Two goals in the final three minutes saw Northampton Town and Leyton Orient share the spoils after a highly-dramatic and pulsating finish at Sixfields this afternoon.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin looked to have snatched all three points for the Cobblers when he headed home Nicky Adams’ corner three minutes into stoppage time, but Dean Cox had other ideas as the Orient midfielder stepped up and planted an exquisite free-kick into the top corner in the final minute of added time to break Northampton hearts.
Previous to that, it had all been about Cobblers keeper Adam Smith who had been in sensational form to repeatedly thwart the league leaders.
After a forgettable opening 45 minutes in which neither goalkeeper had a save to make, Smith pulled off a string of superb stops to keep Orient at bay.
Two saves in three minutes from Ollie Palmer were the pick as Smith produced his best display of an already excellent debut season at Sixfields having signed for the club in the summer.
It appeared Smith’s heroics would earn his side a point but, three minutes into added time, Calvert-Lewin sent Sixfields wild, only for Cox to have the final say.
A point was the least Orient had deserved and the visitors will wonder how they failed to walk away with all three points having dominated large periods of the game, although as it was, they were thankful for just the solitary point following Calvert-Lewin’s late strike.
Chris Wilder’s problems began before the game had even kicked off with the news that Paul Corry will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury, while Ryan Cresswell also picked up a knee issue in training which kept him out of today’s game.
The return of Zander Diamond was a boost, though, and he partnered Shaun Brisley at centre-back, while Calvert-Lewin kept his place up front with Marc Richards on the bench where he was joined by Evan Horwood, who featured in the matchday squad for the first time this season.
After Northampton had initially started well, it was Orient who first came close to scoring when former Arsenal man Jay Simpson headed over Sean Clohessy’s cross.
The visitors enjoyed most of the early possession and looked the more threatening without causing Town too many problems, although Northampton also had their moments at the other end but a lack of end product saw several promising attacking situations come to nothing as both goalkeepers remained untested.
Simpson was lively for the O’s and again he almost broke the deadlock with an acrobatic effort that whizzed inches over Smith’s crossbar.
Having been on the back foot for most of the first period, Northampton almost snatched a half-time lead when Adams whipped in an enticing free-kick which was headed just wide by Diamond.
Wilder’s injury worries deepened at the break with David Buchanan taken off for John-Joe O’Toole after the left-back had picked up a knock near the end of the half.
The first five minutes of the second half then witnessed more action than almost the entire opening 45 minutes as both teams went close to scoring.
First, Calvert-Lewin got behind the Orient defence and rounded Alex Cisak but the angle was too acute and he was unable to get a shot away.
The visitors then broke and Simpson was set away on goal but Brisley recovered well to get in a vital challenge.
That signalled the start of an utterly dominant spell from Orient as they cranked up the pressure on the home goal.
However, try as they might, the O’s were constantly thwarted by Smith as
the Cobblers keeper denied Palmer with two brilliant twice in three minutes, first saving at the far post before getting down superbly to somehow claw the ball away from goal and behind a corner.
Orient continued the bombardment as substitute O’Toole scrambled clear in the penalty area before Brisley blocked Simspon’s goal-bound effort after the striker swivelled and fired towards goal.
The Cobblers survived that onslaught and had somehow come through unscathed, although it had prompted Wilder to make a double substitution with Richards and Alfie Potter entering the fray.
Those changes failed to have the desired impact, however, with the game quickly turning into a private battle between Orient and Smith, with the home stopper pulling off another fabulous save when it looked for all the world that Baudry would make it 1-0.
Simspon was next to be frustrated as he was denied by Smith on two separate occasions inside as many minutes for an increasingly dominant Orient side.
Northampton then almost delivered the ultimate sucker-punch when, after a rare foray into Orient territory, Potter was found himself through on goal but, from a tight angle, his shot was well saved by Cisak.
That was largely against the run of play, however, as Jack Payne was the latest to see an effort saved by Smith.
An injury to Orient’s Paul McCallum then brought a lengthy delay and the game appeared to be heading for a goalless draw before a frenetic and spectacular finale.
Six minutes of added time were indicated and with half of those gone, Calvert-Lewin rose highest to slam a header in off the crossbar and spark scenes of jubilation among players and supporters around Sixfields.
Those celebrations were premature, however, as Orient won a controversial free-kick 30 yards from goal and Cox stepped up to plant a stunning effort right into the top corner.
It was a cruel end for Northampton but a point at least extends their unbeaten run to three games.
Cobblers: Smith, Furlong, Brisley, Lelan, Buchanan (O’Toole 45), D’Ath (Potter 57), Watson, Byrom, Adams, Hoskins (Richards 57), Calvert-Lewin
Subs not used: Clarke, Lelan, Hackett, Horwood
Orient: Cisak, Clohessy, Baudry, Essam, Shaw, Payne, Pritchard, Moore (Turgott 67), Cox, Palmer (McCallum 77) (Kashket 87), Simpson
Subs not used: Grainge, Dunne, James, Moncur
Referee: Michael Bull
Orient fans: 800