A debut goal from James Collins helped Cobblers claim an invaluable three points in their promotion quest as they edged out rivals Plymouth Argyle 2-1 in a nerve-jangling Sky Bet League Two encounter at Home Park.
It was a tense and cagey contest but Collins’ first half goal was added to by Marc Richards after the break and despite Gregg Wylde scoring late for Argyle, Town survived seven nervy minutes of stoppage time to cling on.
The win was not enough to take Cobblers top but it puts them level on points with leaders Plymouth atop the League Two table having played a game less.
While the first half was far from a classic, it was an intriguing, compelling affair between two well-matched sides, although clear-cut chances were at a premium.
Given the lack of goalmouth action, the half seemed to be heading for a stalemate, only for Plymouth goalkeeper Luke McCormick to gift Cobblers the lead when he allowed Collins to steal the ball and tap into an empty net.
Town then dominated the first 15 minutes of the second half and deservedly added a second goal when Richards finished off a sweeping move.
At that point the Cobblers were top of the table but Wylde’s goal made for a tense finish, however Northampton clung on.
Though they weren’t at their fluent best, this was a battling, hard-fought Cobblers performance that yielded three precious points against a promotion rival.
Boosted by the presence of debutant Collins, who partnered Richards up front in a conventional 4-4-2, Northampton initially started the better and they had the game’s first chance when Richards should have done better with a free header from Brendan Moloney’s right-wing cross.
The visitors had settled well and enjoyed most of the early possession, though Plymouth almost broke the deadlock with their first attack of note when Ryan Brunt failed to connect when unmarked from a corner.
The opening quarter was a cagey, tentative contest, perhaps understandably given the significance of this game, with both teams getting to grips with each other without creating much in the way of goalscoring chances.
But Plymouth then upped the ante with two presentable opportunities in the space of a minute as Adam Smith tipped over Reuben Reid’s header before, from the subsequent corner, Peter Hartley almost squeezed the ball in from close-range.
Though they spent much of the half on the back foot, Northampton posed an occasional threat on the counter-attack which almost yielded one or two openings with John-Joe O’Toole’s long-range attempt fumbled by McCormick and Collins just unable to poke home the rebound.
The first half saw few clear-cut chances and a goal looked unlikely, however that all changed with a moment of madness by Argyle keeper McCormick on 37 minutes.
Instead of clearing Kelvin Mellor’s back pass, McCormick bizarrely dallied on the ball, which allowed Collins to nip in, steal the ball away and then calmly tap into an empty net.
It was the gift to end all gifts and came at a time when Argyle seemed to be wrestling control.
Plymouth’s response was almost immediate but Brunt’s header was a whisker wide and Northampton maintained their lead through to half-time.
Ricky Holmes, who had struggled to get into the game prior to the interval, came close to doubling Cobblers’ lead just seconds after half-time but his looping header sailed over McCormick and narrowly wide.
Town had started the second half well and another chance came moments later when Nicky Adams made space for himself in the penalty are before firing low, but McCormick was equal to the shot.
Cobblers were sensing a second as they repeatedly came forward, and they duly doubled their advantage just short of the hour-mark with a superbly-worked goal.
A poor defensive clearance was pounced upon by O’Toole and after some slick interchange play between him and Richards, the ball was worked across the face of the Argyle penalty box where Richards was on hand to confidently dispatch into the net when confronted one-on-one by McCormick.
The Cobblers had been somewhat fortunate to be ahead at half-time but based on the evidence of the first quarter of the second half, they were full value for their two-goal lead.
Predictably, Plymouth proceeded to have a sustained spell of pressure on the Northampton goal thereafter but the visitors stood firm and restricted Argyle to few sightings of their goal while retaining a threat on the counter.
In fact, the closest Plymouth came was through an error from Smith who fumbled a corner but miraculously the balls stayed out.
However, Argyle did then reduce the deficit to one and set up a nervy finale when Brunt’s right-wing cross was turned home at the back post by Wylde on 83 minutes.
Argyle then launched ball after ball into the penalty area but despite six minutes of stoppage time, Northampton repelled the bombardment and held on for an invaluable three points.
Plymouth: McCormick, Mellor, Nelson (c), Hartley, Sawyer, Threlkeld (Tanner 64), McHugh, Jervis, Simpson, Reid (Wylde 67), Brunt
Subs not used: Bittner, Harvey, Purrington, Smalley, Rooney
Cobblers: Smith, Moloney, Diamond, McDonald, Buchanan, O’Toole, Byrom, Holmes (Cresswell 90), D’Ath (Adams 40), Richards (c) (Taylor 87), Collins
Subs not used: Clarke, Horwood,Lelan, Hoskins
Referee: Keith Stroud
Cobblers fans: 269