Cornell penalty save secures precious point for Cobblers as they deny in-form Blackburn
Cobblers built on last week's win over Walsall with a dogged and deserved point against high-flying Blackburn Rovers as the two sides defied the form book to play out a compelling 1-1 draw at Sixfields on Saturday.
Northampton had to withstand a late onslaught from Rovers but few could deny that they were full value for the full-time score against a team who had won their last six league games, even if they did survive a late penalty miss.
The hosts kept their title-chasing visitors in check for most of an entertaining first-half and crucially they had their noses in front at half-time courtesy of Sam Foley's close-range finish.
At the other end, three crucial blocks from three different home defenders ensured David Cornell didn't have a save to make in the opening 45 minutes as Rovers' menacing front line struggled to make much of an impression.
But the impressive Bradley Dack hauled the visitors levelled early in the second period and they should have taken all three points back to Lancashire when winning a penalty six minutes from time, only for Marcus Antonsson's spot-kick to be brilliantly kept out by Cornell.
That saved what could well turn out to be a crucial point in the battle for survival for the Cobblers who can now go into Boxing Day's clash at Doncaster Rovers with some momentum.
The only change Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink made to his team was enforced as the suspended Matt Crooks made way for George Smith, who started on the left-wing.
As many would have expected given the form book, Rovers made a confident, purposeful start to Saturday's contest and the afternoon's first chance fell their way when a well-worked move down the right led to Richard Smallwood's shot being blocked by Brendan Moloney.
But Northampton overcame Blackburn's early wave of pressure and responded with their own excellent passage of play that saw Chris Long start and finish a sweeping move, the striker denied by goalkeeper David Raya Martin having been found by Foley's cross following Moloney's driving run.
The home side got themselves a foothold in the contest and, by the halfway point of the opening half, they had hit the front. The goal was a poor one to concede for Blackburn, who left Aaron Pierre totally unmarked from a Matt Grimes corner and his goalbound header was prodded in on the line by Foley.
Now with their tails up, John-Joe O'Toole was just off target with a header from another set-piece moments later, but Blackburn had not been put off by going behind and were almost level on the half-hour mark as Dack's close-range effort was blocked by a combination of David Buchanan and Pierre.
Despite then losing Pierre to injury, the Cobblers did well to nullify Blackburn's threat for the rest of the half as Ash Taylor's crucial block on Dack in injury-time ensured their advantage remained intact at the break.
But that lead was wiped out within three minutes of the restart. After neither Long nor Foley were able to convert a fine chance for 2-0 moments earlier, hesitant defending at the back saw Dack wriggle free before firing a crisp low shot into the bottom corner.
The equaliser might have been the cue for Blackburn to push on and win the game, however Northampton did not crumble as they regained their composure and still gave as good as they got to keep the game very much in the balance, making the pre-season title favourites work hard for the points.
Indeed, most of the attacking in the subsequent 20 minutes was done by the home side who, admittedly without creating any real chances, put the visiting back four under real pressure.
However, unable to restore their advantage, Northampton came under increasing pressure as time ticked away and they survived two big misses from Craig Conway around the 80-minute mark, the second of which saw him shoot into the side-netting after rounding Cornell.
Rovers were given another wonderful opportunity to take the spoils when Cornell was deemed to have brought down Antonsson six minutes from time, but the Cobblers stopper redeemed himself, flinging himself to his left to keep out Antonsson's spot-kick, and that ultimately ensured the Cobblers came away with a battling and important point.
Cobblers: Cornell, Moloney, Taylor, Pierre (Poole 34), Buchanan, Foley, Grimes, McGugan (McWilliams 89), Smith (Hoskins 71), O'Toole, Long
Subs not used: Coddington, Hanley, Waters, Richards
Blackburn: Martin, Nyambe, Williams, Smallwood, Graham (Nuttall 64), Whittingham (Tomlinson 64), Ward, Antonsson, Dack, Downing, Conway
Subs not used: Harper, Hart, Leutwiler, Caddis
Referee: Gavin Ward
Rovers fans: 1,445