Reds suffered only their second League 2 defeat in the last seven games despite a fightback in the last half-hour against an impressive Northampton team.
The Cobblers were good value for their 2-0 lead after 60 minutes but Reds were thrown a lifeline when Brendan Maloney was sent off for denying substitute Shamir Fenelon a goalscoring opportunity on the goal-line. Simon Walton converted the penalty but the hosts could not find the equaliser.
Boss Mark Yates named an unchanged side for the first meeting between the clubs since April 2012 as the teams currently third and second in the League 2 form table went head to head.
And that statistic ran true to form in the first 20 minutes as the impressive Cobblers opened up a two-goal lead.
They went ahead in the fifth minute although goalkeeper Darryl Flahavan did his best to prevent the goal, blocking Marc Richards’ penalty somewhat softly awarded when Lawson D’Ath went down under a challenge from Walton. Unfortunately, the rebound went straight to Byrom who headed past the prone keeper.
Reds had their first chance ten minutes later when Gwion Edwards, who made a lively start, found Matt Harrold on the edge of the box and his goalbound shot was deflected wide for a corner. Ex-Red Nicky Adams broke and was brought down by Deacon, who picked up a yellow card.
The hosts looked unusually shaky at the back early on and conceded a soft goal in the 20th minute, although there was no disguising the quality of O’Toole’s finish. Reds had several chances to clear Alfie Potter’s left-wing cross and when the ball dropped to the Cobblers’ midfielder he struck it superbly past Flahavan with his left foot from 20 yards.
At that stage it wasn’t difficult to see why Northampton are in such good form recently but the first quarter had been characterised by some ragged work all over the pitch by Reds, whose cause wasn’t helped by a whistle-happy referee.
It nearly got worse for the home side in the 28th minute. Adams cut inside and Sonny Bradley did well to block his shot otherwise Byrom would have had his second instead of finding the side netting on the stretch.
The confident Cobblers were quicker to the ball over the pitch and looked a threat every time they went forward. In contrast, Reds struggled to get any momentum in the first half.
It nearly got worse a minute into the re-start when Adams’ curling effort was fortunately blocked by Lewis Young to stop it flying into the top corner.
But Reds should have pulled one back on 53 minutes. Harrold was put through by Walton’s pass and seemed to have done the hard bit when he side-stepped keeper Adam Smith only to find the side-netting from a tight angle on the left of the six-yard box.
Harrold made way for Fenelon on the hour and the sub made an immediate impact. He was pulled back on the goal-line by Maloney as he went to convert Rhys Murphy’s pass and referee Martin awarded a penalty which Walton converted by sending Smith the wrong way.
The Cobblers were still a threat though and Zander Diamond headed Alfie Potter’s free kick just wide before the lively Fenelon was denied twice in as many moments by Smith. He parried his glancing header from Deacon’s corner and then held on when Fenelon tried to stab the loose ball into the net. Edwards then saw a shot deflected wide as the home side began to turn the screw.
Josh Yorwerth nearly turned provider when he moved into the box to deliver a decent cross which just eluded Fenelon as he slid in at the far post.
Yates then made a double change with Lee Barnard and Luke Rooney replacing Murphy and Walton but as the last ten minutes began the momentum Reds had after scoring appeared to have fizzled out. Indeed, if Potter had been a bit taller he would have headed David Buchanan’s teasing cross from the left under rather than over the bar at the far post.
Crawley produced one last push. Yorwerth was off target with a header from Deacon’s cross then Hancox floated a corner onto the top of the crossbar but Northampton held on.