Northampton Town’s six-game unbeaten run came to an end in a lively and action-packed Sky Bet League Two encounter at the Abbey Stadium on Saturday as goals from Harrison Dunk and Barry Corr saw Cambridge United to a 2-1 victory.
The Cobblers came into this game looking to end an arduous week on a high note but despite being cheered on by over 1,200 noisy travelling fans, they were unable to do so.
Dunk struck first, firing a low effort into the bottom corner shortly before half-time, and Corr then doubled United’s advantage when slotting into an empty net soon after the restart.
The Cobblers replied almost immediately as Marc Richards powered home a spot-kick but Lawson D’Ath then saw red for a cynical lunge on Dunk and that signalled the end of Northampton’s hopes despite their best efforts, capping off a thoroughly miserable week for the club.
The away following were in fine voice from the first whistle and their side responded by making a lively start with Sam Hoskins almost getting through on goal before a Nicky Adams cross momentarily caused uncertainty in the home penalty area but United managed to scramble clear.
But despite the away side’s bright start, it was Cambridge who carved out the first clear-cut chance of the game on 10 minutes when Ryan Donaldson whipped in a devilish cross and Robbie Simpson looked certain to score, but his close-range header was somehow kept out by a superb reaction stop by Adam Smith.
Northampton responded immediately and had their own gilt-edged opportunity to score within seconds as they broke, Marc Richards slipped through Hoskins but the forward was unable to beat Sam Beasant, who saved well with his legs.
The two sides were matching each other stride-for-stride in an entertaining first half which swung from one end to the other with Adams firing over from 25 yards following neat interplay between Richards and Lawson D’Ath, before Simpson turned sharply and shot from a similar distance but Smith tipped over.
As has often been the case this season, Northampton enjoyed plenty of possession and strung together some well-worked moves, but first Hoskins and then Richards were unable to profit as they strayed offside at the crucial moment.
And just as it seemed Northampton were wrestling control, Cambridge went up the other end and made the breakthrough.
Dunk received the ball on halfway and with space opening up in front of him, he marauded forward to the edge of the penalty area where he let fly and rifled a fine low effort into the bottom corner, beyond the reach of Smith.
The Cobblers responded well, though the only opportunity they were able to fashion fell to Hoskins, whose sharp turn created space in the penalty area but he couldn’t get enough power on the shot and Beasant comfortably held on.
Cambridge then ended the half on top and had a couple of half-chances to increase their lead, but Northampton held on and remained just a goal behind at the break.
Much like the first, Northampton made a bright start to the second half as Adams and Hoskins looked threatening, but again the visitors were undone by the sucker-punch.
Looking to push forward, the Cobblers were caught short at the back and Greg Taylor capitalised on space behind the defence as he sprinted to the byline on the right before pulling back a low cross that was tapped home by an unmarked Corr.
That seemed to put the game to bed but despite now trailing 2-0, Northampton were far from out of the game as they responded by launching a lengthy spell of pressure on the home goal.
And they came so close to pulling one back when a goalmouth scramble from a corner saw Corr knee the ball into his own post.
No matter, the Cobblers halved the deficit within seconds of that near miss as substitute Dominic Calvert-Lewin was felled in the penalty area by Alie Sesay and Richards slammed home the resulting penalty, giving Beasant no chance.
That gave the game a new lease of life and suddenly Northampton were right back in with a shout, although they were indebted to Smith who raced off his line to claim the ball when Cambridge had three on two after breaking from a Cobblers corner.
The second half was being played at frantic pace with the Cobblers piling forward in search of an equaliser but they were guilty of over-committing, making for a frenetic spell of play as Cambridge continued to threaten on the counter-attack and once again they squandered a golden chance to put the game to bed as Smith turned Liam Hughes’ scooped effort wide.
The visitors’ task was then made harder by the dismissal of D’Ath, who seemed harshly sent off for a cynical challenge on Dunk when the Cambridge man looked to lead a counter-attack.
Northampton’s endeavour could not be faulted as Cresswell had a header cleared from underneath the crossbar and David Buchanan fizzed a low shot into the arms of Beasant.
Inevitably, there was now even more space for Cambridge to take advantage on the break with Corr heading at Smith before Dunk was also thwarted in another excellent goalkeeping display by Smith.
Five minutes of time added on raised a glimmer of hope but John-Joe O’Toole’s long-range effort that whizzed inches wide was the only chance Northampton could muster as a distressing week for the club was ended by the final whistle moments later.
Cambridge: Beasant, Taylor, Taft, Sesay, Demetriou, Donaldson, L Hughes, J Hughes, Dunk (Newton 86), Simpson (Berry 86), Corr (c)
Subs not used: Omozusi, Slew, Morrissey, Gaffney, Burns
Cobblers: Smith, Furlong (Hackett 87), Brisley, Cresswell, Buchanan, D’Ath, Byrom, O’Toole, Adams, Hoskins (Calvert-Lewin 51), Richards (c)
Subs not used: Clarke, Lelan, Diamond, Taylor, Watson
Referee: Darren England