Northampton Town returned to winning ways with a nail-biting and dramatic 1-0 win over rivals Oxford United at Sixfields this afternoon.
In a game low on quality but high on drama, Sam Hoskins’ headed goal midway through the first half was ultimately decisive despite Oxford’s second half dominance.
Hoskins’ goal was no more than the Cobblers had deserved as they shaded a scrappy opening period, however Jason Taylor’s red card for an off-the-ball incident on the stroke of half-time altered the complexion of the match.
But Danny Hylton missed the resulting penalty and though Oxford piled forward in desperate search of the equaliser after half-time, they were repelled by a defiant Northampton side who stood firm to cling on to all three points and end United’s 14-game unbeaten league run.
Northampton’s two new loan signings, Darnell Furlong and Shaun Brisley, both came straight into the starting XI with Josh Lelan and Rod McDonald making way, while Taylor returned to midfield having been dropped last weekend.
Both sets of supporters were in good voice prior to kick-off, making for a boisterous atmosphere inside Sixfields as Northampton got the game under way, and immediately the hosts were on top with Nicky Adams swinging in a couple of dangerous crosses from the left.
Oxford withstood the early Northampton pressure, though, as a succession of corners were dealt with, and it was from one of those corners which brought the first clear chance of the game.
Oxford broke and the Cobbers were caught short at the back with Hylton riding a couple of challenges before sliding through Callum O’Dowda, but a bad first touch from the young Irishman allowed Adam Smith time to come off his line and smother the shot.
Northampton reasserted their control of possession following that chance – and they then had the ball in the net when an Adams cross was headed in by Marc Richards, only for referee Neil Swarbrick to penalise the striker for a push on Joe Skarz.
The Cobblers remained in the ascendency before making the breakthrough midway through the first half.
Taylor started the move as his first-time pass found Adams on the right and the former Bury man whipped in a pinpoint cross for Hoskins to net his first league goal for the club.
Oxford grew in confidence as the game wore on but the first half appeared to be heading towards an uneventful finish before a dramatic turn of events.
As the visitors attacked down their right, O’Dowda went down off the ball inside the penalty area, which was followed by Swarbrick pointing to the spot and brandishing a straight red card to Taylor for an apparent push to the Oxford player’s face.
The midfielder looked perplexed as he left the field but he was reprieved by Smith, who got down well to keep out Hulton’s tame spot-kick.
Northampton survived through to half-time but Oxford came out a different team in the second half and immediately looked to get back on level terms with Ryan Taylor played through on goal but Smith again came to the rescue, blocking the striker’s shot.
Northampton’s defensive resolve came under increasing pressure as the second half wore on as Oxford utterly dominated possession and patiently probed for an opening, but the Cobblers stood firm and worked hard to frustrate the visitors.
It was all one-way traffic as Cheyenne Dunkley’s header was turned over by Smith before Brisley blocked a goal-bound effort as the home side continued to resist the Oxford bombardment.
Northampton were camped inside their own half for large periods of the second half but for all Oxford’s possession and neat build-up play, they were struggling to break down the stubborn hosts and failed to create one clear-cut chance.
The tension built around Sixfields as every Northampton tackle and clearance was cheered to the rafters before the four minutes of stoppage time was greeted with nervous groans from the home supporters, but again United had no answer and Northampton saw out the added time to clinch their first League Two victory for five games.
Cobblers: Smith, Furlong, Brisley, Cresswell, Buchanan, Taylor, Byrom (Corry 45), Adams (Watson 45), Hoskins (Potter 77), D’Ath, Richards
Subs not used: Clarke, McDonald, Lelan, Calvert-Lewin
Oxford: Slocombe, Baldock, Dunkley, Wright, Skarz (George 89), O’Dowda, Lundstram, Rose, MacDonald (Hoban 72), Hylton, Taylor
Subs not used: Buchel, Ruffels, Cundy, Roberts, Hawtin
Referee: Neil Swarbrick
Oxford fans: 931