Northampton Town returned to winning ways in the most comprehensive fashion on Saturday afternoon when a brace from John-Joe O’Toole helped the Cobblers ease to a 4-1 victory over play-off chasing Carlisle United at Brunton Park.
Northampton had come into this game on the back of successive draws following that record-breaking 10-game winning run but this was yet another indication of their superiority over the rest of League Two as they cruised to an emphatic three points.
The first half provided plenty of entertainment in a game that saw two teams show plenty of willingness to attack which, in turn, left space for the other to exploit.
Northampton were the more ruthless as John Marquis and then O’Toole both found the net in an excellent away performance from the league leaders.
Carlisle created their fair share of chances and they finally took one straight after the restart when Hallam Hope hammered home but that was to provide only false hope for the home fans.
Instead of going into their shell, Cobblers just attacked with greater urgency as O’Toole bagged his second of the afternoon before James Collins rounded off a superb afternoon by lashing into the bottom corner following a well-worked move.
It could have been more than four but that would have to do as Northampton edged three points closer to both the League Two title and promotion and became the first away team to win at Brunton Park since October.
The Cobblers are now 21 points clear of fourth and 13 ahead of second.
Town boss Chris Wilder again rotated his starting XI for the trip up north as Marquis andMartin came in for Lawson D’Ath and Nicky Adams.
He also opted to go back to 4-4-2 and an open start saw both teams create early chances, first Derek Asamoah seizing on a mistake from O’Toole before dragging a shot wide and that was followed by James Collins latching onto a long ball but his effort was tipped wide by Mark Gillespie.
Gillespie also had to save from Zander Diamond while a dangerous cross from Danny Grainger was almost turned home by Michael Raynes but Diamond’s intervention was timely.
Carlisle then almost capitalised on some hesitant Northampton defending as Asamoah had the ball in the net but the goal was ruled out for offside.
As it was, Carlisle were the ones who paid for poor defending as they left Marquis totally unmarked inside the penalty when the Millwall man nodded home Martin’s inch-perfect cross on 16 minutes to put Northampton in front.
Carlisle should have been level instantly but Jason Kennedy volleyed wide from just yards out before Jabo Ibehre could only find the side-netting from Grainger’s low cross.
The game remained open as both sides enjoyed plenty of space when they ventured forward, although Northampton then enjoyed a sustained spell of pressure around the half-hour mark.
The visitors kept the ball well, moving it from side-to-side as they patiently probed for an opening while pinning Carlisle back inside their own half, and the second goal duly arrived on 32 minutes.
A Joel Byrom free-kick was only partially cleared and David Buchanan’s cross-shot deflected into the path of O’Toole, whose shot took another deflection to wrong-foot a stranded Gillespie who could only watch as the ball squirmed into the net.
Although Northampton oozed confidence and remained the superior side – Marquis firing over when well-placed a good example of their attacking threat – Carlisle were continuing to create chances at the other end with Luke Joyce and Asamoah both off target.
Cobblers maintained their advantage through to half-time but it was halved within seconds of the restart as Hope, who had just come on, turned home Ibehre’s cross.
That gave the home side renewed belief and, urged on by the crowd, they pressed hard for the equaliser against a Northampton side who had struggled to rediscover their first-half dominance.
Asamoah found the side-netting before a frantic passage of play first saw Martin denied by Gillespie before Diamond’s inch-perfect tackle prevented Carlisle from scoring after breaking forward.
Northampton had regained an element of control since Carlisle’s goal, and they scored a crucial third goal on the hour-mark when O’Toole got the faintest of touches onto Ricky Holmes’ cross, with the ball beating Gillespie and nestling into the bottom corner.
That calmed the visitors down again and they proceeded to have a lengthy spell of possession during which Byrom sent a piledriver inches wide before Gillespie saved one-on-one from Marquis.
A fourth goal would not be long in coming, though, and it was wonderfully-worked when it arrived.
After breaking out from defence, the ball was worked across to the right where substitute Lawson D’Ath fed it back inside to Holmes, via a Moloney dummy, and the winger slipped through Collins with an inch-perfect through ball, with the striker firing into the bottom corner first-time.
There was still time left for Adam Smith to pull off a brilliant reaction save from a header, with Kennedy firing the rebound onto the crossbar, but the hosts had been thoroughly outplayed and succumbed to defeat.
Carlisle: Gillespie, Atkinson, Raynes, Ellis, Grainger, Gilliead, Joyce (McQueen 45), Kennedy, Hery (Hope 45), Asamoah, Ibehre
Subs not used: Bacon, Archibald-Henville, Rigg, Thompson, Gillesphey
Cobblers: Smith, Moloney, Diamond, Prosser, Buchanan (c), Holmes (Taylor 90), O’Toole, Byrom, Martin (D’Ath 72), Collins, Marquis (Hoskins 86)
Subs not used: Clarke, Cresswell, Taylor, Rose, Adams
Referee: David Coote
Cobblers fans: 457