s cutback. But there was little other substance to his play and he also lost his man for the second... 5
Billy Waters - Carried as much of a threat as anyone first-half but he was wasteful when he got into good positions, either making the wrong decision or failing to find a team-mate with crosses... 4
Matt Crooks - Bar the goal, Town’s best two chances fell to him but neither were especially clear-cut. Seemed to want too long on the ball and as a result lost possession cheaply... 4
Chris Long - Terrific hustling to force Placide into an error and then tee up Foley. Forcing mistakes out of the opposition was the only way he was going to get any joy given the distinct lack of service he got from his team-mates... 5
John-Joe O’Toole - 6
George Smith - 6