The Cobblers blew a great chance to boost their play-off chances as they were beaten 1-0 at home by Cambridge United at Sixfields.
Harrison Dunk’s early goal proved to be enough to seal all three points for the struggling visitors, who deserved their victory.
The Cobblers struggled to create any chances in a disjointed and disappointing performance, with Chris Dunn in the Cambridge goal not having to make a save in the entire match.
Frustratingly, most of the Cobblers’ play-off rivals also dropped points, and with five games of the season remaining, Chris Wilder’s men are five points off the top seven.
The Cobblers made two changes to the team which drew 2-2 at AFC Wimbledon, with John-Joe O’Toole dropping out with a hamstring strain, and Zander Diamond being dropped to the bench.
O’Toole was replaced in the starting line-up by Chris Hackett, with Horwood coming in at left-back and Lee Collins reverting to his regular spot in the centre of defence.
Ricky Holmes started in the central attacking role in support of Jimmy Gray, with Hackett on the right wing.
Town suffered a terrible start with barely 70 seconds on the clock as they conceded to go 1-0 down.
Joel Byrom lost possession on the edge of the Cambridge penalty area after a heavy touch, and Nathaniel Mendez set off on a lung-busting run down the right wing before passing to Tom Elliott. Cambridge maintained possession and set up Dunk who, with no pressure on him, slammed a crisp 20-yard strike into the bottom corner low to Matt Duke’s left.
The Cobblers were shell-shocked, and on 11 minutes almost went 2-0 down, Duke this time saving well after Mendez-Laing had been allowed an eternity in the Town penalty area to get his left-foot shot on target.
Town’s first attempt on the Us goal came through Gray, but his header from Horwood’s left-wing cross was well over the top.
Cambridge were still carrying the goal threat, and on 31 minutes Ryan Donaldson crashed a 20-yard strike off the bar, with Duke possibly getting the slightest of touches to the ball.
Town boss Chris Wilder had seen enough by this point, and took action as he substituted Hackett after just 32 minutes, with Ivan Toney entering the fray.
The young striker had an instant impact as the Cobblers at last applied some attacking pressure, but it was all a bit rushed, with long-range efforts from Brendan Moloney an Byrom that both flew wide were the best they could muster.
The half-time whistle blew with Chris Dunn in the Cambridge goal not having had to make a save.
Cambridge had a golden chance to make it 2-0 in the opening seconds of the second half, with Elliott sending Mendez-Laing clear, but he delayed his shot and, under pressure from Collins, went too wide before shooting wide.
The Cobblers were struggling to find any sort of fluency in attack, but they were battling away and on the hour they prise out an opening, but it came to nothing as Toney disappointingly headed wide when he should have hit the target from eight yards out.
On 66 minutes Wilder threw Diego De Girolamo into the mix, with defender Collins being sacrificed.
That meant Town had an attacking five of Holmes, De Girolamo, Toney, Gray and D’Ath, with Moloney and Horwood making up a back three with Cresswell.
But still there was no sort of attacking cohesion, and the visitors should have sealed the points with 10 minutes remaining, but Sullay KaiKai somehow managed to sidefoot the ball wide of an open goal from two yards after he had been teed up by fellow substitute Robbie Simpson. It was a proper howler.
The Cobblers worked hard enough, and strived to create chances, but it just wasn’t happening.
The best they mustered saw Ryan Cresswell header wide from a Byrom corner, and Moloney sed a right-foot shot fizzing just wide in time added on.
But it was not to be, and it was the Cambridge fans who were celebrating at the end as the three points earned go a long way to them securing their Football League status.
They are set to be in Sky Bet League Two next season - and it looks increasingly likely the Cobblers will be joining them.
Northampton Town: Duke, Moloney, Collins, Cresswell, Horwood, Hackett, Taylor, Byrom, D’Ath, Holmes, Gray. Substitutes: Carter, Hornby, Diamond, Perry, De Girolamo, Toney, Jalal.
Cambridge United: Dunn, Taylor, Coulson, Donaldson, Champion, Elliott, Dunk, Nelson, Ball, Mendez-Laing, Bird. Substitutes: Miller, Slew, Norris, Hunt, Simpson, Harrold, Kaikai
Goal: 2 mins: Dunk (0-1)
Referee: Trevor Kettle
Cambridge fans: 912