It seems the only thing the Cobblers are consistently good at these days is finding new ways to disappoint and demoralise their increasingly weary, disillusioned fanbase.
This season was supposed to represent a fresh start. New players brought new hope. It was out with the old and in with the new as manager Keith Curle signed 12 players, released nearly as many and seemingly built a squad capable of challenging for promotion.
The team might be new but the problems are largely the same, chief among which is in the final third where there is a shortage of creativity and a shortage of goals.
But all it’s taken is three games for optimism to wash away, replaced by fear that this will be another long, difficult campaign. It remains extremely early in the season to be all doom and gloom but you can understand why fans might be fearing the worst, particularly after what happened on Saturday.
Previous games at least provided positives. The Cobblers played well enough against Walsall to at minimum take a point, they battled valiantly to a draw in horrible conditions at Port Vale and were 10 minutes away from a shock win over Championship outfit Swansea City in midweek.
But there were few, if any, redeeming features of Saturday’s defeat to managerless, crisis-ridden Macclesfield Town. The Cobblers actually played pretty well for 20 minutes, dominating the ball, moving it quickly and creating several dangerous situations in and around Macclesfield’s penalty box.
But failure to score in that period – and in truth their failure to create a single clear-cut chance – only drained confidence and increased the agitation around the PTS. Suddenly Town’s play became slower and more predictable, passes went astray and they lost control. It all played into the away side’s hands.
Macclesfield were there for the taking in the opening half-hour but they sensed the edginess around the ground and grew in confidence, highlighted when statuesque defending allowed Theo Archibald to thread through Ben Stephens for the opener.
That could and should have jolted the Cobblers into life but instead Macclesfield looked the likelier to add the next goal and when Jordan Turnbull levelled things from a corner 18 minutes from time, it came out of the blue.
That was a lifeline and a chance for Town to get out of jail but Andy Williams’ glaring miss three minutes later was followed the inevitable as Archibald himself won it at the death, steering into the bottom corner to leave the Cobblers winless three games into the season.
The team might be new but the problems are largely the same, chief among which is in the final third where there is a shortage of creativity and a shortage of goals. They’ve scored twice in three league games and both goals have come from set-pieces. From open play, chances, let alone goals, are hard to come by.
As previously feared, there is an over-reliance on Nicky Adams, something that becomes painfully apparent when he has a quiet afternoon. When he is isolated on the wing – as he was against Macclesfield – or marked out of a game, Town require other players to step up and find the killer pass.
The defence, which had previously looked solid, was also suspect on Saturday and in general Northampton’s play, as Curle admitted afterwards, was too slow, too predictable and became too easy to defend against.
Curle will find himself under mounting pressure if results do not go his way this week, and away games at early leaders Swindon Town and Colchester United are not ideal when you are in need of points.
But let us take stock for a moment. We are only three games into the season and this is still a very new team that are learning as we go. If that sounds an excuse, it’s because it is.
We always knew there would be a bedding in period – albeit perhaps not quite like this – with Curle attempting to merge his 12 new signings into a cohesive, functioning team. Earlier performances suggested he was making progress but it seems he’s still got work to do on that front.
There are at least positives in terms of individual performances, though not so much on Saturday. Charlie Goode and Scott Wharton should form a strong partnership at the back this season, likewise Ryan Watson and Shaun McWilliams have mostly been impressive in central midfield.
But Cobblers need more from their attacking players, otherwise Vadaine Oliver, promising off the bench on Saturday, and Andy Williams, who also had a positive impact despite his miss, will be in from the start. Even Junior Morias must be close to starting despite barely featuring in pre-season and at one point looking certain to leave the club.
The transfer window remains open for another couple of weeks and showings like the one on Saturday will only encourage Curle to dip back into the market.
It was clear in pre-season that the Cobblers were at least one attacking player short and that only became further apparent during Saturday’s defeat. If truth be told, they could with two players in forward positions: one to help create, one to help score goals.
A poor start to the season and Saturday’s poor performance does not change the fact the Cobblers have good players and a good team. They also have, in theory, the experience to deal with adversity.
There were calls for Chris Wilder to be sacked after losing at home to Dagenham in the title-winning season and look at him now, living it up in the Premier League. Then again, there were calls for Dean Austin to go after losing at home to Cheltenham Town almost 12 months ago. It didn’t work out quite so well for him.
In the end, results are the be all and end all in football. Just as winning breeds winning, losing breeds losing. One victory could change everything. For Curle and the Cobblers, they need it to come quickly.