Ten-man Cobblers battle back to thwart leaders Scunthorpe
Cobblers earned themselves an excellent and fully deserved point away at league leaders Scunthorpe United on Saturday afternoon when they overcame having a man sent off to fight back for a 1-1 draw at Glanford Park.
Free-scoring Scunthorpe came into this as the Football League's form team and sitting pretty at the top of League One but there was little to separate them and Northampton in a hard-fought, entertaining contest.
The visitors held their own against the early pace-setters in a well-contested first-half that hinged on a two-minute passage of play on the cusp of half-time.
First, a glorious opportunity for Northampton and JJ Hooper went begging and within two minutes, Scunthorpe had the lead through the EFL's top scorer Josh Morris who sent a superb free-kick flying into the top corner.
The Cobblers could have felt hard done by to go into the break behind and they continued to carry a threat in the second-half but a straight red card to Matty Taylor then seemed to end all hope of getting something out of the game.
Down both a man and a goal to the league leaders, not many would have given Cobblers a sniff at that point but not once did they lie down and they were full value for their point which arrived thanks to Jak McCourt's first goal for the club 15 minutes from time.
It was no more than they deserved from the game, with the result keeping them fifth in League One.
There were three changes to the Northampton side which lost to Bristol Rovers in their last league game as Harry Beautyman and Gabriel Zakuani missed out through injury and international duty respectively, while Sam Hoskins dropped to the bench.
In came Lewin Nyatanga, Jak McCourt and Hooper, and it was the latter, on his first league start for Northampton, who had the first sight of goal when curling an effort straight at Luke Daniels inside the first 90 seconds.
But that aside, Scunthorpe had started with the confidence and freedom that comes with being league leaders, and Town goalkeeper Adam Smith had to be at his best to palm away a dangerous free-kick from Morris.
United were the game's superior side in the opening 15 minutes or so but Northampton gradually grew into the game and they got themselves a foot hold with a decent period of pressure that yielded two half chances.
Matty Taylor's 30-yard free-kick was heading for the top corner before Daniels' intervention, and then Brendan Moloney fizzed a left-footed piledriver a few feet over the crossbar.
David Mirfin cracked a half volley straight at Smith in reply for United, however the Cobblers immediately went up the other end where they carved open the game's first real cleat opening when an unmarked Alex Revell headed Moloney's cross into the side-netting.
The see-saw nature of the first-half continued thereafter as both teams threatened without creating too much in the way of goalscoring chances, though Northampton did need a brilliantly-timed David Buchanan block to prevent Duane Holmes from getting a clean shot away.
Then came perhaps the decisive period of play and the game's most glaring opportunity, and it went the way of Northampton when a Hooper found himself in space six yards from goal but he took too long to get the ball under control and a combination of goalkeeper and defender denied him from close range.
And that miss proved all the more costly just two minutes later when United broke the deadlock.
A cheap free-kick conceded by John-Joe O'Toole presented that man Morris with the chance to add to his already remarkable goal tally this season, and he didn't disappoint when curling a superb effort into the top corner.
It might have worse for Northampton at half-time too when Zander Diamond was somewhat fortunate to only be booked after hauling down Tom Hopper - though there were some suggestions he won the ball - as the Scunthorpe man raced through on goal, with Morris' subsequent free-kick hitting the wall.
Diamond almost atoned for that error early in the second-half when his header had to be clawed away by Daniels before United went close to making two through Hopper who shot too weakly having been teed up by the fleet-footed Holmes.
Moloney was causing problems with his marauding runs from right-back and he almost got free inside the area before being crowded out, while Anderson's timid header was straight at Daniels as Town pushed for an equaliser.
Moloney again was the architect of another half chance, this time O'Toole unable to grow enough to keep his header down, but Cobblers' hopes of getting back in the game were then dealt a huge blow as Taylor saw a straight red for a poor lunge on Neal Bishop.
At first, that seemed to knock the stuffing out of Northampton, who had been building up a head of steam, and it appeared the game was drifting to an inevitable conclusion as it entered the final quarter.
But Northampton never showed any sign of giving up, and with 15 minutes remaining, they were back on level terms at the third time of asking after a scramble in the penalty box.
Revell had the first effort with an improvised flick that hit the post and cannoned back out to McCourt whose follow-up effort was blocked - but he wouldn't be denied a first Northampton goal when lashing in the rebound.
Northampton were not looking the side with 10 men as they remained on the front foot after the equaliser and appeared more likely to win it with substitute Sam Hoskins having a late long-range attempt palmed away by Daniels.
Scunthorpe failed to muster anything of note and in truth, the home side were fortunate to hang on to the draw, which is how the game finished at the full-time whistle.
Scunthorpe: Daniels, Wiseman, Wallace, Mirfin, Toffolo, Dawson (c) (Madden 83), Bishop, Smallwood (Mantom 78), Holmes, Hopper, Morris
Subs not used: Anyon, Adelakun, Goode, Margetts, Townsend
Cobblers: Smith, Moloney, Diamond, Nyatanga, Buchanan (c), McCourt, Anderson (Hoskins 58), O'Toole, Taylor, Hooper (Richards 87), Revell
Subs not used: Cornell, Phillips, Byrom, Potter, Gorre
Referee: Darren Handley