Cobblers kick-started their promotion party on a dramatic afternoon at Sixfields despite surrendering a two-goal lead in a 2-2 draw with Bristol Rovers.
It appeared Northampton had blown the chance to seal their promotion on Saturday when Ellis Harrison scored with three minutes remaining to snatch a point for the Pirates but scores elsewhere, specifically Plymouth’s loss to Wimbledon, meant Cobblers will be playing League One football next season.
The confirmation of Plymouth’s defeat was met by a deafening cheer around Sixfields and a pitch invasion duly commenced as fans celebrated the club’s return to League One after six years.
It’s been a matter of when and not if for some time now, such has been their commanding position over every other League Two side, but finally the Sixfields promotion party swung into action after a typically dramatic afternoon that typified this remarkable season.
It seemed as if Northampton would seal a top three spot by beating Bristol Rovers as Nicky Adams and Sam Hoskins put them 2-0 ahead early in the second-half.
They maintained that lead until late on, but Matty Taylor and Harrison struck in the final 15 minutes to see Rovers return back to Bristol with a share of the spoils.
It mattered little, though, and it would not prevent the party from starting.
It was also fitting that promotion came against Bristol Rovers, the same opponents who kick-started the season, and on the day when 7,579 fans packed into the ground - largest ever seen at Sixfields.
It crowns a truly sensational season which as seen the club go from the brink of oblivion to running away with the League Two title - this draw their 19th successive game unbeaten.
The title will have to wait, though, as Oxford beat Crawley 5-1.
Despite the joyous scenes post-match, the afternoon had begun on a sour note with the news that skipper Marc Richards will miss the rest of the season following an operation on his Achilles, but that did at least allow Hoskins and John Marquis a deserved start.
Wilder also chose to ditch 4-4-2 and instead opt for 4-2-3-1 but his side began slowly as Rovers came out flying and enjoyed all of the early possession with Billy Bodin’s cross striking the woodwork inside 30 seconds.
The visitors oozed the confidence of a team who’ve won seven of their last eight and weren’t afraid to take the game to the league leaders as they shaded much of the opening 20 minutes despite creating little.
Of what chances there were, Tom Lockyer headed over from a corner and Brendan Moloney did well to prevent the lively Rory Gaffney from getting a clean shot away in the penalty area.
But while Rovers made most of the running, it was Northampton who struck first on 23 minutes.
After their first spell of prolonged pressure on Rovers’ goal, Cobblers worked the ball to the left where Ricky Holmes cut back onto his right foot and and his deep cross was met by Adams who ghosted in at the back post to nod beyond Steve Mildenhall.
Sixfields was sent into raptures and Cobblers visibly took confidence from going ahead as they upped their game, wrestled control of possession and worked themselves into some promising positions without really threatening Mildenhall’s goal.
Aside from Bodin’s long-range daisy-cutter which whistled narrowly wide, Rovers’ early threat had diminished and the visitors found themselves doing more defending.
They were fortunate not to be further behind at half-time, too, when John-Joe O’Toole was bundled to the ground for a free-kick 20 yards out but Holmes’ sumptuous curling effort clipped the underside of the crossbar, bounced down onto the line and Rovers somehow scrambled clear.
But that miss would soon be forgotten about just three minutes into the second-half.
Adams picked out Marquis on the right and his low cross found Hoskins who had nipped in front of his man to direct the ball into the bottom corner, sparking a second wave of jubilant scenes among the home fans at Sixfields.
Cobblers were now firmly in the ascendency and they were the side who looked likely adding to the scoreline with Hoskins shooting straight at Mildenhall after Holmes had led a break out.
From the moment they went 2-0 ahead, Northampton appeared in cruise control and they could have had more goals but Mildenhall tipped wide Adams’ fizzing header before O’Toole headed over the subsequent corner.
However, the home side began to tire with 15 minutes remaining and that only gave encouragement to Rovers who got themselves back into the game through a fine goal.
Taylor was the scorer, superbly turning home Daniel Leadbitter’s cross, and that made for a nervy finale as Rovers now sensed the chance to snatch something.
They frantically pushed more men forward as time slowly ticked away while at the other end, substitute James Collins couldn’t quite reach Holmes’ low cross which fizzed all the way across the face of goal.
Cobblers’ return to League One seemed certain but with less than three minutes remaining, Rovers struck a seemingly fatal blow as Harrison was left totally unmarked at the back post to tap in Lee Brown’s low cross.
That looked to dash any hopes of Northampton celebrating promotion this afternoon but after the game ended 2-2, news filtered through of Plymouth’s defeat, bringing a huge cheer all around Sixfields.
Cobblers: Smith, Moloney, Diamond, McDonald, Buchanan (c), O’Toole, Rose, Holmes, Adams (Collins 76), Hoskins (D’Ath 76), Marquis (Taylor 82)
Subs not used: Clarke, Prosser, Byrom, Potter
Rovers: Mildenhall, Leadbitter, Lockyear, McChrystal (c), Brown, Bodin (Easter 71), Lines, Clarke, Lawrence (Montano 56), Taylor, Gaffney (Harrison 56)
Subs not used: Puddy, Parkes, Clarke, Gosling
Referee: Tony Harrington
Rovers fans: 925