Bolton Wanderers inflicted a fourth straight league defeat on the Cobblers who produced a battling, gritty performance at Sixfields on Saturday but were ultimately beaten by Zach Clough’s well-taken first-half goal that decided an entertaining contest.
Up against one of the promotion favourites and a team who’ve won seven of their last eight games, Northampton were the better side for large periods and dominated much of the second-half but time and again the finishing touch or final pass eluded them.
After an relatively even and equally enjoyable opening 45 minutes during which both teams threatened, Bolton gradually clicked into gear and improved to the extent that they just about deserved the half-time lead given to them by Clough’s cool finish.
But the second period was all one-way traffic as Town piled on the pressure and came close several times, including having a goal controversially ruled out for offside, however it wasn’t to be as Rob Page’s men suffered a fourth successive league defeat and a third 1-0 loss in the space of eight days to drop to 16th in Sky Bet League One.
Facing a team who’ve conceded a miserly 12 goals in 19 games this season, Northampton couldn’t afford to fall behind first, and Clough’s goal turned out to be enough give Bolton victory, albeit only after being pushed all the way.
The result also meant that, for the ninth time this season, Northampton failed to turn a deficit into victory, something which will need to be addressed sooner rather than later if Page and his team are to reverse the current trend of results.
Page made three changes to the team which lost at Bradford City, two of chose coming in defence as fit-again Lewin Nyatanga replaced Rod McDonald while Aaron Phillips started at right-back in place of the injured Brendan Moloney.
There was also a recall for winger Kenji Gorre, his first league start in two months, with John-Joe O’Toole dropping to the bench.
That meant Matty Talyor moved back into central midfield and Sam Hoskins played in the free role, and set up in a 4-3-3, Northampton made a promising and purposeful start against one of the hot favourites for promotion with David Buchanan hooking an early volley straight at Ben Alnwick.
Sammy Ameobi twice connected cleanly with rasping shots for Bolton but, in between those efforts, the Cobblers were inches from making the breakthrough when Taylor clattered the post after being teed up by Gorre who had shown some fancy footwork on the left.
Both sides had their moments without forcing either goalkeeper into drastic action in an enjoyable and lively first-half as Hoskins blocked well at one end before driving a shot too close to Alwnick at the other
Bolton’s strength and aerial threat was evident all over the pitch and with the impressive Clough and Ameobi continually finding pockets of space, the visitors looked capable of scoring at any minute.
And so it proved. Those two combined for the opening goal on 25 minutes when clever movement from Clough saw him spin Gabriel Zakuani and race through on goal where he latched onto Ameobi’s neat threaded pass before coolly steering beyond the onrushing David Cornell.
Bolton ominously came forward again through the same dangerous duo Clough and Ameobi, while Northampton’s attempts at getting themselves back into the game were snuffed out by the away side’s resilient rearguard.
Jak McCourt and Taylor both sent ambitious long-range efforts sailing over the crossbar, but the Cobblers were oh so close to levelling with the last action of the half when, from a sweeping counter-attack, Alex Revell was unable to reach McCourt’s low cross.
Northampton had by no means been outplayed in the first-half and they continued to hold their own after the break but the final touch remained elusive, highlighted when Buchanan’s teasing cross evaded everyone.
The introduction of Marc Richards and John-Joe O’Toole prompted a change of shape to 4-4-2, and that seemed to give Northampton an extra edge up front as they applied sustained pressure.
The Trotters were forced into some last-ditch defending to clear several dangerous balls into the box, and the home side’s pressure almost told when O’Toole poked in from close-range after Paul Anderson and Richards had both been denied by Alnwick, only for a contentious offside flag to be raised.
The Cobblers huffed and puffed and threw everything at their visitors but Bolton showed why they have the league’s meanest defence by heading and clearing most of what came their way.
Five minutes of stoppage time gave further encouragement to the home fans as Alnwick denied Taylor at his near post but despite continuing to push, there was to be no equaliser and Northampton slumped to another defeat.
Cobblers: Cornell, Phillips, Zakuani, Nyatanga, Buchanan (c), McCourt (O’Toole 54), Taylor, Hoskins, Anderson (Potter 75), Gorre (Richards 54), Revell
Subs not used: Smith, McDonald, Hanley, Beautyman
Bolton: Alnwick, Wilson, Derik, Beevers, A Taylor, Thorpe, Spearing (c), Ameobi (Henry 71), Vela, Clough (C Taylor 87), Madine (Procter 81)
Subs not used: Buxton, Moxley, Anderson, Turner
Referee: Darren Deadman
Bolton fans: 1,264