Cobblers picked up an important away point on Saturday when they held play-off chasing Southend United to a 2-2 draw after a battling performance in an entertaining game at Roots Hall.
All four goals came in a breathless first-half that involved both teams creating chances and defending poorly, before a more cagey and low-key second saw the Cobblers dig deep to thwart their dominant hosts and cling onto a draw.
It will go down as a much-needed point too, especially as results elsewhere now mean only six points separate Northampton in 14th and Port Vale in 21st in a congested Sky Bet League One table.
With Town chasing a third win in a week, an action-packed and drama-filled first-half saw Saturday’s contest sway one way and then the other.
Twice Southend went ahead, first through Jermaine McGlashan and then Simon Cox, and twice they were pegged back with Marc Richards’ pinpoint finish and John-Joe O’Toole’s fifth goal in four games making it 2-2 at half-time.
The second was a far more scrappy, disjointed affair and though Southend made most of the running, several fine saves from Adam Smith combined with some last-ditch defending kept them at bay and allowed the visitors to chalk up what could prove a vital away point, just their second league draw since September.
Gregg Wylde came in for just his second start in Cobblers colours, replacing Keshi Anderson on the right side of midfield, but the visitors were immediately put on the back foot from kick-off.
Southend came out flying, winning several early set-pieces and creating the first opening inside 90 seconds when an unmarked Marc-Antoine Fortune headed wide of the target from eight yards out.
The Cobblers weathered that early pressure though, and instantly went close themselves through Matty Taylor’s 30-yard piledriver that whizzed a fraction wide of the post.
The visitors were seeing much of the early possession but long-range shots were the order of the day in the opening exchanges with Michael Timlin and then former Cobbler Simon Cox both trying their luck for the hosts without success.
Hiram Boateng replied with an equally wayward effort from distance before, rather out of the blue, Southend took a 20th minute lead.
The goal was well-worked but Northampton will be disappointed with their defending after allowing Ben Coker get in behind on the left side and his low cross was hammered home from close-range by McGlashan, who pounced on the loose ball after Cox was foiled.
Having held their own up until that point, Cobblers were unfortunate to find themselves behind but after responding well to United’s goal, they were back on level terms on the half-hour.
The goal came in similar fashion to the home side’s opener when Taylor’s cross from the left was only cleared as far as Richards, who curled a fine 18-yard attempt into the top corner.
That was no less than Town had merited, however they were level for a matter of moments as Southend immediately restored their lead in somewhat fortunate fashion.
Almost straight from kick-off, the home side launched an attack and though Jason Demetriou’s shot was blocked, the ball fell straight to an unmarked Cox who coolly placed his first-time effort into the bottom corner.
And Cox almost had his second within moments but this time he was thwarted by an excellent diving save from Smith.
Northampton remained very much in the game despite trailing, and they always looked a threat going forward, something which was underlined on 44 minutes when they drew level for a second time.
Much to the frustration of the home fans, the Cobblers were awarded a debatable free-kick 20 yards from goal and after Taylor’s sublime effort crashed off the post, the ball rolled across the line and there was O’Toole to force home.
That was enough to take Town into half-time all square after an action-packed half, albeit only after Smith pulled off a second terrific stop to deny Anthony Wordsworth whose free-kick appeared to be heading for the top corner.
The visitors made a strong start to the second-half and caused trouble with two early set-pieces but Zander Diamond couldn’t connect cleanly with his header before Richards’ clipped cross was just too high for O’Toole.
Southend gradually turned the tide and bossed possession in a more sedate second period without overly threatening a goal, although Diamond had to be on his guard to head away McGlashan’s dangerous cross.
The United pressure continued to build, and they were only denied by a third goal on 72 minutes by tremendous save from Smith who reacted brilliantly to tip Nile Ranger’s header over the crossbar.
The game descended into a scrappy, bitty affair the more the second-half wore on, and whilst Southend remained the more threatening side, they were struggling to beak down the away defence and also beat Smith who denied Ranger for a second time with Diamond hacking the rebound clear.
Given the Cobblers had virtually given up going for victory by this stage, it was all Southend as time ticked away and they carved out one final chance to take all three points but Theo Robinson blazed wide from barely six yards in the last notable action of the game.
Southend: Smith; Demetriou, Thompson, Ferdinand (c) (Inniss 70), Coker; McGlashan (Ranger 61), Leonard, Wordsworth, Timlin; Cox, Fortune (Robinson 61)
Subs not used: Bexon, O’Neill, Amos, Nouble
Cobblers: Smith, Eardley, Diamond, Nyatanga, Buchanan, Taylor, O’Toole, Boateng (McCourt 63), Wylde (P Anderson 63), Smith, Richards (c)
Subs not used: Cornell, Phillips, Zakuani, Beautyman, K Anderson
Referee: John Brooks
Cobblers fans: 544