Football, as Sheffield United have discovered of late, can be a cruel and fickle business.
Fitting then that a club which prepared for this fixture by dispensing with the services of its sixth permanent manager in only eight seasons slipped to the foot of the League One table in front of the live television cameras.
Nevertheless, the fighting spirit United displayed against Coventry City yesterday afternoon suggested that, despite United’s perilous predicament in the rankings, whoever does take charge will not inherit a lost cause.
“They are going to take over a damn good group of players,” Chris Morgan, United’s caretaker manager, said after confirming Nigel Clough is a leading contender for the role. “Obviously we are not in a great position at the moment but, to be honest, I think most of it is psychological and between the ears, not a question of ability.
“We’re on a bad run. We know that. But we can either feel sorry for ourselves and put in the type of performance we did at the start or we can dig in a respond in the manner we did after the interval.
“I think some of the lads out there will have done themselves no harm at all with the way they came back.
“We’ve all been led to believe that the situation is going to be resolved pretty shortly and so hopefully we can kick on from there. I don’t see any reason why that shouldn’t be the case.”
Morgan, handed the reins on a temporary basis following David Weir’s departure on Friday, was a fiercesome competitor during his own playing days and will have appreciated the character United displayed having seen efforts from Leon Clarke (2) and Callum Wilson effectively secure City’s sixth victory of the campaign.
Indeed, when Lyle Taylor reduced the deficit, United could have dragged themselves back on level terms with Ryan Flynn and Conor Coady both enjoying clear sights of goal.
When Taylor claimed his second of the afternoon during the closing stages, what had earlier seemed an improbable comeback was suddenly on the cards.
It failed to transpire but Morgan, whose tactical changes were responsible for helping United establish a foothold in the game, was rightly proud of their efforts.
Weir’s permanent successor could do a lot worse than hand him a prominent role in the new regime.
“If it is Nigel then of course I’d be willing to work with him,” Morgan said.
“I’m a young coach who wants to improve and I want to help this football club.
“Listen, when you look around our dressing room there is quality in there. And there are plenty of points to play for too.
“Nothing is won or lost let. There’s an awful long way to go in the season yet and anything is possible.
“I’ve told the boys that afterwards. That’s why they need to be determined and not down.
“I remember a few years ago when Kevin Blackwell came in and we were right on the edge of the bottom three in February. And, guess what, we only just missed out on the play-offs.
“Blacky arrived in February. We are only in October now.”
City, despite their problems off the pitch, are in pretty fine shape on it.
Indeed moving from the Ricoh Arena - where they won only three of their last 10 outings - to Northampton has enabled the Scot Steven Pressley to build a siege mentality and repair a team spirit fractured by financial disputes and political wrangling.
Of course, City’s success this term owes as much to the options at Pressley’s disposal as it does his motivational skills.
Clarke has played for 15 different clubs
since progressing through the ranks at Wolverhampton Wanderers a decade ago and , despite a sometimes questionable temperament, his prowess around the penalty box is beyond dispute.
United, who tried to sign Clarke during the recent transfer window, have particular reason to admire the 28-year-old’s qualities.
The match was barely six minutes old when, profiting from Blair Adams’ cross, he claimed his fourth goal against the visitors in only five outings courtesy of a clinical finish.
With City’s pace and slick passing causing United all manner of problems, it was only a matter of time before they increased their lead.
Wilson, who also boasts an army of admirers at Bramall Lane, duly obliged after meeting Carl Baker’s cross before Clarke wasted two more golden opportunies during the closing stages of the first half.
Although Marlon King, granted leave of absence by Jamaica to take part in this match, warmed Joe Murphy’s gloves with a long- range free-kick midway through the opening period, United contributed little until Febian Brandy forced Murphy to make a reaction save soon after the re-start.
It proved the catalyst for a revival of sorts with Taylor’s deflected free-kick reducing the deficit after Conor Coady had been fouled and Flynn drawing a superb block from Murphy moments later.
Taylor’s emphatic header following substitute Ryan Hall’s cross set up a dramatic finale but it was not to be.
“I know what a danger Lyle can be,” Pressley, who worked with the United marksman at Falkirk, said.
“I’m pleased to see him involved for his new club but, I’ve got to admit, there was a stage when I wasn’t very happy with him out there.
“Listen, I don’t agree with Sheffield United’s decision to get rid of David because if you are brought in to change the entire ethos of a football club then you have to be given time.
“We’ve seen countless examples in the past of when clubs have stuck by their manager and then been rewarded for it.
“That’shappened now, though, and whoever does get the United job will be arriving at a very good football club with some very good players. Ultimately, though, my concern is Coventry and that’s why I was so pleased to get the points here.”