A spirited second-half performance and stunning goal from Lawson D’Ath weren’t enough to undo the damage of a shocking first-half display from the Cobblers as they were beaten 3-1 at Sky Bet League Two leaders Burton Albion.
A Zander Diamond own goal, on his return to the Pirelli Stadium, and efforts from Phil Edwards and Lucas Akins saw the Cobblers 3-0 down inside 41 minutes.
Town were much better in the second half, and D’Ath scored with a brilliant volley to bring his team back into the game after 54 minutes, but it wasn’t enough.
Burton were denied the league two title as rivals Shrewsbury Town also won, while the Cobblers’ play-off hopes were finally extinguished.
The Cobblers made one change to the team which saw off Cheltenham Town 2-0 at Sixfields last Saturday, with Jason Taylor returning to the centre of midfield after suspension, replacing John-Joe O’Toole who was ruled out with a groin problem.
The match got underway after an an impeccably observed minute’s silence in memory of the victims of the Bradford fire in 1985.
Town, and goalkeeper Shwan Jalal in particular, suffered a nightmare start as Burton took the lead on just four minutes.
There appeared to be no danger as Jalal collected the ball in his own area, but he dallied over his clearance which was blocked by Burton striker Stuart Beavon.
Beavon collected the loose ball wide on the right, and his low cross was deflected home off the boot of Diamond, under pressure from Akins.
Jalal claimed Beavon used his arm to block the clearance, but he shouldn’t have allowed the player to get so close.
On 15 minutes Beavon, whose dad is a former Cobblers player, almost made it 2-0, getting in behind Lee Collins in the penalty area and latching on to a quick throw-in, but Jala raced quickly off his line to block his low shot and make up for his earlier error.
Beavon was proving a real handful, and on 19 minutes he sent a glancing header just over the top after great inswinging cross in from left by Nasser El Khayati.
The Cobblers did get their first shot on goal on 25 minutes, but Evan Horwood’s free-kick from 25 yards was straight at Jon McLaughlin in the Burton goal who saved easily.
Town were starting to get onto the game a little, but found themselves 2-0 down on 31 minutes when Phil Edwards scored with a scuffed shot from the edge of the area, meeting El Khayati’s corner from the right.
Just prior to the award of the corner, the Cobblers players and supporers felt the ball had gone out for a throw to them before Tom Naylor kept it in, and it was certinly very tight.
It was turning out to be a nightmare afternoon for the Cobblers, who were 3-0 down within 41 minutes, Burton striker Akins scoring from the penalty spot after he had been fouled by Horwood.
It was a clumsy challenge from the Town left-back, which resulted in a tangle of legs, and Akins went down.
Town made a double substitution at the break to try and turn things round, with Marc Richards and Ryan Cresswell being brought on for Diego De Girolamo and Collins respectively.
The Cobblers certainly looked brighter, and on 54 minutes they were back in the game thanks to a fantastic goal from D’Ath.
With his back to goal on the right edge of the area, D’Ath controlled a pass into him on his chest, before swivelling and sending a dipping right foot volley over McLaughlin and into the top corner. It was a cracking finish.
Town had their tails up now, and suddenly Burton, so dominant in the first half, weren’t looking quite so confident.
It was now all Cobblers, and on the hour McLaughlin was forced into serious action again, blocking a thumping right foot volley from a tight angle by Toney.
Burton could have wrapped things up on 66 minutes, but luckily for the Cobblers, Naylor’s shot from 12 yards fizzed the wrong side of the post.
The Cobblers kept pressing for a second goal, but Burton began to get a grip of things as they game evened up again.
Indeed, chances at both ends were at a premium for the rest of the match as Burton played out the game to seal the win that keeps them on course for the league title.
Town did press to the end and applied plenty of pressure in the dying minutes, but there was to be no grandstand finish as Burton claimed the three points.
Burton Albion: McLaughlin, Edwards, Cansdell-Sheriff, Mousinho, Weir, Beavon, Akins, Stewart, McCrory, Naylor, El Khayati. Subs: Shearer, Taft, McGurk, Palmer, Harness, Maynard, Johnstone.
Northampton Town: Jala, Moloney, Diamond, Collins, Horwood, Holmes, Taylor, Byrom, D’Ath, De Girolamo, Toney. Subs: Duke, Carter, Richards, Hackett, Tozer, Gray, Cresswell.
Referee: R Clark