Powell and O'Toole on target as Cobblers go marching on with victory at Crewe
First-half goals from Daniel Powell and John-Joe O'Toole steered the Cobblers to their third win in four away games as they eased past Crewe Alexandra 2-0 at Gresty Road on Saturday.
A clinical first-half display was followed by a resolute second as Town restricted their hosts to barely a sniff of goal en route to three well-earned points, making it five games unbeaten for Keith Curle's men.
The visitors were in control at half-time after an excellent first-half performance with Powell's scruffy opener added to by O'Toole's first-time finish to give Town a two-goal cushion.
The second 45 minutes were controlled by Crewe in terms of possession but they never really laid a glove on David Cornell's goal, at least not until it was too late, as Northampton's defence, shepherded well by Ash Tayor and Aaron Pierre, comfortably recorded another clean sheet.
The three points move Town to within two of the top 13 and nine adrift of the play-offs in League Two, although it'll take a few more wins until fans start seriously dreaming of an unlikely march towards the top seven.
Despite victory at Stevenage last time out, Keith Curle could not resist the urge to make more changes to his team as one Powell stepped in for another - Joe out, Daniel in - and Sam Foley replaced Jack Bridge, who dropped to the bench.
Playing 4-4-1-1 with O'Toole tucking in behind striker Marvin Sordell, Cobblers made a purposeful start at Gresty Road and enjoyed virtually all of the ball in the first 10 minutes but Powell's harmless effort, deflected well wide of goal, was their only shot of note during that period.
Jordan Bowery should then have given Crewe a 12th minute lead with the game's first clear opportunity, but he somehow fluffed his lines just a few yards out, skewing wide of the target after the hosts broke away from a Northampton corner.
David Cornell was let off the hook when fumbling Paul Green's long-range drive, gathering at the second attempt just before Bowery stuck away the rebound, while O'Toole went close for the Cobblers after a defensive mix-up, George Ray recovering to clear off the line.
There had been little between the teams for the opening 28 minutes, but that all changed when two quickfire goals either side of the half-hour mark put Cobblers firmly in the driving seat.
Powell was at the heart of both, first breaking the deadlock with a scruffy finish as Crewe failed to deal with David Buchanan's corner and Sordell's miscued shot fell nicely for Powell to nod into the bottom corner.
The Town winger then turned provider just two minutes later when escaping his man on the right and sending in a low cross to where the onrushing O'Toole squeezed a first-time volley between Ben Garratt and the near post.
Crewe looked stunned and struggled to muster a response in what remained of the first-half, leaving Cobblers to take a handy advantage into half-time.
The second-half took on a predictable pattern given the state of the game but Crewe, for all their possession, only managed a couple of wayward long-range efforts, while Charlie Goode's cleverly-guided lob landed on the roof of the net for the visitors.
O'Toole almost notched his second when heading Ash Taylor's cross just wide before Crewe finally carved out their first opportunity of the second-half on 77 minutes, substitute Shaun Miller getting into the box and blasting over.
Town defended resolutely throughout the second period to keep Crewe at arm's-length, although 'keeper Cornell was called upon twice in the final few minutes, denying Callum Ainley and then getting a big hand to Chris Porter's effort.
That second save came in the second of nine added minutes, during which the visitors continued to stand firm in defence as they encountered few problems in seeing out victory.
Crewe: Garratt, Ng, Ray (c), Porter, Bowery (Miller 67), Ainley, Nolan, Wintle, Green (Finney 85), Kirk (Dale 67), Sterry
Subs not used: Richards, Nicholls, Lowery, Johnson
Cobblers: Cornell, Goode (J Williams 81), Taylor, Pierre (c), Buchanan, Foley, Turnbull, O'Toole (Bowditch 77), D Powell, Hoskins, Sordell (A Williams 77)
Subs not used: Coddington, Elsnik, J Powell, Bridge
Referee: Lee Collins
Cobblers fans: 632