Battling Cobblers' FA Cup run comes to an end as Derby County prove too strong in replay
Cobblers will not have their dream FA Cup date with Manchester United after going down to a valiant but deserved defeat at the hands of Derby County in Tuesday's fourth round replay at Pride Park.
This was Town's first defeat in any competition since Boxing Day but there was certainly no shame in losing to a high-class Championship outfit, whose side on the night contained the likes of Wayne Rooney and Jack Marriott.
After a promising opening burst by Town, the Rams illustrated their quality with a dominant 10-minute spell midway through the first-half during which goals from Andre Wisdom and Duane Holmes took the tie away from their visitors.
Keith Curle's men showed great spirit and defiance though and refused to go away lying down, pulling one back through Nicky Adams early in the second-half and giving County several scares at the back.
But ultimately Derby's class told and they eased into the next round thanks to a header from Marriott and Rooney's late spot-kick, with Sam Hoskins' even later penalty nothing more than a consolation.
Cobblers, who had close to 4,5000 terrific fans cheering them on at Pride Park, were by no means disgraced and came away with their heads held high, but the focus will now switch to the league and winning promotion.
Keith Curle was without his four January signings but Scott Wharton and Michael Harriman returned from suspension and injury respectively while Paul Anderson and Andy Williams were also back in the side.
Cobblers were certainly not daunted by the occasion and, roared on by superb travelling support, they settled nicely into proceedings, even having the first couple of efforts with Williams shooting wide and Chris Lines blazing over.
Marriott was a livewire in attack for Derby and he was not too far wide on the turn, while Wales international Tom Lawrence had County's first shot on target across the two games after a total of 106 minutes, though it was an easy one for David Cornell.
The Rams were just starting to go through the gears, however, and they carved out two excellent openings in the space of a few minutes as Harriman was forced into a brilliant last-ditch tackle on Chris Martin before Cornell smothered from Marriott.
But Derby continued to turn the screw and the deadlock was broken just short of the half-hour mark.
A Rooney corner into the box was sent spiralling into the air and with Cornell unable to get any distance on his punch, Wisdom was on hand to fire home from close range.
Cobblers could have done without conceding again before half-time if they were to maintain any realistic hope of progressing, however they were powerless to stop Holmes from doubling the lead when, on 37 minutes, he found his way through on goal and calmly slotted past Cornell.
Town managed to see out the rest of the half without conceding again and within two minutes of the second period restarting, they were given a lifeline.
Wharton was the architect when he beat two men inside his own half and sent a long ball downfield to Anderson, whose cross was met right on cue by the onrushing Adams
But no sooner had Town given themselves hope than it was snatched away.
Just four minutes later, County caught their visitors on the break and Martin stood up to the back post where Marriott headed in despite the valiant efforts of Cornell.
It was now a damage limitation exercise for the Cobblers although they were nearly given hope again as substitute Joe Martin's cross deflected kindly for Hoskins but his shot cannoned off a defender and flew over.
Derby eased off in the final 20 minutes but remained a threat on the break and it was from one such counter-attack that they killed off the tie once and for all with 14 minutes to go.
Lawrence was brought down by Wharton in the box and Rooney slammed in the subsequent spot-kick.
There was another late consolation for the Cobblers, who gave the scoreline a more respectable and accurate look when Williams was fouled in the penalty area and Hoskins drilled into the bottom corner.
But that came with only six minutes to go and by then Derby's place in the next round was secure as they saw out the final few minutes with little alarm, though Hoskins did force Kelle Roos into a decent stop with the game's final act.
Derby: Roos, Wisdom, Davies, Clarke, Shinnie, Lawrence, Malone, Holmes (Knight 70), Rooney (c), Martin (Waghorn 84), Marriott (Sibley 77)
Subs not used: Ravas, Forsyth, Bird, Bogle
Cobblers: Cornell, Harriman, Goode, Wharton, Watson, Lines (Pollock 59), Adams (Martin 61), Hoskins, Anderson, Williams, Oliver (Warburton 45)
Subs not used: Arnold, Hall-Johnson, Roberts, Chukwuemeka
Referee: David Webb
Cobblers fans: 4,442