Stags boss Adam Murray believed his Mansfield Town side “deserved something from the game” after their 1-0 defeat to Northampton at Sixfields on Saturday.
In an evenly-matched contest that saw fifth entertain sixth in Sky Bet League Two, it was the Cobblers who prevailed thanks to Marc Richards’ fourth-minute header.
Both sides had their chances throughout but Mansfield’s lack of quality in the final third was their downfall with Cobblers keeper Adam Smith largely untroubled.
The result moves Northampton up to third while Mansfield remain sixth.
Murray, who played under Cobblers boss Chris Wilder at Oxford United, said afterwards: “We need to be more ruthless in both boxes because we deserved something from the game.
“We had chances and opportunities but didn’t take them and you cannot come to a team that’s in the form Northampton are in and do that.
“This is the first real test this team has had after 17 games which is good but it’s another challenge for us.
“We spoke all week about Northampton’s threat but we didn’t stick to our game plan from the start and got punished for that. If you don’t take your work on the training on to the pitch on Saturdays then you might as well play five-a-side.
“We’ve got a horrible habit at the moment of knowing what’s coming but not being about to deal with it - and it happened with the cross for their goal.
“Northampton are a very good side but we spent most of the second half in their half but we didn’t seem to know what to do with all that possession in the final third. Northampton made a lot of defensive changes which shows you how much of the game we were having.”