Cobblers took a huge step towards survival on Tuesday evening when John-Joe O’Toole’s rich vein of goalscoring form continued with an 83rd minute winner that was enough for Northampton to beat struggling Swindon Town 2-1 at Sixfields.
The final scoreline and the timing of the winning goal perhaps suggests that this was a tight, hard-fought victory but, in truth, Northampton were full value for the three points, outplaying and out-creating their visitors for long periods.
They could have been out of sight by half-time had a hatful of chances not gone begging, including a penalty miss, but finally they hit the front through an own goal just after the hour-mark.
Swindon rallied and a spell of pressure culminated in Luke Norris seemingly salvaging a point with nine minutes remaining, only for Town to find another gear.
They came straight back at the away side and got the winner their superiority deserved when O’Toole bundled home a corner from close-range for his fourth goal in three games.
That snatched an important win in the context of Northampton’s season, and with favourable results elsewhere, they are now eight points clear of the bottom four and only two adrift of 13th.
As well as their third successive victory at Sixfields, O’Toole’s late intervention also ensured Tuesday saw Cobblers claim back-to-back league wins for the first time in four months.
Justin Edinburgh’s decision to name an unchanged team from the one which beat Chesterfield three days earlier came as little surprise, with Raheem Hanley replacing Rod McDonald, who picked up an injury in training, the only change to the matchday squad.
And much like Saturday, the Cobblers were immediately on the front foot against Swindon and sensed an early breakthrough, something they should have had on two separate occasions inside the first six minutes.
Both chances fell to Marc Richards and the first came from open play when excellent work by O’Toole and then Keshi Anderson teed up the Cobblers skipper who, unmarked 14 yards out, could only fire over the crossbar.
In an all-action start from the home side, Richards had glorious opportunity to make an immediate amends when Anderson, who curled a shot straight at Lawrence Vigouroux moments earlier, was tripped inside the box and the referee awarded a spot-kick.
After his miss at Walsall 10 days earlier, Richards had no hesitation in stepping up again, however despite this time hitting the target, he was denied from 12 yards for a second successive time with Vigouroux pulling off a fine diving stop.
That didn’t put Northampton’s off their stride and their dominant start continued when Michael Smith dragged a shot wide on 16 minutes before Swindon gradually settled and established a foothold, although they were still very much second best.
Town repeatedly worked themselves into promising positions but time and again the final pass or shot was found wanting with Swindon just about holding firm and keeping the game goalless.
Northampton’s superiority waned as the first-half wore on, which only encouraged the visitors who had their first shot of the game when Charlie Colkett’s 20-yard effort whistled straight at Adam Smith.
Chances at the other end had become less regular although Richards did have his third sight of goal when heading straight at the goalkeeper after neat build-up play from Hiram Boateng and David Buchanan down the left side.
That was the last notable action of a first-half that had promised so much for Northampton but frustratingly saw them go into half-time on level terms.
The home side resumed on top in the second-half and they at least had the ball in the net within four minutes of the restart but Smith’s effort was ruled out by a tight offside call.
Having made virtually all of the running up until that point, the Cobblers were then fortunate not to find themselves behind when an unmarked Raphael Rossi-Branco met a corner and put his free header too close to Smith who reacted superbly to parry away, with Swindon unable to scramble home the rebound.
Back came Town through Smith’s blocked shot in a more evenly-contested second period, however it was still Northampton who held the edge and after a subdued period, finally the all-important breakthrough arrived, much to a relieved Sixfields.
The final touch came off Swindon defender Lloyd Jones but credit must go to both O’Toole and the impressive Neal Eardley whose right-wing cross forced the Robins defender to divert into his own net.
And within two minutes of that crucial breakthrough, Northampton could have doubled their lead as Keshi Anderson curled onto the post from the left side of the penalty area.
But Swindon responded well to going behind and they applied a sustained period of pressure, as time ticked away, culminating in an equaliser on 81 minutes.
After Zander Diamond and Michael Smith both cleared the danger with timely headers, James Brophy’s driving run and wicked cross saw Norris flinging his body at the ball and heading into the bottom corner.
There was little celebration from Swindon who, given their predicament at the bottom of League One, wanted a winner, but it was the Cobblers who responded instantly.
Almost straight from kick-off Boateng brought a fine save from Vigouroux and from the subsequent corner, Taylor’s delivery was met by O’Toole who bundled in from close range to continue his fine run of goalscoring form.
Richards should have wrapped up the points with six minutes remaining but having been released clean through on goal, he was again thwarted by his nemesis for the evening in Vigouroux.
Swindon tried to muster a late onslaught but Cobblers rarely looked ruffled, and indeed it was the home side who might have added a 93rd minute third goal, which would have made for a more reflective final scoreline, but once again Richards was denied.
It was not to be the skipper’s evening, but he will care little with his side able to see out what time remained and cling on to a precious victory.
Cobblers: A Smith, Eardley, Diamond, Nyatanga, Buchanan, Taylor (McCourt 85), O’Toole, Boateng, K Anderson (Wylde 85), Richards (c), M Smith
Subs not used: Cornell, Phillips, Hanley, Beautyman, P Anderson
Robins: Vigouroux, Thompson (c), Gladwin, Brophy, Colkett, Dabo (Ormonde-Ottewill 45), Conroy (Goddard 70), Jones, Rossi-Branco, Obika (Norris 65), Ajose
Subs not used:, Thomas, Rodgers, Kasim, Henry
Referee: Darren Handley
Swindon fans: 423