Skipper Richards at the double as Cobblers survive Bury fightback to go fifth
Cobblers survived a nail-shredding finish to make it back-to-back wins with a 3-2 victory over Bury in a chaotic affair at Sixfields on Saturday.
Northampton had appeared on course for a much more emphatic and one-sided victory when deservedly leading 3-0 with less than 20 minutes remaining, but a late Bury rally made for a tense finale.
The visitors scored twice late on and then applied sustained heavy pressure as they sought what would have been the unlikeliest of draws, however Cobblers just about clung on thanks to some desperate, frantic defending.
Earlier, Northampton were in control and dominated against a horribly out-of-form Bury side, leading at half-time through a goal from skipper Marc Richards before he made it two from the penalty spot.
Matty Taylor scored a sumptuous free-kick to make it 3-0 and seemingly end the game as a contest, only for Bury to launch their late onslaught which Northampton only just survived.
It was a nervy but ultimately deserved victory for the Cobblers, who rise up to fifth in Sky Bet League One as a result.
As expected, Taylor came straight back into the side on his return from a three-game suspension, replacing John-Joe O'Toole in midfield, while skipper Richards came in for the suspended Alex Revell up front.
It was Northampton and in particular the reborn Sam Hoskins who made the brighter start at Sixfields as his driving run and low drive forced the first save from Bury goalkeeper Ben Williams who parried away.
Richards, on just his fourth league start of the season, then squandered the first real clear opening when sending his free header over the crossbar from Taylor's whipped cross.
There was little of note from Bury up until that stage but they then enjoyed a good spell, first threatening when Andrew Tutte volleyed over from an acute angle before Adam Smith beat away Neil Danns' well-struck effort.
Entertainment was on short supply for much of the first-half, though, with clear-cut chances few and far between at both ends.
The game needed an injection of quality to bring it to life, and that was finally provided on 36 minutes when Northampton won a free-kick in a dangerous area.
Inevitably, Taylor was the man over it and he didn't disappoint, whipping in a superb cross that presented Richards with the simple task of poking into the net and giving his side the lead.
That sparked Northampton into life whilst sapping Bury of confidence in the process and for the remaining nine minutes of the half, it was all about the home side.
Hoskins should have scored a second too when sent clean through on goal by Jak McCourt's hopeful long ball but he fired straight at Williams, who then did well to prevent Moloney's low cross-shot from squirming into the net.
It remained all one-way traffic in the moments prior to the interval and again Cobblers went close with Hoskins' first-time shot whistling into the side-netting while Taylor's sweetly-struck free-kick cannoned into the wall.
Despite their dominance, Northampton were unable to add to their lead before half-time, and they again turned up the pressure on Bury in the second-half as the lively Hoskins had a shot blocked from close-range and then spooned over.
There was more life to Bury in the second-half, however, and they were almost gifted a route back into the game when George Miller latched onto McCourt's short back pass but Smith was quick off his line to block.
As Cobblers began to gradually retreat and protect their position, the visitors were sensing an opportunity to apply pressure, only to then be hit by the sucker-punch.
Hoskins had given Bury all kinds of problems throughout, and it was another one of his driving runs into the penalty area that drew the foul from Niall Maher.
The referee pointed to the spot and Richards made no mistake, thumping home the spot-kick into the roof of the net to give Cobblers breathing space.
That knocked the stuffing out of Bury and put the result beyond doubt with Cobblers now hungry for more.
JJ Hooper almost added a third but his looping header drifted wide, however the home side did soon go further in front through a moment of stunning individual quality from Taylor.
Having won a free-kick wide on the right, few would have had the audacity to even go for goal but Taylor tries his luck and duly sent a thunderbolt beyond Williams and into the net.
It now seemed a case of how many Northampton would score, but Bury revived hope of an unlikely comeback within three minutes when an unmarked Miller headed home Dann's teasing cross from close-range.
That prompted a few jitters around Sixfields and in the home defence - and the visitors nearly scored another but Vaughan couldn't quite get a clean connection.
However, after McCourt and then Hoskins went close for Northampton, Bury did set up an anxious finale when Zeli Ismail was afforded far too much time and space to pick his spot and fire into the bottom corner.
There were still eight minutes of normal time plus six minutes of stoppage time to play and they were played in a frantic pace with Bury pushing against a Cobblers defence that dropped deeper and deeper.
Gabriel Zakuani had to pull off a brilliant last-ditch tackle and there were other heart-in-mouth moments for the home faithful, however Cobblers just about held on and took the spoils.
Cobblers: Smith, Moloney, Diamond, Zakuani, Buchanan, McCourt (O'Toole 86), Taylor, Hoskins, Anderson (Potter 81), Hooper, Richards (c) (Nyatanga 90)
Subs not used: Cornell, Phillips, Gorre, Beautyman
Bury: Williams, Maher, Kay (c), Tutte (Hope 45), Leigh, Mayor, Danns, Mellis, Soares (Miller 54), Walker (Ismail 45), Vaughan
Subs not used: Etuhu, Burgess, Rachubka, Bedeau
Referee: Carl Boyeson
Bury fans: 282