Nine-man Cobblers cling on for crucial point as they draw with Shrewsbury Town
Cobblers survived having two men sent off and a second-half onslaught to inch another step towards safety with a backs-to-the-wall 1-1 draw at home against Shrewsbury Town on Easter Monday.
Leading at half-time through Marc Richards' header, the second-half became a nervy and tense watch, all the more so after David Buchanan's controversial red card and Mat Sadler's equaliser.
Much of the second period was a throwback to previous games at Sixfields as Northampton often found themselves out of possession and defending deep but this time they didn't buckle, and despite also seeing John-Joe O'Toole dismissed late on, they clung on for a potentially survival-clinching point.
With Port Vale and Swindon losing elsewhere, the Cobblers, still 16th, should now have no problem in protecting their place in League One, though it has hardly been achieved in stress-free fashion.
Northampton were handed a half-time lead thanks to the head of Richards but they were by no means overwhelming their visitors, who had their fair share of chances.
Shrewsbury deserved their equaliser through Sadler but they couldn't conjure up a winner and still face a nervous finish before they can be ensured of beating the drop themselves.
The Cobblers made four changes for the visit of Shrewsbury with Brendan Moloney, John-Joe O'Toole, Hiram Boateng and Alex Revell all returning to the starting line-up.
The home side made the brighter start and Zander Diamond forced visiting goalkeeper Jayson Leutwiler into early, if relatively straightforward, action after Matty Taylor's 20-yard free-kick struck the wall.
But Shrewsbury improved and went close themselves through Stefan Payne who, after excellent work from Moloney cleared the first cross, failed to connect when the ball dropped to him six yards out.
Goalmouth incidents were few and far between in a cagey and tentative opening 20 minutes but all Northampton required was one well-worked passage of play to make the all-important breakthrough.
The chance initially looked lost when Paul Anderson's pass forced Boateng wide but after Leuwilder saved the first effort, the Crystal Palace loanee did well to regain possession and chip a cross towards Richards who, left unmarked inside the six-yard box, gleefully headed into the bottom corner.
Shrewsbury may have felt somewhat aggrieved to be behind having had at least a share of the play up until that point, but they continued to pose a threat with Adam Smith gathering Shaun Whalley's low drive.
The visitors increased their efforts as half-time approached and another spell of Shrewsbury pressure culminated in an opening for Mat Sadley, who could only hook wide after being teed up by Payne.
Northampton's lead looked a precarious one but it remained intact until the break, and it was almost added to straight after the restart when Revell's shot from Taylor's corner was blocked on the line.
Shrewsbury broke immediately and Taylor recovered well to block Louis Dodds' close-range effort as both sides raised the ante in a lively start to the second-half.
In need of the points in their battle against relegation, the visitors cranked up the heat and applied most of the pressure, and their cause was significantly helped on 56 minutes.
Already booked for tripping Whalley and then warned for another foul on the same man, Buchanan saw red for tripping Shrewsbury's winger for a third time, though it was debatable whether or not the incident in question was even a foul.
That gave an already-dominant Shrewsbury side even more reason to pile forward and their equalising goal became just a matter of when and not if.
Diamond conceded a free-kick wide on the left and Whalley, whose set-pieces caused problems all day, whipped in a wicked delivery that was nodded in by Sadler at the back post.
With the wind in their sails and the advantage of an extra man, it was all Shrewsbury for the next spell of play and they were only thwarted a second goal by O'Toole's last-ditch tackle and Moloney's close-range block.
Justin Edinburgh attempted to salvage the situation by bringing on Aaron Phillips and Shuan McWilliams, and those changed did seem to ease Shrewsbury's pressure and at least give the Cobblers a foothold.
The visitors seemed unsure whether to go for the win or a settle for a point as time ticked away but their dilemma was helped in the last minute of normal time when the Cobblers had another man dismissed.
This time ti was O'Toole who, already on a booking, kicked the ball away but, fortunately for the hosts, it did not prove costly as they survived five nerve-shredding minutes of stoppage time to claim a precious point.
Cobblers: Smith, Moloney, Diamond, Nyatanga, Buchanan, Taylor (McWilliams 72), P Anderson, Boateng (Phillips 60), O'Toole, Revell (McDonald 90), Richards (c)
Subs not used: Cornell, McCourt, Beautyman, K Anderson
Shrewsbury: Leutwiler, Sadler, Whalley, Ogogo (c), Dodds, Brown, Grimmer, Yates, Nsiala, Rodman (Humphrys 61), Payne (Leitch-Smith 88)
Subs not used: McGivern, Morris, Deegan, Halstead, Al-Abd
Referee: Charles Breakspear
Shrewsbury fans: 676