Cobblers edged a step closer to promotion with a hard-fought 1-0 win at Sixfields this afternoon despite producing an below-par performance against an impressive Newport County side.
John Marquis scored the game’s only goal when hammering into the roof of the net midway through the first half, but Newport will leave Sixfields wondering how they failed to take at least a point.
Scott Boden and John-Christophe Ayina both tested Adam Smith’s goal in the first half before Medy Elito rattled the woodwork after the break as the visitors played without fear and gave the Sky Bet League Two leaders an uncomfortable afternoon.
But it’s often said that championship-winning teams find ways to win even when not at their best, and that was certainly the case this afternoon for a weary-looking Cobblers side.
The three points take Northampton 13 clear of second-placed Oxford United, who could only draw at home to Stevenage, with a game in hand, meaning they require just eight more points to guarantee the title.
Chris Wilder made one change to the team which beat Stevenage last week with Lee Martin replacing Nicky Adams, who dropped out of the squad altogether, and there was also a place on the bench for the returning skipper Marc Richards.
With promotion imminent, the new East Stand seats on show for the first time and the sun beaming down on a packed Sixfields, there was a relaxed, upbeat vibe all around the ground even before kick-off and that was reflected in Northampton’s fast start.
The opening few moments suggested this would be a comfortable afternoon for the league leaders as they dominated early on with James Collins having two close-range attempts blocked before Zander Diamond couldn’t quite wrap his foot around the ball when going for goal from a tight angle.
Newport, though, were far from overawed by coming away to a side who are unbeaten in 15 and they turned the tide when carving out the game’s first clear opening as Jake Gosling’s raking cross-field found Boden, who outpaced Luke Prosser but screwed his shot wide.
Newport took confidence from that and gave the Northampton back four cause for concern with the lively Ayina a threat, and he shaved the post with a 20-yard effort on 17 minutes.
However, while County appeared the more threatening team, Cobblers have shown time and again this season that they have the ability to create something out of nothing and a well-worked goal put them ahead midway through the opening period.
Ricky Holmes was the architect as he found Brendan Moloney with a well-judged through ball on the right and the full-back’s low cross picked out Lee Martin who teed up fellow Millwall loanee Marquis and the striker lashed into the roof of the net.
Cobblers enjoyed a better spell after going ahead but Newport maintained their threat on the break as Smith saved well with his feet from Alex Rodman.
The visitors flooded men forward at every opportunity with Rodman and Gosling finding plenty of space on the wings, and those two linked up well shortly before half-time but Diamond blocked the latter’s shot before Medy Elito dragged a shot wide moments later.
At the other end, Cobblers were struggling to find top gear but they still had their moments with Martin shooting at Joe Day from Holmes’ fizzed cross before Joel Byrom curled a 20-yard effort a whisker wide.
County were then gifted a great chance to level on the brink of half-time when Ayina latched onto a sloppy back pass from Byrom but the midfielder recovered well and produced a vital challenge which allowed Smith the time to rush out and block the Newport striker’s shot.
That save preserved Town’s lead going into the break and they could have had a second shortly after the restart but Marquis was unable to connect cleanly with substitute Lawson D’Ath’s cross.
While Newport showed no sign of going away and remained a threat, the second half was one of few chances, the best for Northampton falling to Prosser who couldn’t quite scramble the ball home from Byrom’s corner.
But Newport carried a threat all the way until the death and they were inches from levelling with 20 minutes remaining when Elito played a slick one-two with Boden before crashing a venomous effort onto Smith’s crossbar and away from danger.
The visitors had done more than enough to warrant at least a draw, Yan Klukowski the next to come close when shooting straight at Smith, but Town survived a few hairy moments in the four minutes of stoppage time to cling on to a gritty, if perhaps fortuitous, three points.
Cobblers: Smith, Moloney, Diamond, Prosser, Buchanan (c), Holmes, O’Toole, Byrom (Rose 77), Martin (D’Ath 45), Marquis, Collins (Hoskins 63)
Subs not used: Clarke, McDonald, Taylor, Richards
Newport: Day, Holmes, Davies, Donacien, Hughes (Barrow 54), Rodman, Byrne (c), Gosling, Elito, Boden, Ayina (Klukowski 66)
Subs not used: Green, Owen-Evans, Partridge, Meechan
Referee: Chris Sarginson
Newport fans: 222