Conor Chaplin’s 87th-minute goal knocked Northampton Town off the top of Sky Bet League Two as their seven-game winning run came to an end with a 2-1 home defeat to Portsmouth at Sixfields on Saturday afternoon.
A point would have been a fair reflection of an even encounter but substitute Chaplin was on hand to score with his very first touch following a swift Portsmouth counter-attack.
In front of the biggest home crowd of the season, with 5,859 fans packed inside Sixfields, Ryan Cresswell’s thumping 17th minute header had Northampton in front but Portsmouth levelled through Gareth Evans just after the half-hour mark.
Both teams had chances to go into half-time ahead but neither could convert and 1-1 was a fair reflection of an open, entertaining first period, which then made way for a more scrappy second half.
Cresswell and John-Joe O’Toole went close from corners for the home side but it was Portsmouth who snatched victory late on to inflict just a second defeat in 16 league matches on Northampton.
The result means Chris Wilder’s side have dropped to second with Plymouth Argyle the new leaders following their win over Hartlepool.
Earlier, Wilder had named an unchanged team for just the second time this season with the same Cobblers XI taking to the field which won at Luton last time out.
Playing their first game at Sixfields since going top of the table, it was no surprise to see a high-on-confidence Northampton side make a bright start and they almost had an early sight of goal but for a crucial last-ditch intervention which prevented Joel Byrom’s cross from reaching an unmarked Marc Richards.
Pompey themselves have been in good form of late, having scored 14 goals in their last four matches, and they also showed signs of their attacking threat when a quick break saw Caolan Lavery find space but his cross just evaded the onrushing Gareth Evans.
Despite plenty of openings, it was not until the 15th minute when the first chance on goal arrived and it was an excellent opportunity for Richards, who found himself through on goal after an awful error by defender Adam Webster, however the Cobblers striker’s left-footed effort was well saved low down by Brian Murphy.
But that miss was to prove irrelevant when, from the subsequent corner, Northampton made the breakthrough as Byrom’s inviting cross was met by a powerful Cresswell header which thudded into the back of the net, rendering Murphy helpless.
Portsmouth’s attacking prowess remained evident despite conceding, though, and they repeatedly found space on the break.
Lavery headed Ben Davies’ free-kick narrowly wide in the closest the visitors had come up until this point, but Pompey were taking a few chances at the back at the other end and Alfie Potter almost profited on one occasion, however the visitors manage to clear for a corner, from which the Cobblers almost scored another brilliantly-worked set-piece but no one was there to touch home Nicky Adams’ low cross which fizzed across the face of goal.
And such are the fine margins in football that, moments later, Portsmouth equalised.
It came from a swift breakaway with Marc McNulty riding a couple of challenges before producing a pinpoint cross that was met by Evans, whose header into the top corner stood despite suspicions of offside.
Cobblers almost immediately had the lead back but Portsmouth somehow managed to survive an almighty goalmouth scramble with two goal-line clearances before, at the other end, Adam Smith saved well from Lavery as the game began to open up but although the visitors ended the half on the front foot, the game remained level at half-time.
After what had been an open and entertaining opening 45 minutes, the game turned into a scrappy affair after the break with neither side able to get going.
Evans’ long-range attempt on 62 minutes was the first shot on goal in the second period before the introduction of Ricky Holmes livened up proceedings and the Cobblers then enjoyed their best spell of the half, though they had no end product to show for it.
Instead, it was Portsmouth who were next to go close when another effort from distance, this time by Danny Hollands, whizzed narrowly wide of Smith’s goal.
The Cobblers keeper then had to be quick off his line to deny McNulty after the home side had once again played themselves into trouble before Evans shot wide as Portsmouth began to dominate.
The most likely source of a Northampton goal came from Byrom’s corners and the home side almost went ahead on two separate occasions, first O’Toole nodded over before Cresswell headed onto the woodwork.
But then, just as it appeared Northampton were building up a head of steam going into the final five minutes, they were hit by the sucker-punch when Portsmouth scored a well-worked counter-attacking goal.
It all stemmed from a Cobblers corner as the visitors cleared and then broke before Ben Tollitt drove down the right and unleashed a fierce effort which Smith could only parry to Chaplin, who turned home with his first touch having just come on.
It was a cruel blow for Town but the hosts refused to buckle and they were oh so close to instantly levelling as Dominic Calvert-Lewin headed against the crossbar, however it was not to be and Portsmouth held on.
Cobblers: Smith, Moloney, Cresswell, Diamond (Hoskins 88), Buchanan, O’Toole, Byrom, Potter (Holmes 65), D’Ath, Adams (Calvert-Lewin 57), Richards (c)
Subs not used: Clarke, McDonald, Taylor, Lelan
Portsmouth: Murphy, Davies, Webster, Clarke, Stevens, Hollands, Doyle (c), Evans, McNulty (McGurk 80), Bennett (Tollitt 76), Lavery (Chaplin 85)
Subs not used: Bass, Haunstrup, Barton, Close
Referee: Fred Graham
Pompey fans: 938