Cobblers recorded just their second victory of the season when they came from behind to beat League One Oxford United 2-1 in the Checkatrade Trophy at Grenoble Road on Tuesday.
It looked set to be another long evening for Town when James Henry handed United the lead midway through the first-half, Keith Curle’s men turned it around for just their second victory from 15 games in all competitions.
Henry’s deflected strike gave Oxford impetus and took the sting out of what had been a bright start from the Cobblers, but Kevin van Veen’s brilliant long-range strike hauled the visitors level shortly after the restart.
Aaron Pierre then completed the comeback with a well-taken goal 12 minutes later, and that was sufficient in handing Curle his first win in charge of the Cobblers while also keeping alive their chances of progression from Southern Group F in the Checkatrade Trophy.
Curle resisted the urge to make the usual raft of changes that has almost become customary in this competition, with goalkeeper Lewis Ward and Billy Waters among only five players to come into the team.
Daniel Powell also started and partnered van Veen up front as Cobblers, adopting their now familiar 3-5-2 shape, began brightly with only the woodwork denying them a sixth-minute opener, John-Joe O’Toole dancing past two men and striking the post via a deflection.
Simon Eastwood was down smartly to tip van Veen’s crisply-struck volley around the post and Sam Foley headed over from the subsequent corner, but those were rare moments of excitement in a mostly ponderous first 20 minutes.
Oxford had barely threatened in attack, well-contained by Town’s back three, so it came as a shock when Henry handed them an advnatage against the run of play on 24 minutes, his effort from the edge of the box needing a sizeable deflection off Pierre to loop over Ward.
The game was played with a slight edge to it and a fracas involving nearly all 22 players ended with referee Kevin Johnson dishing out yellow cards for fun as Dean Bowditch, O’Toole, Pierre and Henry were all cautioned, with the latter then hitting the post with a miscued cross.
The Cobblers lost their way after falling behind and they were also losing their discipline with Shay Facey and van Veen next to have their name taken by Johnson before Ward produced an excellent low save to thwart Shandon Baptiste.
Ward tipped over from Sam Smith in first-half stoppage-time before Town were again lively out of the traps in the second-half without really carrying much of a genuine goal threat.
In similar vein to Oxford’s earlier opener though, the Cobblers’ equaliser came somewhat out of the blue but it was a goal of the highest quality.
After initially losing possession, van Veen showed tenacity to win the ball back before he took a few steps forward and unleashed a wonderful 25-yard strike that sailed beyond Eastwood and into the top corner.
That was the cue for the game to liven up a little as Henry’s shot lacked power to trouble Ward and James Hanson’s first-time hit deflected narrowly wide before Bowditch failed to pick out two unmarked men in the Oxford penalty box.
Cobblers completed the turnaround on 65 minutes thanks to an unlikely source. Foley’s cross looked a hopeful one but Oxford switched off and the ball landed at the feet of Pierre, who took a delicate first touch and then poked through Eastwood’s legs.
Town were now in the rare position of leading and they tried to push on with Waters and Powell threatening, although Luke Garbutt clattered the post with an effort from range for Oxford.
Shots from distance appeared United’s best bet of forcing penalties and again Garbutt was close when whistling one just over and then substitute Marcus Brown did likewise.
Cobblers were reduced to 10 men in stoppage-time when O’Toole picked up a second yellow card for kicking the ball away, but it was too late for Oxford to do anything as Town made it three games unbeaten under Curle.
Oxford: Eastwood (c), Garbutt, Dickie, Brannagan, Smith, Carruthers (Mousinho 61), Henry (Browne 73), Raglan, Long, Baptiste, Hanson (Obika 73)
Subs not used: Stevens, Nelson, Heap, Spasov
Cobblers: Ward, Facey, Turnbull, Pierre, Waters, Foley, O’Toole, Bowditch, Buchanan (c) (Bridge 53), van Veen (Williams 87), Powell (Odoffin 79)
Subs not used: Cornell, Crooks, McWilliams, Hoskins
Referee: Kevin Johnson
Cobblers fans: 117