McMahon stunner enough for Bradford as they edge past battling Cobblers at Sixfields
A controversial first-half free-kick was enough for Bradford City to come away from Sixfields with all three points on Saturday as the Cobblers were beaten 1-0 after a hard-fought, evenly-contested affair.
A game of few chances was won on 34 minutes when Tony McMahon curled a delightful free-kick into the top corner, though there were serious doubts over whether it should have been a free-kick in the first place.
Aside from that, and an early flurry of chances, Bradford rarely troubled the home side defensively while Town huffed and puffed at the other end without ever really testing Colin Doyle despite a couple of glaring late chances.
The Cobblers now drop to 20th and while they very much remain a work-in-progress, there were signs on Saturday that they are heading in the right direction under Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.
Hasselbaink made four changes but the big team news came on the bench where there was a place for Sam Hoskins, back fit again after nine months out with a knee injury.
Into the starting line-up came Matt Crooks, back from suspension, Aaron Pierre, Alex Revell and Chris Long, with Leon Barnett, Raheem Hanley, Yaser Kasim and Marc Richards dropping out from the team that lost at Wigan in midweek.
The home side were on the back foot in the opening 10 minutes of Saturday's clash and could have found themselves an early goal down when Bradford spurned two excellent chances.
Nicky Law shot tamely straight at Matt Ingram before Dominic Poloen missed his kick when Romain Vncelot's right-wing cross fell to his feet eight yards out.
Those were two let-offs for Town who responded well and threatened with a couple of breakaways, neither of which led to a clear chance although Daniel Powell would have been in had he got the ball under control.
At the other end, Bradford didn't do a great deal of attacking but still managed to cause problems for a vulnerable-looking home defence, which almost buckled on 20 minutes as Charlie Wyke held off two defenders and toe-poked a shot straight at Ingram.
City were seeing more and more of the ball as the first-half progressed but chances dried up as the home side tightened up defensively and looked to have settled into the contest, only to then fall behind on 34 minutes.
The goal came in controversial fashion as Brendan Moloney was deemed to have fouled Alex Gilliead, despite seemingly winning the ball, for a free-kick which McMahon curled brilliantly into the top corner from 25 yards.
Hasselbaink made the surprising move to withdraw Long for Billy Waters moments after that goal, although Town were then inches from levelling.
Regan Poole, who impressed again in midfield, released Moloney on the right and the full-backs cross was chested down by Powell into the path of Crooks, whose shot flashed wide via a deflection.
Pierre was unable to direct his header on target from the subsequent corner and then came the half-time whistle, greeted by loud boos from a large contingent inside Sixfields who were still unhappy with the manner of City's opener.
Town made a purposeful start to the second-half and Waters almost worked a shooting chance but Bradford's defence remain solid to keep goalkeeper Doyle quiet.
Despite plenty of huffing and puffing from the hosts, the second period passed by without much incident as Bradford continued to stand firm and refuse to buckle.
Hasselbaink called upon Richards and then Hoskins, making his first appearance since January to a huge roar, in an attempt to get something out of the game but as Town pushed more men forward, Bradford sensed a second on the break.
Moloney produced a superb tackle to prevent a counter-attack and then Ingram saved from his own man Ash Taylor.
Bradford mopped up the pressure and kept chances to an absolute minimum, although they were indebted to Revell's inaccuracy with four minutes left when, having climbed highest at the back post, he headed David Buchanan's cross wide.
The visitors looked as if they had done enough to take home the points and that was indeed the case but only after Richards missed a glorious stoppage-time chance for Town to pinch a point, scooping over from six yards out with the goal at his mercy.
Cobblers: Ingram, Moloney, Taylor, Pierre, Buchanan, Crooks, Poole (Hoskins 75), Grimes, Powell (Richards 68), Revell, Long (Waters 38)
Subs not used: Cornell, Barnett, Smith, Kasim
Bradford: Doyle, Chicksen, Reeves, Kilgallon, Vincelot (c), Law (Thompson 80), Wyke, Poleon (Patrick 64), Gilliead, Knight-Percival, McMahon
Subs not used: Taylor, McCartan, Field, Jones, Raeder
Referee: Graham Horwood
Bradford fans: 1,145