The romance of the FA Cup gave way to ruthless professionalism as the Cobblers avoided an upset with a win at Bishop’s Stortford.
Recalled winger Danny Emerton scored his first goal in Northampton colours and Brentford loanee Luke Norris his fourth as the Skrill South side were seen off.
Their goals should have paved the way for a comfortable win but a Reece Prestedge strike with 10 minutes to go ensured a nervous end to the game for Northampton.
Unlike on previous occasions, however, they held off for a 2-1 victory that was fully deserved.
Mathias Doumbe had a header cleared off the line in the game’s first three minutes, finding space at a corner that took goalkeeper Joe Wright out of the game and heading downwards with power.
Chris Hackett then stood up a cross that Luke Norris failed to connect with as Town made a strong start to proceedings.
The same duo then combined to create a chance for Norris that he smacked straight at Wright from 10 yards.
Jacob Blyth perhaps could have broken the deadlock after jinking past his defender but completely fluffing his eventual effort at close range.
The pressure was enormous at times but Stortford, to their credit, did not look like folding.
Most of the good play came down Hackett’s wing and on the 20-minute mark his devilish cross again beat Wright and was heading against the crossbar by Kane Ferdinand.
Stortford did likewise almost immediately afterwards, with Sean Francis heading a Cliff Akurang cross against the woodwork after a counter-attack down the Cobblers left.
Norris found space for a shot that Wright got down well to save and Hackett should have had a penalty when he beat the goalkeeper to a bouncing ball in the box and found himself clattered to the ground.
The strike duo both had chances foiled early in the second half and Wright made a comfortable save from a firmly-struck Norris shot on the hour mark.
But for all their excellent play it was the winger that found the breakthrough, Emerton making space to fire in a fine shot from 20 yards that looked like a goal from the nanosecond it left his right boot.
The lead was doubled on 68 minutes, Wright blocking Hackett’s shot and Norris picking up the pieces to rattle in the loose ball from 15 yards.
He also clipped the top of the bar with an improvised backwards header from a short corner routine as the visitors started to enjoy themselves.
Such enjoyment was soon dimmed by a goal from Stortford captain Prestedge that was excellent in its execution but came completely out of the blue.
A low pass from the right wing was cleared to the edge of the box where Prestedge fired a shot past Duke’s right hand to provide the home side with a late lifeline.
But although they had some good possession after that, they did not test Duke and their comeback petered out.
Bishop’s Stortford: Wright, Miller, Fletcher, Francis, McNaughton, Herd, Johnson, Symons, Prestedge, Vassell, Akurang
Subs: Sykes (for Vassell 58), Baker (for Symons 66), Asante (for Fletcher 76)
Not used: Milbourne, Adams, Fagbohun, Cowler
Cobblers: Duke, Collins, Reid, Doumbe, Widdowson, Hackett, Ravenhill, Ferdinand, Emerton, Blyth, Norris
Subs: Tozer (for Collins 66), Morris (for Blyth 88)
Not used: Carter, Demontagnac, Deegan, McNamara, Harriott