Cobblers paid the price for a woeful second-half performance as they tasted defeat to Scunthorpe United for the second time in a week when soundly beaten 3-0 at Sixfields.
Town had been well in the game up until half-time, even the better team for much of the first-half, but they fell apart in the second period and crumbled to a hugely disappointing defeat.
Two goals in three minutes, scored by Cameron Burgess and then Duane Holmes, did the most of the damage and the afternoon was capped off by Holmes’ second 16 minutes from time.
Though not helped by the loss of John-Joe O’Toole to injury late in the opening 45 minutes, it was difficult to put the finger on exactly why the Cobblers were so poor in the second-half when they were completely blown away by the vastly superior visitors.
As a consequence, Town drop back into the relegation zone and now face two crunch games against current bottom two Plymouth and Bury this week.
After making sweeping changes in midweek, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink reverted to the team that beat Oxford United last Saturday, minus the injured Daniel Powell.
Powell, currently carrying a hamstring injury, was left out of the squad as a precaution so Matt Crooks came in and started on the left side in a 4-3-3.
Northampton spent most of the opening 10 minutes chasing shadows against the slick and well-oiled visitors who made a confident start.
But after Funso Ojo and Murray Wallace both shot well over in half chances, the first clear opening fell to the home side when Crooks started and finished a good move, heading Billy Waters’ cross fractionally wide.
That settled the hosts down and they had weathered the visitors’ strong start to get a foothold in the game with Waters unable to generate the power to beat Matt Gilks with a half chance before United’s goalkeeper was fortunate not to see the ball fall into his net after making a hash of Matt Grimes’ shot.
O’Toole also nodded Brendan Moloney’s cross just wide in a probing spell of Northampton pressure that saw them win a succession of set-pieces without reward.
At this point, the Cobblers were on top and searching for a breakthrough but they were indebted to a magnificent piece of defending from David Buchanan to stop them from falling behind in the moments leading up to half-time.
Holmes, set through on goal by a wonderful pass from the excellent Hakeeb Adelakun, looked destined to score after rounding Matt Ingram but Buchanan raced back and timed his goal-line block to perfection.
Town suffered a blow on the stroke of half-time when O’Toole appeared to roll his ankle after landing awkwardly and subsequently limped off the pitch to be replaced by Sam Foley.
Scunthorpe repeated their flying start to the first-half in the second and this time they so nearly profited from it with Lee Novak’s shot blocked and Ingram denying Jordan Clarke before Holmes was crowded out.
The Cobblers were barely able to string two passes together and it was to absolutely no one’s surprise when United broke the deadlock on 56 minutes.
Town had cleared the initial free-kick but the ball was drilled back into the box and Burgess was there to stab in from close-range.
And just three minutes later, disaster struck again. Northampton’s high line was begging for trouble against United’s nippy forward and Holmes took full advantage, racing onto Adelakun’s long ball and nonchalantly lifting over a stranded Ingram.
The home side showed precious little sign of getting back into the game and after Long blazed their one good chance horribly over, the result was put beyond doubt by Holmes who ran through, rounded Ingram and rolled into an empty net, with the superb Adelakun again picking up the assist.
Dean Bowditch was denied by Gilks and Taylor headed straight at the visiting goalkeeper but they were no more than token efforts as Town crumbled to a poor defeat.
Cobblers: Ingram, Moloney, Taylor, Pierre, Buchanan (c), McGugan, Grimes, O’Toole (Foley 45), Crooks, Waters (Bowditch 80), Long
Subs not used: Cornell, Poole, McGivern, McWilliams, Richards
Scunthorpe: Gilks, Clarke, McArdle (c), Wallace, Ojo, Bishop, Hopper (Goode 83), Adelakun, Novak (Madden 67), Holmes (Townsend 76), Burgess
Subs not used: Crofts, Van Veen, Sutton, Watson
Referee: Michael Salisbury
Scunthorpe fans: 306