A headed goal from Marc Richards was enough to hand Northampton Town another three points as the Cobblers returned to winning ways with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Accrington Stanley at Sixfields this afternoon.
There was little to separate the two sides throughout an evenly-contested and entertaining encounter but Richards’ goal just after the hour-mark ultimately proved the difference, despite some intense Accrington pressure late on.
A bright start tailed off into a bitty, disjointed first half during which neither side were able to build any momentum as both were guilty of gifting possession away cheaply.
Despite that, chances came at both ends but the two sides were wasteful in front of goal before Richards headed in Ricky Holmes’ cross for his 14th goal of the season.
The visitors then ended strongly but Adam Smith was at his defiant best to repel Stanley time and time again as the home side held on to a precious three points.
This was always going to be a stern test for Northampton against an Accrington side who boast an impressive away record this season with John Coleman’s side conceding just eight goals in 11 games on the road coming into today’s game.
But eventually Town got the better of their visitors, who fell to their first defeat since October, and with Oxford only managing a draw against Yeovil, the result sees Northampton back up to second in League Two, three points off leaders Plymouth.
The game was played in front of a bumper Bank Holiday crowd that included a smattering of Cobblers fans in the South Stand due to increased demand, the first time that has happened since 2006.
For the third successive game Chris Wilder named an unchanged starting XI with the same seven subs on the bench from their defeat to Portsmouth last time out.
In an blistering opening, Accrington almost made the most sensational start when, with less than 20 seconds on the clock, Sean McConville let fly with a dipping 30-yard effort which beat Adam Smith but clipped the crossbar and went behind.
Despite that early let-off, it was Northampton who made the more assured start and they carved out the game’s first clear-cut chance when a well-worked move down the left ended with a low cross finding Nicky Adams well-placed in the penalty area but his shot was deflected just wide of Jason Mooney’s goal.
A similarly slick move brought another good opening moments later as this time Brendan Moloney and Lawson D’Ath combined on the right before the former crossed for Richards, whose first-time volley fizzed wide.
But Accrington certainly weren’t playing second fiddle in a well-contested and even first half with Brad Halliday and then Piero Mingoia both firing off target in another example of the away side’s threat.
There was a moment of controversy midway through the first half when Ryan Cresswell appeared to have hauled down Billy Kee as the last man and the referee put the whistle to his mouth, only to then change his mind and wave play on. Had the foul been given, it was a certain red card.
An enterprising and open start had made way for a scrappy, bitty affair that was broken up by constant fouls with Adams and John-Joe O’Toole both booked for late challenges.
The home side had rather lost their way following a promising start, exemplified by a poor first touch by Lawson D’Ath when the winger looked to be through on goal, while Accrington ended the first half on top and went close to going ahead but Smith was out quickly to block from McConville, who had been left acres of space at the back post.
The home fans were growing increasingly frustrated with the amount of soft fouls being awarded by a picky referee which prevented both sides from building up a sufficient head of steam to find the breakthrough prior to half-time.
The second half began in equally sloppy fashion but the introduction of Ricky Holmes revitalised Northampton and he almost had an immediate impact but Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who had come on at half-time, couldn’t get the necessary contact on the winger’s whipped cross.
Stanley’s leading scorer Josh Windass was then presented with perhaps the game’s best chance when his initial effort fell kindly for him following a block from Cresswell, but Smith was again out quickly to turn behind for a corner.
Accrington were enjoying a good spell of pressure but it was then at the other end where the breakthrough arrived.
On 63 minutes, Holmes swung in a low cross and Richards did well to beat his man and head into the ground with the ball bouncing up and over Mooney, nestling into the net.
Accrington, who had been guilty of time-wasting prior to going behind, now showed intent to get forward but Northampton spurned a golden chance to put the game to bed when Richards’ fclose-range effort was blocked on the line.
Accrington weren’t done yet with McConville inches from levelling when his low shot deflected wide before Tom Davies headed the subsequent corner over.
A combination of O’Toole and Cresswell then blocked Kee’s close-range effort as the Cobblers increasingly found themselves under the cosh, and the home side were indebted to Smith once again when he brilliantly saved from Matt Crooks when the Accrington midfielder found himself with time and space following Moloney’s error.
Northampton needed some more last-ditch defending to thwart further Stanley pressure as the away side held nothing back in their search for an equaliser, with the troublesome McConville cutting inside again and curling not far wide.
The Cobblers held on, though, as they notched up another excellent three points.
Cobblers: Smith, Moloney, Cresswell, Diamond, Buchanan, O’Toole, Byrom, D’Ath, Potter (Calvert-Lewin 45), Adams (Holmes 52), Richards (c) (Taylor 82)
Subs not used: Clarke, Lelan, McDonald, Hoskins
Accrington: Mooney, Conneely, Davies, Wright, Pearson, Mingoia (McCartan 78), Crooks, Halliday (Gornell 84), McConville; Windass, Kee.
Subs not used: Etheridge, Barry, Procter, Wakefield, McCartan, Buxton
Referee: Nicholas Kinseley
Accrington fans: 141