The Cobblers failed to spark at Exeter City and succumbed to a 3-0 defeat that sees them slip below the Grecians in the npower League Two table.
Town were second best for long spells at St James’ Park as their recent upsurge in away form bit the dust in emphatic fashion.
Although Clarke Carlisle and Adebayo Akinfenwa had attempts cleared off the goal-line there can be little debate about the worthiness of the home side’s win.
Lee Nicholls dropped a cross to give Exeter the lead in the game and a combination of the instincts of Jamie Cureton - whose class stood out by miles - and a highly developed counter-attacking game secured an important win for the home side.
Nothing of any note had happened when the scoring was opened, although Exeter had enjoyed a flurry of corners before Craig Woodman’s flag kick led to the crucial moment.
Nicholls claimed it no more than three yards from his line but lost it before landing and it trickled over the whitewash with the on-loan Wigan stopping appealing for a foul.
It sparked Northampton into life, Kelvin Langmead skidding across a low ball that Artur Krysiak did well to prevent Scott Bennett from putting into his own net, Kevin Amankwaah smothering the rebound to safety behind the goal.
Tommy Doherty then started and almost finished a goalscoring move, skilfully setting Cureton away down the right before heading his inch-perfect cross straight into the grateful arms of Nicholls.
Cureton, who played on the shoulder of the last man for the whole game, broke clear but fired straight at Nicholls, the rebound falling to safety after brushing against Langmead’s right arm.
Although the keeper enjoyed a good finish to the first half the second got off to a sticky start, with a scuffed clearance landing straight at the feet of Arron Davies, who sidefooted a first-time shot wide of the unguarded net.
Exeter had their second goal on the hour mark, though, Cureton peeling off his marker and getting the slightest but most crucial of touches to an inswinging Matt Oakley free-kick to divert it past Nicholls.
Langmead produced a goal-saving tackle to deny Cureton an almost instant second after he broke clear of the defence in a piece of play so typical of the Cobblers captain.
Adebayo Akinfenwa almost gave the visitors a 70th-minute lifeline with a header at a corner that was cleared onto his bar by Davies, Langmead seeing a similar effort well saved by Krysiak from the resulting corner on the other side.
Clarke Carlisle then almost headed a Tozer throw straight in only for the attempt to somehow be blocked on the line and on the counter from that attack, Exeter scored their third, Jake Gosling capping a fine run with a shot that squirmed under Nicholls.
It was enough to secure a win for Exeter, and although they perhaps did not deserve to win by such a margin, they were worthy victors.
Exeter City: Krysiak, Amankwaah, Coles, Baldwin, Woodman, Gosling, Bennett, Oakley, Doherty, Davies, Cureton
Subs: O’Flynn (for Cureton 84), Keohane (for Oakley 90+2)
Not used: Evans, Tully, Bauza, Dawson, Moore-Taylor
Cobblers: Nicholls, Tozer, Langmead, Carlisle, Collins, Guttridge, Harding, Hornby, Widdowson, O’Donovan, Akinfenwa
Subs: Platt (for Hornby 66), Robinson (for Widdowson 66)
Not used: Snedker, Johnson, Demontagnac, Dias, Hackett
Away fans: 414
Referee: Tim Robinson