Cobblers drop back into bottom four after controversial defeat at Charlton
Cobblers dropped back into the League One relegation zone with a controversial 2-1 defeat at Charlton Athletic on Tuesday.
Town constantly felt they were on the wrong end of decision after decision from referee Paul Howard at The Valley, none more so than when he awarded the hosts a second-half spot-kick.
The game had been meandering along harmlessly until that moment with both teams struggling for fluency in attack, but Conor Washington's calm penalty gave Charlton a crucial lead.
There was no way back from that for the Cobblers who looked jaded and out-of-sorts, and Washington's late second put paid to any thought of a comeback.
One of very few positives for Town arrived in stoppage-time when Alex Jones came off the bench and marked his debut with a goal, glancing a terrific header into the far corner.
Joseph Mills missed out as a precaution so Michael Harriman came in at left-back and Lloyd Jones captained the team.
Jon Brady made no other changes but his side were on the ropes in the first five minutes and had to weather a heavy early storm from the hosts.
Jayden Stockley was well-placed but directed his third-minute header too close to Jonathan Mitchell before Chris Gunter's teasing low cross evaded two red shirts in the middle.
Town managed to ride out Charlton's strong start and inch by inch worked their way back into the game.
They had their best moment a few minutes shy of the half-hour mark a well-worked move down the right culminated in Peter Kioso blazing a shot just wide of the far post.
Jason Pearce was a whisker away from heading Charlton into a lead at the other end but the first-half was not dripping with goalmouth action and the teams went into half-time on level terms.
Jake Forster-Caskey's free-kick was a yard or two wide but the second-half descended into a real scrap as Cobblers grew increasingly irate with Charlton's gamesmanship in winning lots of soft, niggly free-kicks.
And Town's frustration reached boiling point just after the hour-mark when Charlton were awarded a contentious spot-kick.
Jack Sowerby was deemed the guilty party after clashing with Forster-Caskey inside the box and Washington stepped up to beat Mitchell from 12 yards.
Mark Marshall and Danny Rose came on for the Cobblers but the visitors were unable to build up a head of steam as an attacking force.
Charlton substitute Chuks Aneke forced a decent stop from Mitchell and the home side sealed the deal with five minutes to go when Washington snapped up a rebound after Andrew Shinnie's shot was saved.
Jones then replaced Ryan Edmondson and he at least gave the visitors something to cheer when brilliantly glancing Marshall's set-piece into the top corner, but it was only ever going to be a consolation.
Charlton: Amos, Gunter, Pearce (c), Pratley, Morgan (Smith 87), Maatsen, Watson, Millar, Forster-Caskey (Shinnie 76), Washington (Schwartz 87), Stockley (Aneke 69)
Subs not used: Harness, Oshilaja, Jaiyesimi
Cobblers: Mitchell, Kioso, Horsfall, L Jones (c), Harriman, McWilliams (Rose 73), Sowerby, Watson, Miller, Hoskins (Marshall 73), Edmondson (A Jones 88)
Subs not used: Arnold, Bolger, Morris, Korboa
Referee: Paul Howard