Cobblers dug deep to keep their remarkable unbeaten league run intact as they held Charlton Athletic to a hard-fought 1-1 draw at The Valley on Saturday afternoon.
Playing their first league game at Charlton in almost 50 years, Northampton were far from overawed by the occasion and a tactically-astute first-half display saw them go into the break leading.
Rob Page’s game plan to defend in numbers and play on the break worked to a tee and frustrated both the home side and their fans, who found themselves trailing thanks to Alex Revell’s expertly-guided header on 16 minutes.
Up against his former club, the lively Ricky Holmes was arguably Charlton’s best hope of a goal but his threat was nullified by Northampton’s back four who, like Tuesday at Barnsley, defended resolutely and kept Adam Smith’s workload to a minimum.
But Charlton began the second-half with renewed purpose and their fast start was rewarded when Johnnie Jackson finished coolly past Adam Smith.
Many might have expected the Addicks to go on and claim victory but again Northampton had to call upon all their battling qualities to withstand the home side’s pressure and ensured their unbeaten run to 26 league games.
It also means they start the season with back-to-back draws, and this one certainly goes down as a point gained given the quality of the opposition who were an established Premier League club not so long ago.
Holmes was always going to attract attention the moment he appeared on the Charlton team sheet, while Page named unchanged side from the cup win at Barnsley in midweek, but there were two notable inclusions on the bench as news signings Emmanuel Sonupe and Lewin Nyatanga both came into the matchday squad for the first time.
Neither side posed much of a threat in a cagey and tentative opening at The Valley although Holmes looked menacing and Lewis Fox shot over for Charlton, who shaded possession in the early stages without causing Northampton too many problems.
The visitors, who lined up 4-2-3-1 with Alfie Potter in the free role behind Revell, were content to keep their shape and play on the break - and that’s how the opening goal arrived on 16 minutes.
Kenji Gorre got free on the right after a spell of Northampton possession and he made room for a floated cross which was met perfectly by Revell, who brilliantly headed back across goal to wrong-foot Declan Rudd and find the bottom corner.
The goal didn’t do much to disrupt the pattern of the match, with Charlton continuing to boss possession, but it didn’t help the mood of an already frosty home crowd who were staging protests against the controversial ownership of Roland Duchâtelet.
The moans and groans only increased as the half wore on, and more could be heard when Northampton spurned a golden chance to double their lead.
Again it came from the right where this time Potter chipped in a well-directed cross which found Harry Beautyman unmarked on the penalty spot, but his header drifted agonisingly wide.
Long-range shots provided Charlton with their best chance of levelling but Smith had little do in the away goal with a simple save from Holmes’ 20-yard effort his only action of the first-half.
Much like against Barnsley in midweek, Zander Diamond and Gabriel Zakuani held firm at the back and repelled the Charlton threat to keep Northampton’s lead intact at the break.
But the Addicks came out almost a new team after half-time and played with greater urgency as they twice came close in the first five minutes.
Smith got down smartly to tip Andrew Crofts’ fizzing low effort around the post before Nicky Jose made time and space for himself after a smart turn in the penalty area, only for his drilled shot to sail a whisker wide.
A goal felt inevitable and so it was proved on 58 minutes when Charlton broke and Ajose slipped through Jackson, who took his time before placing past the onrushing Smith.
With their tails now firmly up, Athletic smelt blood and went on the hunt for an immediate second, which almost arrived when Ajose snatched at his shot from inside the penalty area.
Northampton did well to weather the Charlton onslaught before Page introduced Marc Richards and changed the shape to 4-4-2 and that allowed his side to get a foothold in the game again.
Although Charlton did most of the pressing, clear-cut chances were kept to a minimum and if anything, Northampton were the side to have the clearest opening to take all three points when Sam Hoskins teed up Potter, whose effort deflected behind.
Charlton then somehow scrambled clear the subsequent corner before a frenetic end to the game ensued as some frantic last-ditch defending kept Charlton at bay with Smith saving Ademola Lookman’s free-kick in the final minute of added time and that secured a point.
Charlton: Rudd, Solly, Konsa, Pearce, Fox, Holmes (Botaka 67), Foley (Lookman 60), Crofts, Jackson, Magennis (Novak 81), Ajose
Subs not used: Phillips, Baue, Johnson, Holmes-Dennis
Cobblers: Smith, Phillips, Diamond, Zakuani, Buchanan, O’Toole, Taylor, Beautyman (Hoskins 55), Potter, Gorre (Richards 71), Revell
Subs not used: Cornell, Moloney, Nyatanga, Byrom, Sonupe
Referee: Darren England
Cobblers fans: 1,283