Northampton Town’s adventure in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy came to an end this evening when they succumbed to a 2-0 defeat away at League One side Millwall.
The Cobblers had more than held their own for 70 minutes but two goals in three minutes from Aiden O’Brien and then Lee Gregory ultimately proved decisive as the Lions booked their spot in next round.
Aside from an excellent double save from the recalled Ryan Clarke, there was little to shout about in an evenly-matched but disjointed opening 45 minutes with John-Joe O’Toole providing the brightest moments for the visitors.
The second half continued in the same vein until O’Brien’s long-range effort on 71 minutes broke the deadlock before Gregory put the game to bed when he slotted home from inside the six-yard box.
The final scoreline was a harsh reflection on the Cobblers who had frustrated the home side, as well as their fans, for long periods.
Such was the ease at which Northampton pinged the ball out at times, it wasn’t always straightforward to tell which side were playing Championship football last season as Millwall were sloppy in possession and repeatedly gave the ball away cheaply.
Northampton failed to capitalise, however, as they lacked the killer instinct to punish their hosts despite enjoying promising spells of possession.
Chris Wilder used this cup game as an opportunity to rotate his squad with Chris Hackett making just his third start of the season, while Jason Taylor returned to the side from a four-game suspension and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Ryan Watson and Clarke also all came into the starting line-up.
Marc Richards and Joel Byrom were rested with both dropping out of the squad altogether.
There was little to write home about in an uneventful opening quarter as although the Cobblers enjoyed plenty of possession, the two goalkeepers remained untested.
The lively O’Toole had picked up from where he left off in the win over Wycombe and it was his cheeky nutmeg and driving run that brought the first half chance, though Calvert-Lewin’s 20-yard volley sailed comfortably wide.
Millwall swiftly responded through O’Brien, who swivelled past a risky lunge from Shaun Brisley in the penalty area, but he could only find the outside of the post from a tight angle.
Lawson D’Ath then stung the palms of former Cobbler Jordan Archer at the other end, but it was Millwall who came closest to breaking the deadlock in the first half with three efforts in the space of 20 seconds, two through another ex-Northampton player, this time Steve Morison.
The striker looked certain to score when he had time and space in the penalty area but Clarke reacted quickly to twice deny him from close-range before Lee Martin volleyed a third effort narrowly over.
However, that flurry of action was very much of out character in a laboured first half that continued to provide little entertainment as Northampton remained dominant in possession against a Millwall side that seemed content to sit deep and catch their visitors on the counter-attack.
And that ploy almost paid off when, on the brink of half-time, Martin raced away down the left and whipped in a deep cross, but Morison was again thwarted by Clarke with his downward header pushed to safety by the Cobblers keeper in the last act of the half.
There was little to suggest the second period would be any different judging by the opening minutes as Gregory blazed high and wide.
The home fans were growing increasingly frustrated with their side’s inability to keep hold of the ball as they surrendered possession all too easily, but a lack of cutting edge in the final third meant Northampton were unable to profit.
Morison remained the most likely source of a goal on either side and he was once again denied by Clarke, who flew to his left to claw away a goal-bound header.
On 66 minutes, Wilder introduced Nicky Adams and Sam Hoskins in an attempt to give Northampton more of an attacking edge, however it had the opposite affect as Millwall swiftly broke the deadlock.
It came out of the blue as O’Brien cut inside from the left and rifled a powerful low drive inside Clarke’s near post.
And that was almost immediately followed by a second goal as Millwall put the game beyond Northampton’s reach when Gregory turned home Morison’s left-wing cross from inside the six-yard box.
D’Ath cracked an effort against the post as Northampton sought a quick riposte, but Millwall also threatened a third with Clarke frustrating Morison for a fifth time with a fine save low down.
The game was becoming more stretched as full-time approached with Archer making his first save of note seven minutes from time when he parried away O’Toole’s header from an Adams cross before, at the other end, Clarke saved low down from substitute Fred Onyedinma.
Calvert-Lewin then failed to capitalise on a poor clearance from Archer, slicing wide from 30 yards with the goal gaping, and there was still time left for Morison to have another effort saved by Clarke in what proved to be the final moment of note as Millwall comfortably saw out four minutes of stoppage time to confirm their place in the next round.
Millwall: Archer, Cummings, Beevers, Martin, Craig (c), Gregory, Martin (Onyedinma 60), Powell (Thompson 60), Saville, O’Brien, Morison
Subs not used: Girling, Marquis, Nelson
Cobblers: Clarke, Furlong, Brisley, Cresswell, Buchanan (c), Watson, Taylor (Adams 66), O’Toole, D’Ath, Hackett (Hoskins 66), Calvert-Lewin
Subs not used: Smith, Diamond, Lelan
Referee: Iain Williamson