Northampton Town threw away a two-goal lead as they were held to a 2-2 draw by Newport County in an action-packed Sky Bet League Two encounter at Rodney Parade.
All four goals came in a pulsating first half that swung one way and then the other and initially Northampton seemed on course for a third straight win when goals from Sam Hoskins and Marc Richards put them into a 2-0 lead inside half an hour.
But Newport, who also came into this game on the back of successive wins, clawed themselves back into the game and levelled with two goals inside eight minutes as Scott Barrow and then Lenell John-Lewis both finished well when afforded too much space by some slack Northampton defending.
The first half then made way for a more subdued second period but chances continued to fall to both sides, however neither were able to capitalise and the game finished all square.
Despite obvious frustration at not getting the desired result, particularly having led 2-0, this was another show of admirable character by Chris Wilder’s men, who set aside their off-field worries to produce another free-flowing attacking performance, though concerns remain defensively.
The result sees Northampton drop a place to fifth in a tight League Two table.
Ryan Cresswell failed to recover from a groin strain in time, meaning a first start in almost two months for Rod McDonald in an otherwise unchanged line-up that beat Stevenage last time out.
There was little indication of what was to come in a scrappy opening 10 minutes during which time the first chance fell to Newport when Barrow whipped in an inviting cross but John-Lewis could only direct his diving header wide of Adam Smith’s right-hand post.
And that missed proved a costly one as, just seconds later, the Cobblers broke and went ahead with their first real attack.
Having won the ball high up the pitch, Nicky Adams drove into the penalty area and pulled the ball back for Dominic Calvert-Lewin and though the striker’s first effort was well saved by Joe Day, Hoskins was on hand to tap in the rebound.
That was the first blow in what would turn into an absorbing and end-to-end first half that saw Newport enjoy more possession but Northampton pose a constant threat on the counter-attack.
John-Joe O’Toole and Darnell Furlong were linking up well down the Cobblers right and good work from those two almost brought a second but Richards’ close-range effort was well-blocked before Joel Byrom fizzed a follow up effort from 30 yards just wide.
But it wasn’t long until Town’s offensive threat resulted in a second goal. On 30 minutes, Hoskins won a free-kick 30 yards from goal and Adams teed up Richards, who arrowed a fierce, swerving effort straight through a the flapping hands of Day.
However, any thoughts of a comfortable away win were quickly extinguished when Newport replied virtually straight from the kick-off. An attack down the right seemed to have petered out but the ball fell kindly to an onrushing Barrow who, from 20 yards out, lashed a superbly-placed first-time drive into the bottom corner.
That goal brought the home side to life and as a result, Northampton seemed to lose their composure as Newport attacked with regularity and came close to pulling level but Mark Byrne placed a tame effort too near Smith when well-placed inside the penalty box.
That miss was quickly forgotten about, though, when Newport’s spell of sustained pressure was rewarded with an equalising goal.
Northampton stood off John-Lewis and the County striker was given too much time and space as he was allowed to cut inside and place a precise shot just inside Smith’s near post in similar vein to Barrow moments earlier.
Remarkably, it was now Newport who were threatening to take a lead into half-time having trailed 2-0 after 30 minutes, but the Cobblers withstood more pressure and almost retook the lead themselves with Adams’ cross narrowly evading a sliding Hoskins.
Neither side showed any sign of letting up in the opening moments after half-time as Adams scuffed wide from distance straight from the restart before Zak Ansah flashed a dangerous cross right across the Northampton six-yard box, and that was followed by Furlong doing likewise at the other end.
Finally the game then entered a more subdued period but a winning goal still felt in the offing as both sides continued to play with the same attacking intent against two less than convincing defences.
For a part, Newport looked the more likely to find the elusive fifth goal especially through the lively John-Lewis who twice tested Smith with efforts that lacked the necessary power.
But a tactical switch from Wilder saw Northampton finish strongly as he introduced Ryan Watson and Jason Taylor and opted to switch to 4-3-3, which gave the away side more control without carrying as much of an attacking threat as they had earlier.
McDonald headed a corner wide and David Buchanan then had the ball in the net but it was disallowed after the free-kick was deemed to have been taken too quickly by the referee.
Richards almost scored his second free-kick but this time his right-footed effort curled wide, and as time ticked away, Northampton had a strong shout for a penalty waved away when O’Toole appeared to have been brought down.
But despite finishing on top, the Cobblers had to settle for a draw and a share of the spoils.
Newport: Day, Barnum-Bobb, Donacien, Bennett, Partridge, Barrow, O’Sullivan (Klukowski 86), Byrne (c), Elito, John-Lewis (Collins 89), Ansah (Boden 73)
Subs not used: Holmes, Taylor, Owen-Evans, Parselle
Cobblers: Smith, Furlong, Diamond, McDonald, Buchanan, Hoskins (Watson 68), Byrom (Taylor 58), O’Toole, Adams, Richards (c), Calvert-Lewin (Potter 54)
Subs not used: Clarke, Lelan, Moloney, Hackett
Referee: Darren Deadman
Cobblers fans: 352