A batch of young Cobblers players came of age as an enormously understrength Northampton side were denied a priceless FA Cup win at Bradford City by a penalty shoot-out.
Town came back from being 1-0 and 2-1 down to lead 3-2 going into added time at the end of extra-time in a pulsating first-round replay at Valley Parade that ended 3-3.
It was a dramatic tie, with Will Atkinson putting the home side ahead only for Ishmel Demontagnac to cancel it out with a confident penalty after he was fouled in the box.
Nahki Wells thought he had done enough to put his team into round two with a spot-kick of his own in the final minute but Clive Platt – who was excellent throughout the contest – equalised in the second minute of injury time.
In the 111th minute, Kelvin Langmead swept in what looked like being the winner but with the final touch of the game Carl McHugh levelled with a looping header from a long throw-in.
This was the best the Cobblers have played in their trio of recent matches against Bradford, and with their weakest line-up from those three games.
Illness and unavailability meant only five substitutes were named, with one of them being Adebayo Akinfenwa, who was so unwell he travelled to the game separately from the rest of the squad.
The midfield quartet shared just a handful of senior games between them and probably a similar number of shaves – Lewis Hornby is barely out of secondary school.
It got even younger when Ivan Toney was introduced in the first minute of extra time – at 16 years and 273 days Toney breaks Aidy Mann’s record as the club’s youngest ever player.
The team’s elder statesmen of the side was Platt and he showed his experience with a good flick that caused a problem for a covering defender – Demontagnac was in close proximity and flicked a foot at the ball but it drifted wide of the target.
The Cobblers had the better of the first 15 minutes and although Bradford started to enjoy more territory and possession as the contest wore on it was Platt who had the next glimpse of goal, heading off target when well placed to meet Lewis Wilson’s cross.
Demontagnac, though, spurned a gilt-edged opportunity half an hour in. Rory McArdle stumbled on the ball, the number seven seized on it and advanced on the goal.
Jon McLaughlin, guarding it, made the early decision to come off his line and it proved the right one as Demontagnac’s eventual shot rattled against his legs.
But they were to pay for those failures when Atkinson was found in space by the giant James Hanson, the midfielder making no mistake even with the angle slightly against him.
The sparse Valley Parade crowd was on its feet for that goal and upstanding again soon afterwards, albeit in a starkly different mood.
Demontagnac embarked on a good run that took him past one player and into the box, where he was brought to ground by Ricky Ravenhill, whose touch was minimal and arguably outside the penalty area but referee Mick Russell awarded the penalty.
The ex-Walsall winger was given the 12-yard honours and a pat on the back by skipper Kelvin Langmead before smashing it home with supreme confidence.
Northampton were a force throughout the game and although not entirely reliant on the counter-attack, they did look to capitalise on errors by the home side.
One such mistake occurred early in the second half when loose possession led to a neat piece of pocket-picking by Wilson, who fed Emyr Huws only for the Manchester City teenager to screw his shot horribly wide with his weaker right foot.
Bradford, with more experience in their ranks, had the bulk of the possession and the sides exchanged good chances as Connell saw a shot blocked and Demontagnac lashed narrowly over after being expertly put in by Platt.
Huws spurned another chance with 13 minutes to play, striking wide of the mark when he was placed to do far better, this time on his favoured left side.
It was frantic stuff in the closing stages of normal time as Joe Widdowson made a block on the line from Adam Baker’s header as the home side turned up the heat.
With less than two minutes on the clock, James Meredith crossed, the ball struck Widdowson’s arm, all 2,951 supporters in the stands and 11 Bradford players on the pitch appealed and the assistant on that side flagged for a penalty.
Wells, the scourge of the Cobblers at Sixfields, then scored the penalty that looked like it would be enough to break their hearts on his own ground.
But Platt had other ideas, sweeping home a pass from unwell substitute Adebayo Akinfenwa in the second minute of added time to take the tie to an extra half an hour.
Langmead’s goal was one a 25-a-season striker would have been proud of and looked enough to secure the tie but McHugh looped a header over Shane Higgs in the game’s 121st minute to take it to penalties.
In the shoot-out, Wells saw the first kick saved by Higgs and Platt tucked his confidently away before Gary Jones restored parity with Bradford’s second.
Danny East then saw his saved, Atkinson delicately stroked his home and Langmead skied his to ensure the home side stayed ahead at that stage.
Stephen Darby was entrusted with number four and scored despite Higgs getting a strong hand on it.
Hornby had to score to keep his team in the tie and drilled it past McLaughlin but Ravenhill despatched his to send Bradford through.
It was cruel on the young Cobblers side, but you get the feeling many members of this team will be the stronger for this experience.
Bradford City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, McHugh, Meredith, Brown, Ravenhill, Atkinson, Hines, Connell, Hanson
Subs: Baker (for Hines 29mins), Jones (for Brown 64mins), Wells (for Connell 74mins)
Not used: Duke, Doyle, Bass, Swain
Cobblers: Higgs, East, Tozer, Langmead, Widdowson, Wilson, Huws, Hornby, Mukendi, Demontagnac, Platt
Subs: Akinfenwa (for Demontagnac 81mins), Toney (for Wilson, 91mins)
Not used: Snedker, Harding Charles
Cobblers fans: 111