Cobblers suffer promotion setback as Crawley clinch Sixfields victory
Cobblers' promotion hopes were dealt another blow when they were beaten 1-0 by Crawley Town in a frustrating contest at Sixfields on Saturday.
A flat first-half display was followed by a wasteful second from Town whose five-game winning run at home came to a disappointing end, dropping them to third in Sky Bet League Two.
Cobblers struggled desperately in a poor first 45 minutes and their passive, lack-lustre performance was punished when Tom Nichols finished clinically four minutes before the break.
The hosts improved markedly after half-time and created more than enough to win the game, let alone draw it, with new signing Chanka Zimba going closest, but a lack of composure in front of goal ultimately condemned them to back-to-back defeats.
Zimba made the bench as Jon Brady stuck with the same team that started at Swindon Town last weekend.
James Tilley's sweet long-range strike whistled narrowly over in the first five minutes but the first 30 minutes were hardly rich on attacking entertainment.
A set-piece or a mistake looked the most likely source of a goal in a game that lacked intensity and quality, with Sam Hoskins and Jack Sowerby failing to threaten the target with half chances.
The first-half was destined to end goalless until Northampton's defence switched off four minutes before the break and Nichols capitalised, latching onto Sam Matthews' through pass and firing emphatically into the roof of the net.
Cobblers improved marginally after half-time and asked more questions of the visiting defence but the only contribution of Crawley goalkeeper Glenn Morris was to waste time over goal-kicks.
The home side were unable to put Crawley's defence under sustained pressure so Brady resorted to bringing on Zimba for his Northampton debut - and he so nearly had an immediate impact, hitting the crossbar with his very first touch.
Another couple of chances came and went as Fraser Horsfall's header was blocked and then Aaron McGowan swung a half-volley over the angle of post and bar.
Hoskins failed to show composure when a weak clearing header fell his way before another big opportunity came to Zimba with just thee minutes go and he did everything right, keeping the shot low and aiming for the far corner, but Morris got down brilliantly to tip around the post.
Cobblers seemingly did everything but score in the final 15 minutes, and there was more to come in stoppage-time when Hoskins cleared the crossbar and Mitch Pinnock smacked high and wide.
A series of late corners and set-pieces came to nothing as Crawley just about clung on.
Cobblers: Roberts, McGowan, Horsfall (c), Guthrie, Koiki (Zimba 71), McWilliams, Sowerby, Lewis (Connolly 45), Hoskins, Pinnock, Rose (Kabamba 83)
Subs not used: Maxted, Harriman, Dyche, Flores
Crawley: Morris, Tilley, Francilette, Craig, Lynch, Tsaraoulla (Davies 62), Francomb, Powell, Matthews (Payne 53), Nichols, Nadesan (Ashford 82)
Subs not used: Seymour, Marshall, Kastrati
Referee: Declan Bourne
Crawley fans: 193