Oxford United find themselves under the current of the ever-changing nature of the playoff race. Above them, scintillates pendulously the chance to taste the sweet nectar of a position in next season's coveted Championship, where wins put them in the driving seat of their own fate.
But, below them lies bare, a seabed of uncertainty, where a maelstrom awaits to sweep them off their feet, widening the yawning chasm that engulfs them into uncontrollable fate, where they must rely on teams around them to drop points, most likely chastening them to another season in League One.
Their trip to Northampton Town sunk them into the deep end for the rest of the season. Despite Oxford's number of chances, the Cobblers found the net first through Sam Hoskins.
Karl Robinson was unable to change from plan A, condemning his side to a 1-0 loss that deepens playoff doubt. A negative setup, entwined by poor tactics, prepared the U's for another defeat on the bounce.
The midfield was nonexistent for large periods of the game, allowing the Cobblers to frustrate the U's. The visitors now remain sitting in their 11th position. However, their reliance on other clubs to drop points around them is thickening.
Story of the game
Tuesday's short excursion to Sixfield's Stadium presented an opportunity for the U's to bounce back from their reality check loss to Blackpool at the weekend.
This week marked the ninth week on the trot where United had played three games in a week. However, Robinson's men flew out the blocks at the start, firing on all cylinders.
After a succession of handball shouts and corners, Rob Atkinson planted a headed shot into the right of former Oxford loanee Jonathan Mitchell's goal; United players were convinced it went over the line as the Cobblers defence cleared, the referee waved it away.
Atkinson continued to be an aerial threat from set-pieces, being granted three chances in the first 15 minutes, a stark difference to how they crumbled against Blackpool.
As the game went on, United's energy started to even out, the game went untidy, with both teams having a fair share of chances and possession.
Dan Agyei found some joy in the space behind Joseph Mills, who was keen to get forward, but nothing came of his runs in the first 35 minutes. Meanwhile, the defensive spine of Jack Stevens, Atkinson and Elliott Moore kept the Cobblers' chances at a minimum.
United's trend of set-piece threat through the first half gathered more and more pace as the minutes flew by, but the first-half came to an end with neither side pouncing on an opportunity.
Northampton welcomed Oxford to Sixfield's with a willingness to fight for a result, while United were the first to every ball, without having much to show for their work on the ball.
The U's needed to get their midfield in the game more with 'hit the ball and hope' tactics being ployed.
No personnel changes at halftime by Robinson was evident in the early interventions of the second-half as United's midfield remained camouflaged in the little amount of sustained pressure that they conjured.
The U's were finally punished for their indolence when they failed to reset their disjointed system from a Stevens mistake.
Sam Hoskins found himself just inside the area, calmly putting away a half-volley that guided its way into the bottom left corner. The battling team took the lead on the 55th minute, posing resounding ramifications for the visitors.
A change did finally come on the 65th minute when a triple substitution for Robinson saw Mark Sykes, Brandon Barker and Jamie Hanson were introduced for Alex Gorrin, Joe Grayson and Sam Winnall.
It was a switch that looked to inject more quickness in the attacking phase for United.
Despite this, the Cobblers continued to scurry and scamper, restricting United's ability to get a foothold in the game. Northampton looked well-drilled; it was a lead they so desperately needed in the context of the season.
For the remaining 10 minutes of the game, United's chances petered out as the Cobblers chased every ball down like a pack of hungry wolves. Struggling to build any momentum, the U's sunk into desperation.
Josh Ruffels sent a quarterback-like pass up to the funnelling Anthony Forde, who then hung up a cross back into the area; Ruffels blew his shot over.
Desperation had taken its grasp on Oxford in the remaining minutes to the point of strangulation, chokeslamming Robinson's men, deeper into the playoff race vortex.
Karl Robinson does not possess a plan B
When Oxford Utd score the first goal, they very rarely lose their winning position because their strong defensive spine remains robust. However, this is similar to when they concede first; they struggle to find a way back into the game.
The U's head coach needs a plan B, because when plan A fails, more often than not, they suffer the consequences of tactical variation.
Northampton Town have the fight to stay in the division
The Cobblers showed grit and determination to see off Oxford tonight, proving they have the mental toughness to stay out of the dropzone.
They find themselves only two points above the abyss, but tonight's performance will put them in good stead for a successful survival run.