Cobblers survived more than 50 minutes with 10 men to beat Oldham Athletic 2-1 and claim their fourth victory from five games in all competitions as their resurgence under Keith Curle gathered pace.
On a wet and miserable day at the PTS Academy Stadium, both teams were hampered by a truly atrocious refereeing performance but, nevertheless, all three points went to the Cobblers, who defended superbly in a real backs-to-the-wall second-half display.
A low-key opening period exploded into life in the last 10 minutes when John-Joe O’Toole headed the Cobblers in front before Sam Foley was controversially sent off for a late challenge on Oldham’s Christopher Missilou.
Referee Charles Breakspear, who became something of a pantomime figure with his series of baffling decisions, then struck again within three minutes, awarding Town a penalty for reasons only known to himself, though Kevin van Veen kept his composure to convert from 12 yards.
Foley’s red was the sixth time in the last four Town home games reffed by Breakspear that he has sent a player off, and it meant the second-half was always going to be a tension-riddled slog, especially when Robert Hunt pulled one back with 19 minutes to go.
Town displayed tremendous resilience and determination though and despite all their pressure, Oldham failed to seriously test goalkeeper David Cornell and Cobblers held on for their fourth win in seven games unde Curle, moving them eight points clear of the bottom two.
Curle stuck with the same shape from Tuesday’s big win at Macclesfield but made two personnel changes as van Veen and Sam Hoskins came in up front for Daniel Powell and Andy Williams.
Cobblers struggled to put their foot on the ball in an opening 10 minutes that were utterly dominated by the visitors, who saw a penalty shout turned down and Mohammed Maouche shoot into the midriff of Jordan Turnbull.
Persistent rain and cold temperatures made for tricky conditions but that did not excuse such a low-quality opening half-hour which was bereft of any real goalmouth action at either end, bar harmless long-range shots from Gevaro Nepomuceno and O’Toole.
Just when the game looked to be meandering towards a goalless first-half, it all kicked off in the final nine minutes.
Town’s scrappy opener was in keeping with the game itself but that was of no concern to scorer O’Toole as he got between two defenders and headed van Veen’s header back across goal into the bottom corner, squirming just beyond Daniel Iversen.
The home side’s delight at taking the lead was tempered almost immediately though when, six minutes later, Foley was harshly sent off for a late lunge on Missilou with referee Breakspear curiously deeming the challenge to be reckless.
Breakspear struck again just before half-time and this time his intervention was to the benefit of the Cobblers, pointing to the spot seemingly for handball from David Buchanan’s free-kick and van Veen calmly converted, sending Iversen the wrong way.
That gave Town a 2-0 half-time lead but, down a man, they were far from home and dry going into the second 45 minutes.
Curle moved things around at the break as Hakeem Odoffin replaced Jack Bridge and played at right-back, moving Shaun McWilliams into midfield with Hoskins going to the right wing.
It was to no one’s surprise that Oldham had all of the ball once play resumed although the first chance of the half went to Matt Crooks, who chipped over Iversen but just wide of the far post following a swift Cobblers breakaway.
With Town regularly putting 10 men behind the ball, the onus was on Oldham to break them down but Buchanan’s terrific block ensured David Cornell remained untested as the clock ticked past an hour.
The game was now almost exclusively being played in Northampton’s half and Oldham’s pressure paid off with 19 minutes to go when Hunt somehow poked the ball over the line from an almighty goalmouth scramble.
That set up a nervy and frantic finale but though Oldam’s onslaught only increased, the home side defended resolutely to keep their visitors at bay.
A heroic defensive block denied Crooks in an exceptionally rare attack at the other end before six minutes of stoppage-time raised tensions levels, however Town’s defence stood firm to withstand the barrage and claim three points.
Cobblers: Cornell, McWilliams, Turnbull, Pierre, Buchanan (c), Crooks, Foley, O’Toole, Bridge (Odoffin 45), Hoskins, van Veen (Powell 84)
Subs not used: Ward, Jay Williams, Whaler, Williams, Waters
Oldham: Iverson, Edmundson, Gardner (Baxter 45), O’Grady (Miller 45), Missilou, Lang, Hunt, Clarke (c), Nepomuceno (Benteke 69), Maouche, Hamer
Subs not used: Taylor, Graham, Branger, McFarlane
Referee: Charles Breakspear
Oldham fans: 351