Cobblers almost produced the perfect away performance at the Macron on Saturday but after a valiant effort, they were undone by two goals in six second-half minutes as Bolton Wanderers came from behind to win 2-1 on rain-soaked afternoon in Greater Manchester.
For almost an hour, Northampton had more than matched their promotion-chasing hosts and when Michael Smith volleyed them ahead on 56 minutes, it didn’t necessarily come against the run of play.
But that goal only sparked Bolton into life and they came roaring back with a wave after wave of attack and with Northampton dropping deeper and deeper, their equaliser was inevitable.
Adam Le Fondre scored it, hammering home from the spot after Matty Taylor’s handball, and only six further minutes had passed when Filipe Morais blasted in their second.
Town had eight minutes to salvage something, and it seemed like they did nick a point when John-Joe O’Toole scored from close-range in the fifth minute of added time, only for the linesman to belatedly raise his flag.
Northampton remain 14th despite the defeat and though they lost, this was another encouraging step forward for Justin Edinburgh’s men.
Bolton had scored four goals in each their previous two matches coming into this one but they were blunted by a determined defensive effort from Northampton, particularly in the first-half.
Not only that, the Cobblers also went closest to taking a lead into half-time when Zander Diamond headed against the woodwork before Smith did give them the lead shortly after the restart, only for Bolton to turn it around.
Edinburgh made just one change from the team that beat Port Vale in midweek, recalling Jak McCourt to midfield for his first start since before Christmas.
Keshi Anderson dropped to the bench and therefore missed out on a start against his former club, and once action got under way at the Macron, both sides struggled to adapt in the sodden conditions as the rain continued to thunder down.
Bolton edged what openings there were, Matty Taylor having to block Josh Vela’s effort and then Darren Pratley shooting wide, but they were half chances at best as Cobblers dug their heels in and saw out the first 20 minutes without cause for alarm.
Forays into the Bolton half were limited for the visitors but Northampton came within an inch or two of hitting the front just short of the midway point of the first-half when Diamond’s looping header from Taylor’s corner clipped the underside of the crossbar and was then hacked away.
Adam Smith showed good handling in the slippery conditions to collect Gary Madine’s tame effort but again that was nothing more than a speculative effort before the Cobblers went close again.
A tidy move ended with Marc Richards volleying David Buchanan’s deep cross back into the path of Michael Smith, whose first-time shot deflected over the crossbar.
Having been kept at arm’s-length by the visitors for most of the first-half, the Trotters were able to apply sustained period of pressure in moments leading up to half-time as Taylor hacked away off the line and Luke Williams got in a vital block to deservedly take Northampton into the break on level terms.
Bolton’s frustration filtered into the first few minutes of the second-half, and they only grew further on 52 minutes when David Wheather toe-poked straight at Smith after wriggling free from a set-piece.
That was the clearest sight of goal the hosts had managed up until that point, but just as they were hoping to build some momentum, they were hit by the sucker-punch.
After winning a free-kick wide on the left, Taylor swung in an inciting delivery and Smith was left unmarked to calmly volley beyond Ben Alnwick and into the top corner.
That gave Northampton a precious but not completely undeserved lead, although Bolton almost levelled immediately when Dorian Devite planted his free header a whisker over Smith’s crossbar.
Town’s goal appeared to have woken Bolton from their slumbers and playing with more urgency and desperation, they again were oh-so close to equalising when Madine sent Le Fondre through on goal but, after skipping past David Buchanan, Smith produced a superb save to tip the striker’s shot wide.
The Bolton pressure became relentless and, finally, after having several earlier shouts for a penalty turned down, Wanderers eventually got their chance from the spot following a chaotic period of play.
Smith blocked well from close-range and the hosts had two penalty appears waved away before Taylor’s apparent handball prompted referee Richard Clark, who had to repeatedly turn down shouts all afternoon from the home fans and players to point to the spot.
The in-form Le Fondre made no mistake, emphatically hammering home from 12 yards to level proceedings with 15 minutes to go.
And not content with just a point, Wanderers now had their tails up and almost took the lead two minutes later but Smith produced another excellent stop, brilliantly tipping over Pratley’s header.
The Bolton pressure would not relent though, and when their winner arrived on 82 minutes, it came as little surprise to anyone inside the Macron.
The Cobblers had defended valiantly but they allowed Andrew Taylor time and space to fire in a low cross and Morais came rushing in at the back post to rifle home via a deflection.
Northampton tried to mount a late rally and they had chances to get the ball in the box through several free-kicks and corners but it would not fall kindly for them.
There was time for a moment of drama, however, when, with the final kick of the game in the last of five added minutes, O’Toole scored from close-range after Taylor’s cross, sparking wild celebrations, only for the linesman to raise his flag and dash any hopes of a Cobblers equaliser.
Bolton: Alnwick, Dervite, Wheater, Beevers, Morais, Vela, Osede (Spearing 79), Pratley (c), Taylor; Madine, Le Fondre
Subs not sued: Howard, Moxey, Karacan, Long, Clayton, Henry
Cobblers: Smith, Phillips (Moloney 87), Diamond, Nyatanga, Buchanan, McCourt (P Anderson 76), Taylor, O’Toole, Williams, Richards (c), Smith (K Anderson 82)
Subs not used: Cornell, McDonald, Beautyman, Wylde
Referee: Richard Clark
Cobblers fans: 872