Cobblers continued their worrying slide down the Sky Bet League One table when suffering a third straight defeat on Tuesday night as they went down 1-0 to Bradford City at a drizzly Valley Parade.
James Hanson’s 55th minute goal separated the sides but the final margin of victory could have been more reflective of a largely one-sided contest had City not squandered a hatful of chances.
The first-half ended goalless but it wasn’t without incident as Bradford, who made most of the running without creating too many scoring opportunities, saw two vehement penalty appeals turned down which sparked furious protests from the disbelieving home faithful.
But their frustration soon turned to elation when Hanson headed home 10 minutes after the restart and from thereafter the destiny of the three points was only heading in one direction despite a late rally from Northampton.
With Bradford fans paying tribute to club legend Bobby Campbell, who died at the age of 60 last week, it was an poignant evening at Valley Parade and, on the pitch, the Bantams were able to use that emotionally-charged atmosphere to their advantage when eventually turning pressure into a lead.
From sixth in the league one table two weeks ago to now 15th, the Cobblers desperately need a positive result against Bolton Wanderers on Saturday to allay growing fears.
From sixth in the league one table two weeks ago to now 15th, the Cobblers desperately need a positive result against Bolton Wanderers on Saturday to allay growing fearsJames Heneghan
Though this was far from their worst performance, it was the total lack of goal threat that should give much cause for concern, plus the fact Northampton have now failed to keep a clean sheet in any of their past 10 league games.
The headline team news saw goalkeeper Adam Smith dropped to the bench and David Cornell start between the sticks, while Rob Page also handed a first league appearance of the season to defender Rod McDonald after Lewin Nyatanga was ruled out having picked up a knock in training.
With Matty Taylor lining up on the left and Sam Hoskins playing through the middle in a 4-4-1-1, Northampton made a sprightly start and forced Colin Coyle into early action when the Bradford keeper beat away Alex Revell’s miscued half volley inside a minute.
But Bradford also settled quickly and they too carved out an early sight of goal as Mark Marshall headed wide after being picked out by Nicky Law.
Though Northampton were holding their own in an even start to the game, Bradford looked menacing, especially down their left where seemed to target Brendan Moloney as two successive crosses saw Hanson head straight at Cornell and then Haris Vuckic blaze over.
The first 30 minutes were to-and-fro, with the Cobblers working themselves into some promising positions without cutting through Bradford while the home side patiently probed for an opening against a well-drilled visiting defence.
Disaster almost struck for Northampton and Cornell just after the half-hour mark, however, when the replacement goalkeeper spilled a simple cross and in trying to get the ball back under control, appeared to bring down Hanson.
Massive penalty shouts duly followed but the referee deemed Cornell had got a touch on the ball and waved away the vehement protests.
Northampton nearly capitalised on that let-off almost immediately when Hoskins dragged a shot wide having surged clear of the home defence.
But Bradford were now asking more questions and again they came close when Josh Cullen’s low drive whistled just wide via a deflection.
Having started on an even keel, Town were finding themselves increasingly penned in as half-time approached but Bradford couldn’t provide the cutting edge with Marshall only able to hit the wall with his 25-yard free-kick.
That said, City should have had the opportunity to go into the break one up when Gabriel Zakuani’s mistimed lunge felled Marc McNulty in the penalty area but, much to the incredulity of home fans and players, the referee once again gave nothing.
That allowed the Cobblers to get into half-time on level terms but having finished the opening 45 minutes on the retreat, they needed to reassert themselves after the restart.
But with McNulty denied by Cornell, Vuckic heading narrowly wide and then Law curling off the woodwork from 20 yards, all within nine minutes of the second-half starting, it was Bradford who posed the only goal threat.
And, finally, with 55 minutes on the clock, that pressure told as some static Town defending allowed City to make the breakthrough.
Unable to clear the first two crosses, Northampton paid the price at the third time of asking when Marshall’s floated cross found a completely unmarked Hanson who had all the time in the world to simply nod his side ahead from six yards out.
Tails now up and on the hunt for more, Bradford came pouring forward and threatened several times to quickly add to their lead, Marshall going closest when his shot was blocked by Cornell.
The introduction of Marc Richards and Raheem Hanley plus a change to 4-4-2 did little to stem the Bradford tide, and the decision to withdraw Hoskins was met by boos by the restless visiting contingent.
But it almost proved a masterstroke when, within three minutes of his introduction, Hanley pounced on a defensive mix-up and passed out to Paul Anderson, whose first-time cross was met by Revell but Doyle pulled off a terrific low save.
A deep Moloney cross was then headed harmlessly wide by Richards as Northampton at least carried some sort of threat, but Bradford remained the superior team and the chances kept coming as the lively Marshall swung a free-kick wide and Moloney pulled off a goal-saving tackle.
The Cobblers did at least the ball in the net with seven minutes remaining but John-Joe O’Toole’s header was ruled out for offside and that was about all they could muster on a disappointing night.
Bradford: Doyle, Darby, Knight-Percival, Meredith, Law, Vincelot (c), Marshall, Hanson, Cullen (McArdle 87), McNulty (Hiwula 79), Vuckic (Morais 66)
Subs not used: Sattelmaier, Clarke, Devine, Kilgallon
Cobblers: Cornell, Moloney, Zakuani, McDonald, Buchanan, McCourt (Hanley 66), O’Toole, Taylor, Anderson (Potter 87), Hoskins (Richards 66), Revell
Subs not used: Smith, Phillips, Beautyman, Gorre