Cobblers could not give their survival prospects the boost they craved after being held to a goalless draw by Oxford United at Sixfields for the second season running.
On the back of successive home losses, and mixed form in general, in patches this was a vastly improved Northampton performance but they missed chances in a strong start before Oxford improved as the game went on and ended on top with a draw ultimately a fair outcome.
The goalless half-time scoreline failed to portray an enjoyable first-half of football that was shaded by the Cobblers but flowed from end-to-end and either team could have had their noses in front at the interval.
Despite being far from dominant, Town’s display was a clear upgrade on what they had served up in either their past two outings at Sixfields but, even so, chances went begging with Chris Long guilty of squandering their best two openings.
They then reverted to type in a more bitty and disjointed second period as Oxford controlled possession and made most of the running, almost snatching it at the death when Wes Thomas headed wide from six yards.
A point is better than nothing but, despite results going in Town’s favour elsewhere, it does no more than keep Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s side right in the thick of the relegation battle, just above Fleetwood and Oldham in the League One standings, both of whom have games in hand.
Hasselbaink made only one change to his team as Sam Hoskins replaced Daniel Powell in a straight swap on the right side of midfield.
Cobblers almost made the perfect start when Brendan Moloney’s long throw dropped at the feet of Long in the box but neither he nor John-Joe O’Toole were able to connect cleanly with their shots.
Ricardinho and Jon Obika didn’t trouble Richard O’Donnell with half chances before the first clear opportunity fell to Long, who got it all wrong from eight yards out, skewing over the crossbar, having combined well with Crooks.
Town were playing with more energy and conviction than in their previous two home games and another presentable chance came their way on 18 minutes thanks to the quick feet of Ariyibi who found O’Toole but again Long could not convert, side-footing fractionally wide from an acute angle.
United almost made the hosts pay for those misses when Moloney blocked Ricardinho’s goalbound shot before Ariyibi shot straight at Simon Eastwood.
The first-half remained an open and end-to-end affair when Isaac Buckley-Ricketts clipped the top of the Northampton crossbar with a 20-yard effort, followed quickly by Crooks shooting wide from a similar distance.
Action then returned to the other end of the pitch for a prolonged spell of Oxford pressure and the visitors’ best moments stemmed from their right side with Buckley-Ricketts’ shot looping just over via a deflection and Ryan Ledson whipping an effort an effort that had O’Donnell sprawling across his goal.
The game remained scoreless at half-time and again both teams had chances to change that early in the second period, particularly Long who blazed over after showing good strength in the box.
Despite Oxford having more of the ball in a far scrappier second-half, the better chances continued to fall to Town who just could not find a way past Eastwood with Hoskins and Crooks not able to force in a goalmouth scramble at the midway point.
Heading into the final 15 minutes, the game could have swung either way but gradually the visitors turned the screw and began looking far the likelier to win it as Ricardinho flashed a header wide and then substitute Thomas inexplicably nodded wide when unmarked from six yards in a huge let-off for Northampton, who in the end were thankful for the point.
Cobblers: O’Donnell, Moloney, Taylor (c), Turnbull, Bunney, Grimes, Crooks, Hoskins (Facey 88), Ariyibi (Pereira 72), O’Toole, Long
Subs not used: Cornell, Barnett, McWilliams, Foley, Powell
Oxford: Eastwood, Ledson, Dickie, Henry (Van Kessel 73), Kane, Mousinho, Ricardinho, Mowatt, Smith-Brown, Buckley-Ricketts (Napa 81), Obika (Thomas 73)
Subs not used: Martin, Brannagan, Shearer, Ruffels
Referee: Martin Coy
Oxford fans: 1,444