Smith scores but then sees red as 10-man Cobblers sink struggling Stevenage
Harry Smith both scored and got sent off as Cobblers dug deep into their reserves to grind out an incredibly hard-fought 1-0 victory at bottom-of-the-table Stevenage at the Lamex Stadium on Tuesday night.
Smith only came on as a half-time substitute but was both the hero and the villain as his terrific header on 56 minutes proved the difference - despite then seeing red - as Town claimed back-to-back wins for the first time this season.
The opening 45 minutes was in keeping with many of Town's away games this season as they set up cautiously, but things opened up with the introduction of Smith, who nodded Nicky Adams' cross into the bottom corner.
Cobblers' nemesis Charles Breakspear haunted them again though when the referee showed Smith two yellows in quick succession as the striker became the sixth Town player to be sent off in the past seven games Breakspear has refereed them.
The visitors defended heroically in the remaining time though, battling with everything they had to fend off Stevenage's relentless onslaught and cling on to victory as they moved into the top 10 in Sky Bet League Two.
Shaun McWilliams shook off the chest pains that plagued him on Saturday to start at Stevenage as Keith Curle named an unchanged team for the first time this season.
The home side enjoyed most of the early territory with a succession of corners and throw-ins, but the first chance fell to Town on eight minutes when Andy Williams met Sam Hoskins' low cross and forced Paul Farman into action with a scuffed shot.
But Stevenage hadn't started like a team without a win this season and a mass scramble in the opposing penalty box moments later eventually ended with Elliott List's overhead kick drifting just over.
Otherwise, the first-half at times promised much but delivered little in the way of substance as the momentum tentatively swung from one team to the other.
Stevenage's periods on top were more sustained and more threatening, though, and they so nearly led late in the half through Charlie Carter, whose header was excellently saved by flying David Cornell.
There was not much else to report from the opening 45 minutes and Curle felt it was time to change things up at the break as he replaced Jordan Turnbull with Smith.
That was, in theory, an attacking switch, but it was Stevenage who were first to threaten in the second-half as Kurtis Guthrie found space in the box and had a shot blocked.
The second-half was already more stretched and open than the first, and Curle's half-time change worked a treat as Cobblers moved ahead on 56 minutes.
The attack started from a pass over the defence and Town kept the ball alive for long enough for Adams to deliver one of his expert crosses and there was Smith to head powerfully into the bottom corner.
Chris Lines was close to a quick second when Stevenage's attempts to pass out from defence backfired but Farman recovered to make the stop.
Cobblers were playing with more of a buzz in the second-half but their momentum came to an abrupt halt midway through when Smith became another Northampton player to be shown red by Breakspear.
Two minutes after being booked, seemingly for dissent, Smith went diving in and failed to get enough of the ball to satisfy Breakspear, who rapidly brandished the red card.
Curle sent on Vadaine Oliver for Williams and and it predictably became a survival mission for the Cobblers who had 21 minutes plus stoppage-time to preserve their lead.
It was all hands on deck as Stevenage repeatedly chucked the ball in the Town penalty box but time and again blocks and headers came in to repel the danger.
Craig Mackail-Smith headed wide and six minutes of added time hardly settled nerves, but Town defended superbly to deny their hosts and claim a fine away victory.
Stevenage: Farman, James-Wildin, Stokes, Cuthbert, Carter (Taylor 77), Husin, Watts, List (Mackail-Smith 66), Kennedy, Guthrie, Newton
Subs not used: Bastien, Cowley, Iontton, El-Abd, Denton
Cobblers: Cornell, Harriman, Goode, Wharton, Martin, Turnbull (Smith 45), Lines, McWilliams, Adams (Kaja 74), Hoskins, Williams (Oliver 69)
Subs not used: Fisher, Pollock, Warburton, Waters
Referee: Charles Breakspear