Matty Taylor held his nerve from 12 yards to earn Cobblers three priceless points with a late 1-0 win over AFC Wimbledon at Kingsmeadow on Saturday.
Just as it seemed these two sides would play out their second goalless draw of the season, Chris Robertson’s needless handball four minutes from time presented Northampton with the chance to win it, and Taylor duly obliged, sending James Shea the wrong way from 12 yards.
Earlier, a sluggish, scrappy and generally low-quality first-half came and went without incident as both sides lacked the necessary guile to break the other down.
Michael Smith went as close as anyone, sending a first-time shot just wide, before both Shea and Adam Smith were alert to keep the game goalless in a slightly more open second period prior to Taylor’s winner which earned the Cobblers their first away win of 2017.
The three points are also another important step away from relegation. Northampton are now up to 15th in Sky Bet League One with a healthy cushion separating them and the drop.
As expected, Justin Edinburgh made only one change from last week’s win over Charlton, recalling Zander Diamond to the starting line-up in place of the injured Gabriel Zakuani.
With Keshi Anderson on the bench, that meant Hiram Boateng was again the loan player to miss out on a place in the matchday squad.
Wimbledon made a bright start to Saturday’s contest but it was the Cobblers who had the first sight of goal when Luke Williams screwed his shot wide from 18 yards.
Tom Soares cracked a 30-yard effort a fraction wide at the other end as Wimbledon found some promising positions without taking advantage in a low-quality and low-key opening quarter.
Well-timed tackles from Zander Diamond and Aaron Phillips prevented Tom Poleon and then Andy Barcham from getting in on Adam Smith’s goal in as close as anyone came to breaking through.
The home defence were rarely put under much pressure but a terrific driving run from Gregg Wylde did win the Cobblers a free-kick that Matty Taylor rifled a whisker over.
And after Lyle Taylor’s deflected shot dribbled wide, Northampton almost took a lead into half-time, only for Michael Smith’s first-time shot to go the wrong side of the post in the last notable action of a drab first period.
Neither goalkeeper had a save to make in the opening 45 minutes and that remained the case up until the hour-mark as both sides battled hard but failed to create clear-cut chances.
Finally that changed, however, as home stopper James Shea was called into action to beat away another well-struck free-kick from Taylor.
And it wasn’t long until Shea’s opposite number was in the thick of the action when Smith got down smartly to keep out Darius Charles’ free header.
Northampton lost Zander Diamond to injury with 15 minutes remaining, replaced by Rod McDonald, before Taylor set his sights for the third time when his side won another free-kick 30 yards out, however again his effort was narrowly too high.
Like the reverse fixture at Sixfields in August as well as the previous two last season, it seemed there would be nothing to separate these two.
But Robertson’s handball from a Northampton corner was well-spotted by referee Nigel Miller, and Taylor kept his cool to slot home before the Cobblers withstood a late Wimbledon barrage to cling on.
Wimbledon: Shea, Charles, Nightingale, Robertson, Francomb (Meades 68), Parrett, Reeves, Soares (Bulman 45), Barcham, Taylor (Elliott 68), Poleon
Subs not used: McDonnell, Robinson, Kelly, Barnett
Cobblers: Smith, Phillips, Diamond (McDonald 76), Nyatanga, Buchanan, Taylor, O’Toole, Wylde (K Anderson 55), Williams (P Anderson 78), Smith, Richards (c)
Subs not used: Cornell, Moloney, McCourt, Beautyman
Referee: Nigel Miller
Cobblers fans: 603