Rico on the Marc as Cobblers see off Colchester
The hosts were twice pegged back by United side having taken the lead early in both halves, but Richards’ late goal ultimately proved the difference.
Northampton began well and led through Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s eighth minute strike, but Colchester responded and levelled when Macauley Bonne headed home shortly after the half-hour mark.
The two sides remained locked at 1-1 going into half-time, but Ryan Watson’s superb individual strike put Town back in front, only for Bonne to net his second and seemingly take the tie to penalties.
Northampton and Richards had other ideas, however, as the captain scored with virtually his first touch to take the Cobblers through.
It’s a welcome victory for Chris Wilder and his side who came into the tie without a win in their previous four games.
With the busy schedule in mind, Wilder chose to rest regular starters Joel Bryom, Jason Taylor, Marc Richards and Nicky Adams, but there was still no place in the squad for John-Joe O’Toole.
Paul Corry came in his for his full debut with Ryan Clarke returning to goal.
Colchester came into the game yet to win this season, and that was reflected in their start with the Cobblers needing eight minutes to break the deadlock.
The goal was created by some good work from Sam Hoskins, who got away down the left hand side of the penalty area before fizzing the ball across goal where Calvert-Lewin was able to chest into the net.
The Sheffield United loanee was lively in the early stages and shortly after his goal, he made himself some space on the edge of the area before firing a powerful efforts towards goal which Elliot Parish saved.
Northampton were firmly in the ascendency at this point, with Hoskins then putting the ball in the net following a clever dinked ball through by Lawson D’Ath, only for the offside flag to go up.
Colchester rallied and enjoyed more of the ball as the half wore on with Clarke called into action for the first time when comfortably saving low down from George Moncur’s 20-yard effort.
The Cobblers responded through Alfie Potter, whose quick feet brought a free-kick in a promising position 30 yards from goal, though Hoskins’ effort was comfortable for Parish.
It was then Calvert-Lewin’s turn to show off some neat footwork as a brilliant turn drew another foul, but again the free-kick came to nothing with D’Ath’s ball in cleared to the edge of the box where Corry scuffed an effort well wide.
Colchester then enjoyed their best spell of the match so far, and a period of pressure ended with the visitors pulling level when Bonne placed a fine header beyond the despairing dive of Clarke.
That altered the momentum of the contest with Colchester now on top and finishing the half strongly, though neither keeper was severely worked in the remaining minutes and the teams went into half-time locked at one apiece.
After a quiet start, the second half exploded into life thanks to a fabulous solo goal from Watson.
The on-loan midfielder picked the ball up in his own half, drove forward, breezed past several Colchester players and hammered a low effort into the bottom corner from 20 yards.
It was a fine way to put Northampton back in front, but the Colchester response was quick as Matthew Briggs looked to reply instantly with his own speculative effort but Clarke was never troubled as the shot sailed well over before Sammie Szmodics headed wide following a swift United counter-attack.
Bonne then found himself in space but blazed the effort high and wide.
The Cobblers were now largely on the back foot and playing on the break but they still created chances with D’Ath firing a free-kick over the wall but Parish positioned himself well to collect.
Moncur almost pulled the visitors level with two shots from distance in three minutes, first being denied by Clarke before then fizzing an effort wide, while at the other end, Hoskins capitalised on a poor back header from the visitors but his curling effort was gathered by Parish.
With less than 10 minutes remaining the Cobblers looked to be heading into the second round, but Colchester had other ideas as they drew level through a nicely-worked goal.
Moncur was the architect as he slipped through Bonne, whose excellent first touch took him away from the defence before finishing well.
That looked to have taken the tie to penalties, only for Northampton to hit straight back with a well-worked goal of their own.
It was instigated by a smart backheel from D’Ath which allowed Buchanan to get away down the left and his low ball into the box was directed towards goal by Hoskins before Richards was able to get the final touch and divert the ball home.
Though Colchester went in search of a third equaliser, Northampton this time held firm to secure their passage through.
Cobblers: Clarke, Yates (Lelan 45), Cresswell, McDonald, Buchanan (c), Corry (Taylor 73), Watson, Potter, Hoskins, D’Ath, Calvert-Lewin (Richards 81)
Subs not used: Smith, Hackett
Colchester: Parish, Garvan, Briggs, Wynter, Elokobi (c), Moncur, Kent, Szmodics, Bonne, Sembie-Ferris (Wright 61), Harriott
Subs not used: Edwards, Massey, Eastman, Barnes
Referee: Darren Deadman
Colchester fans: 111