The Cobblers’ Johnstone’s Paint Trophy campaign was brought to a shuddering half by an in-form Leyton Orient side who scored three second-half goals without reply to settle their third-round meeting.
The class of Orient, who won 3-0 at a freezing Sixfields, told in a game that exposed the limitations of a number of Northampton players and highlighted an absence of depth within the squad.
The visitors looked a level above in every deparetment and negated both Town’s counter-attack and their trademark long throw and took their chances with a clinical ruthlessness.
Despite pre-match assurances from manager Aidy Boothroyd that he would select his strongest side, there was still space for a couple of players from the ‘fringe’ category.
Jake Robinson probably still includes himself in that, even though his starting credentials are improving with each week, and he tested visiting keeper Jamie Jones with a drifting header in the game’s first meaningful action.
Moments later, Clive Platt won a header in a key area, Louis Moult intelligently allowed the ball to run across him and onto his left side, from which he unleashed a shot that Matthieu Baldry slid across to block.
Robinson struck a snap shot on the volley after a Ben Tozer throw found its way to the back post with five minutes of the half remaining, but Jones produced a fine diving save to keep the effort out.
Ishmel Demontagnac then picked a perfect pass for Moult to run square off his wing but on this occasion he failed to lift the ball over Jones, who made an early decision to leave his line, and it proved the correct one.
Ten minutes into the second half, though, Orient took the lead, David Mooney scoring at the second attempt after his initial shot had been blocked on the line by Tozer.
There was a response, Platt muscling a position for Moult to fire over on the run and Emyr Huws saw a shot saved by the keeper’s feet at the end of a purposeful dribble.
But it was all in vain, as a poor Ben Harding pass gifted Orient possession, they broke at pace down the right and the ball was eventually worked to Mooney, who headed in at the back post on 65 minutes.
It got worse for the home side when Moses Odubajo, who had played a key role in both the first two goals, drove a cross that hit Joe Widdowson’s arm to give Orient a chance for a third from the spot.
Michael Symes, on as a substitute, confidently rolled the spot-kick home to take the wind out of the sails of a Town side who had just introduced big hitters Adebayo Akinfenwa and Chris Hackett from the bench in a bid to salvage the match.
Cobblers: Nicholls, East, Tozer, Langmead, Widdowson, Robinson, Huws, Harding, Demontagnac, Moult, Platt
Subs: Akinfenwa (for Moult 69), Hackett (for Robinson 69), Mukendi (for Demontagnac 78)
Not used: Snedker, Hornby
Orient: Jones, McSweeney, Cuthbert, Baudry, Sawyer, Cox, Griffith, James, Odubajo, Mooney, Brunt
Subs: J Smith (for Griffith 50), Symes (for Mooney 66), A Smith (for James 83)
Not used: Allsop, Obafemi
Away fans: 162