An extra-time header from John-Joe O’Toole sent Cobblers through to round two of the EFL Cup as they upset Championship side Barnsley in an excellent cup tie at Oakwell Stadium on Tuesday.
Trailing at half-time, Northampton had to do it the hard way but that they did thanks to a tremendous and gutsy second-half performance which saw them fightback and earn their first win under Rob Page.
After an initially encouraging start, Northampton barely had a sniff throughout a cagey and largely uneventful first-half, but one lapse in concentration proved fatal and allowed Barnsley to net the only goal.
Josh Scowen was the beneficiary, heading home a free-kick on 20 minutes, to put the Championship side in front and in control at half-time.
On the evidence of the first-half, it seemed the Cobblers would need a helping hand if they were to get back into the game, and that’s exactly what they got - literally - when Barnsley’s Adam Davies dropped the ball into his own net under no pressure just six minutes into the second period.
That injected renewed belief into Northampton who had their moments in a much more even second-half as they defended with guts and determination to withstand some, at times, intense Barnsley pressure.
They clung on, though, and got their reward in extra-time when O’Toole sent a bullet header past Davies and secure Northampton’s place in Wednesday’s second round draw.
Boss Page sprung a slight surprise with his team selection by naming only one change from the side which started Saturday’s league opener, bringing in Alfie Potter for Marc Richards.
He also tinkered with his formation and played John-Joe O’Toole, Matthew Taylor and Harry Beautyman in a midfield three, and that seemed to work early on as the visitors made the more assured start.
Beautyman had an early effort blocked following a burst from midfield before Adam Davies was quick off his line to prevent Potter from latching onto a ball over the top.
But, inevitably, the Championship side grew into the game and they came closest to opening the scoring when, after a patient spell in possession, captain Conor Hourihane crashed a rasping half volley a whisker wide.
Barnsley saw more and more of the ball as the half wore on but Northampton kept their shape well and looked in little danger, until they were undone by a simple set-piece.
It came on 20 minutes when the home side won a free-kick on the left and Adam Hammill’s teasing cross was nodded in by Scowen.
That turned out to be the first-half’s only real chance of note, mainly because Barnsley kept possession with ease but their threat was blunted by Northampton, particularly the busy yet impressive Gabriel Zakuani, while the visitors struggled to build any head of steam.
The services of Zakuani were needed again early in the second-half when Adam Smith fumbled what appeared a simple catch and was indebted to the centre-back who spared his blushes by hooking clear off the line.
Smith’s mistake was almost immediately forgotten, though, thanks to an even bigger error by Barnsley goalkeeper Adam Davies.
Having barely touched the ball all game, Davies made a mess out of collecting a looping header from Zakuani, the home keeper somehow conspiring to drop the ball into his own net.
That lifted the visitors, who hadn’t threatened at all previously, and Kenji Gorre almost put them in front with a well-struck 20-yard effort that stung the palms of Davies.
But Barnsley regained their composure and only a last-ditch Aaron Phillips intervention prevented them from scoring a sneak free-kick routine before Smith beat away long-range efforts from Marley Watkins and then Hammill.
Northampton, though, were giving their hosts much more of a game since half-time as they pushed more men forward and that bore more fruit with Diamond and then O’Toole almost forced the ball home after an almighty goalmouth scramble.
As the clock ticked towards extra-time, Barnsley came closer and closer to a winning goal with Diamond making another timely interception to prevent an almost certain tap-in before Alfie Mawson blazed over from six yards out.
With both sides chasing a winner, the game became increasingly stretched going into the final minutes but only half chances were on offer and neither team could convert, meaning extra-time.
And only a few minutes of extra-time had been played when Barnsley came within an inch of retaking the lead in sensational fashion, but Stefan Payne’s blistering 30-yard effort cracked against the woodwork and behind.
Smith then had to be alert to rush off his line and block at the feet of Ryan Kent as Northampton dropped deeper and deeper in the face of increasing pressure but time and again they rebuffed anything Barnsley could conjure up.
Two chances came the way of Watkins in the second period of extra-time but despite having time and space, he shot over before then heading into the grateful arms of Smith.
But Northampton refused to lie down and they came back at their hosts with Lawson D’Ath and Hoskins having shots blocked, the latter winning a corner which would yield the game’s key moment.
Taylor whipped in a superb cross and there was that man O’Toole to rise high and send a powerful header crashing into the net.
Barnsley weren’t done there, however, and back they came through Marc Roberts, who somehow missed from just yards out, and then Watkins who had a shot blocked by some more desperate last-ditch defending.
But from then on the Cobblers were able to hold without any more scares as they booked their place in round two.
Barnsley: Davies, Bree (Yiadom 90), Roberts, Mawson, White, Hamill, Scowen, Hourihane (c), Moncur (Kent 61), Bradhsaw (Payne 81), Watkins
Subs not used: Townsend, MacDonald, Lee, Tuton
Cobblers: Smith, Phillips, Diamond, Zakuani, Buchanan (c), O’Toole, M Taylor, Beautyman (D’Ath 79), Potter (Hoskins 65), Gorre, Revell
Subs not used: Cornell, Moloney, McDonald, Byrom, Richards
Referee: Carl Boyeson
Cobblers fans: 322