The Cobblers were held to a goalless draw by Wycombe Wanderers that sees their ambitions of achieving automatic promotion slip slightly further out of reach.
To maintain a push for a top-three place, Town needed to win at Adams Park and although they produced a performance that was a huge improvement on their previous three, it was still not enough to secure the victory.
Leading goalscorer Adebayo Akinfenwa had the visitors’ best chance of the evening with a header that rattled the top of the crossbar early in the second half.
But they were unable to find the breakthrough, and a win for Rotherham United at Bradford City sees them climb above Burton Albion and into third, with Northampton four points behind.
Despite dominating the early possession it was Wycombe who had the first good chance of the game, Lee Collins blocking Matt McClure after Joel Grant had found room down the right for a low cross.
Roy O’Donovan headed into the side-netting at the other end after a trademark Chris Hackett cross had taken everyone in the box waiting for it out of the game.
The Irishman flashed one wide towards the end of a first half that was dominated by the Cobblers, playing a 4-5-1 system that was designed to get Luke Guttridge into the space between the home side’s defence and midfield.
It also gave Hackett the advantage of a reduced defensive responsibility, and he regularly found space down the right in which to spear in his looping cross.
Just five minutes into the second half, he flighted in an excellent ball that Akinfenwa met with a perfectly-timed jump and expertly-executed header that beat Matt Ingram but rebounded to safety off the crossbar.
Clarke Carlisle found himself in a similar position from a free-kick shortly afterwards but the close attention of a defender precluded a clean contact and Ingram took it safely.
O’Donovan showed excellent pace to get away from Charles Dunne and looked to have a clear run on goal only for his control to let him down.
Wycombe’s best moments came mainly through Joel Grant, although it was Matt Spring’s shot that almost gave Lee Nicholls a problem when it deflected off Dean Morgan.
Both sides increased their attacking intensity in the final stages, with Guttridge hitting a free-kick badly high and wide for Northampton’s final chance to win it and maintain their hunt for the top three.
As it is, a tilt at the play-offs is now the most likely conclusion to the campaign.
Wycombe: Ingram, McCoy, Johnson, Doherty, Dunne, Lewis, Spring, Scowen, Grant, Morgan, McClure
Subs: Morias (for McClure 64), Kuffour (for Morgan 86)
Not used: Harrison, Wood, Andrade, Harriman, Hause
Cobblers: Nicholls, Tozer, Carlisle, Collins, Widdowson, Hackett, Harding, Hornby, Guttridge, O’Donovan, Akinfenwa
Subs: Johnson (for Widdowson 84), Moyo (for Hornby 88)
Not used: Snedker, Platt, Cameron, Wilson, Robinson
Away fans: not given