Hoskins strikes as battling Cobblers sink rivals Leyton Orient to go second
Cobblers leapt up to second place in Sky Bet League Two with a hard-fought but impressive 1-0 victory against fellow promotion contenders Leyton Orient on a wind-swept, freezing cold afternoon at Sixfields.
This was arguably Town's best and most impressive win of the season so far given the circumstances.
They were without Jon Guthrie and Shaun McWilliams and lost another key man Kion Etete early in the first-half against an Orient side who hadn't lost in 11 games.
In truth, not a whole lot happened in the first 45 minutes but Cobblers snuck into a half-time lead thanks to Hoskins as he poked home shortly before the break.
That would prove the decisive moment of the afternoon as Northampton were so well-drilled and so organised in the second period that they withstood everything Orient threw at them to blunt the division's joint-highest scorers going into the game.
The visitors created barely anything and Cobblers held out for a fifth successive home win, which nudged them up two places to second spot in League Two ahead of a 10-day break from action.
Northampton were missing two key players with McWilliams suspended and Guthrie a late withdrawal from the squad after his wife went into labour on Saturday morning.
Guthrie's absence meant five senior defenders were unavailable to manager Jon Brady for various reasons, resulting in young defender Max Dyche being drafted into the team for only his second senior start.
Danny Rose replaced McWilliams as Brady switched to 4-4-2, but it was Orient who made much the brighter start with Liam Roberts twice called into early action, tipping over a Tom James free-kick and then clinging onto Aaron Drinan's drilled shot.
Cobblers' injury issues deepened further 20 minutes in when Etete failed to run off a problem he picked up earlier in the game and had to be replaced by Nicke Kabamba.
Town were kicking with a strong wind in the first-half but the conditions caused havoc for both sets of players and that inevitably had negative consequences for quality of football on display.
Whilst the home side enjoyed more territory thanks to the wind, Orient were always a threat and that was underlined by Theo Archibald that eight minutes before half-time when his turn and shot curled just a yard wide.
But Town grabbed the lead with their first real chance of the game late in the first-half.
Mitch Pinnock launched a long throw into the box, Dyche flicked it on and Hoskins timed his run perfectly before poking home.
The second-half was always likely to play out differently given Orient now had the wind behind them, though for a long time they struggled to use it to their advantage.
Substitute Ruel Sotiriou blazed over and then a big chance did arrive midway through the half when a deep corner found Alex Mitchell at the back post, but he headed over.
A rare foray forward by Cobblers resulted in Pinnock's shot deflecting over, while there were also strong shouts for a penalty waved away.
Orient increasingly dominated possession but came up against a stubborn and extremely well-oiled Cobblers machine as the hosts intercepted, tackled and headed away every attack.
Mitchell's header would be Orient's only real chance of the entire half, and Town might have scored a second in stoppage-time when Jack Sowerby shot wide, but they were more than content with one goal, three points and a 10th clean sheet of the campaign.
Cobblers: Roberts, McGowan, Horsfall (c), Dyche, Koiki, Sowerby, Lewis, Hoskins (Ashley-Seal 90), Pinnock, Rose, Etete (Kabamba 20)
Sbs not used: Maxted, Tomlinson, Flores, Pollock, Connolly
Orient: Vigouroux, James, Beckles, Ogie, Mitchell, Pratley (c), Archibald (Wood 62), Kyprianou, Drinan (Sotiriou 62), Kemp (Omotoye 90), Smith
Subs not used: Happe, Thompson, Papadopoulos
Referee: Andrew Kitchen
Orient fans: 907