The smoke filtered up into the Sixfields air, with rain teeming down, indicative of Cobblers’ season burning down to an ember and being extinguished.
Whether it was a Cobblers’ fan or a Mansfield supporter who invaded the pitch is by the by, as Northampton’s playoff push ended in valiant but tired defeat.
Everyone at Northampton Town had thrown it all at the playoffs after being shoplifted of automatic promotion by a Scunny team who were not so much on the beach as riding jet skis in the sea while drinking pina coladas and smoking Montecristo cigars.
The shoe army massed in Carr’s Bar before the match, with a thumping 90’s beat from the Sixfields Sound DJ in a bid to revive the ghosts of playoff games past at Sixfields where Town just wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Yet, there are none of the massive characters of Ian Atkins’ side or indeed the heavyweight impact of the likes of John Gayle who Akkers could rely to have games won via intimidation in the tunnel.
Jon Brady’s Cobblers side are far more subtle and that nuance was etched with fatigue after the longest of long seasons.
Northampton’s talented foursome of Sam Hoskins, Louis Appéré, Josh Eppiah and Mitchell Pinnock started and Cobblers bossed some 62% of possession but one shot on goal hinted at Cobblers uneasy relationship with the goal over the entire season.
While the shoe army did their best to keep their side going there was a dullness to the Cobblers showing with various features falling flat. Sam Hoskins’ set-pieces just didn’t hit the mark, the ball just wouldn’t fall for Appéré and Eppiah looked like his injury problems had caught up with him.
The one bright spark on a night of smouldering pyrotechnics was local lad Shaun McWilliams who patrolled the central-midfield with ankle biting assurance. His first touch was spot on where others weren’t and any higher-level scouts watching the soon to be free agent would have drained their pens of ink on a performance which was out of this league.
A Mansfield goal was always going to be a killer and so it came on a night when the match officials drew the ire of the home faithful with their decisions. Cobblers’ fans in the West Stand will never believe that Steve McLaughlin’s goal was onside, with at least one Stags player down the right flank appearing to be beyond the final Northampton defender.
Yet, the end to Northampton’s season has been tinged with the unjust and the roar that started the game developed into despairing cries as the season disappeared into the ether.
While Nigel Clough had the luxury of substitutes that wasted time in teeming rain, Brady’s bench was threadbare and suggestive of a team which has been running on fumes for some time. Ex-Mansfield forward Danny Rose brought on with an hour gone to win a couple of flicks and to generally fall over a lot, the big strapping Cardiff-loanee Chanka Zimba lost in the moment and unable to sort his feet when in on goal.
It wasn’t actually a pyro that came on the pitch at the end as pyro means a burning flame, just a bog-standard orange smoke bomb (which no self-respecting Cobbler would brandish) but as it unloaded its garish payload there was time to reflect on a season so near yet so far.
The old age themes revolve at the Cobblers, actually keeping the team together for a change, investing in facilities at a creaking ground, tempting back the part-time fans and giving Jon Brady the platform that he most definitely deserves.
Champions next season, that old age refrain of the rain sodden Cobblers fans who in their loyalty to watch footballs flying past floodlights, rarely realise their trainers are absolutely soaked.