BURY faced up to their first true test of character under David Flitcroft’s leadership and came through it with flying colours at the Sixfields Stadium.
The spectre of relegation loomed large over both clubs going into the fixture, but it was Bury who took a giant stride towards League Two safety with a comfortable victory over Chris Wilder’s second-bottom side.
The Shakers’ first win in eight matches, inspired by debut goals from loan signings Hallam Hope and Danny Rose, opened up a seven-point cushion over the Cobblers.
But Flitcroft was more interested in his own side’s resolute display than the body blow inflicted on a Northampton team that includes former Bury boss Alan Knill in its backroom staff.
“I didn’t look at that effect at all,” he said after the final whistle. “To build momentum you have got to self-propel. You have got to get your own house in order. Whatever happens to Northampton, happens to Northampton.
“We’ve got to design a football team that wins beyond this season and in the future. I will create a team for the future of this football club.
“There is a massive desire that comes from the chairman down. We won’t leave a stone unturned in trying to get the best players possible at this football club.
“We are doing it through a step-by-step process and today has been a real test of the boys’ character coming here to pull off what was really a resounding win.”
Hope and Rose, both aged 20, were drafted in from Everton and Barnsley, respectively, on Thursday before the closure of the loan window.
Flitcroft admitted he hoped the young strikers would reinvigorate a side that had shown signs of flagging following a run of 11 games in 39 days. But he couldn’t have dreamed of a more perfect scenario.
The Bury boss started with Hope, who scored on his debut during a two-month loan stay at Sixfield’s earlier in the season and repeated the feat against his former side after just 19 minutes in a Shakers shirt.
There was some uncertainty whether the opener had crossed the line after Hope’s stooped header from a Mayor cross bounced down off the underside of the crossbar, but referee Stephen Martin had no doubt.
Conceding the goal re-focused the efforts of the home side, who were unlucky not to equalise on the half hour when John Marquis’s shot across goal bounced back off the post.
But that was the closest they came all afternoon as centre-back Pablo Mills marshalled Bury to a ninth clean sheet in 16 matches.
At the other end, Mayor, who was sick before the match and was substituted due to illness five minutes after the break, settled the nerves with the JD outfit’s second goal on 35 minutes from a shot that looped up off Northampton defender Zander Diamond and over keeper Matt Duke.
Jim McNulty was possibly fortunate not to concede a penalty before the break after a Chris Hackett shot rebounded off his arm in the box.
But Hope wasted two decent chances to extend the Bury lead either side of the interval before Rose, who came off the bench to replace Daniel Nardiello in the second half, had a shot blocked by Duke.
And while Ian Morris came close to pulling a goal back as Northampton threatened with a barrage of long balls and throws in the closing stages, Rose had the final say, capitalising on Duke’s mistake following a horror back pass from Evan Horwood to slot into the empty net.
“The two lads coming in have added that intent, which we have been missing,” said Flitcroft, following five draws and two defeats from their previous seven games.
“We have been missing that real desire to put teams to the sword, but we have done in a very comprehensive win.
“It was a game we couldn’t afford to lose and keeping a clean sheet was something we had worked on.
“It was important that we didn’t give them anything to feed off and we didn’t.”
NORTHAMPTON TOWN: Duke; McSweeney (Tozer 70), Diamond, Kouo-Doumbe, Horwood; Hackett (Dickenson 45), Carter, Ravenhill (Deegan 45), Morris; Sinclair, Marquis.
Not used: Snedker, Connell, Toney, Moyo.
BURY: Jensen 7; Veseli 7, Mills 9, McNulty 8, Hussey 7; Jones 7, Sedgwick 7, Tutte 6, Mayor 8 (Procter 7 50); Nardiello 6 (Rose 6 67), Hope 8 (Platt 6 72).
Not used: Cameron, Soares, Charles-Cook, Obadeyi.
Goals: Northampton Town 0 Bury 3 (Hope 19, Mayor 35, Rose 90+1).
Yellow cards: Northampton Town – Deegan 68.
Referee: Stephen Martin (Staffordshire).
Attendance: 4,631 (406 visiting).
Star men: Hallam Hope and Danny Rose – Bury’s perfect day was built on the foundation provided by a ninth clean sheet in 16 matches. Pablo Mills was yet again pivotal in another exemplary defensive display. But while the Shakers have failed to translate those clean sheets into wins in recent weeks, Hope and Rose provided the vital missing ingredient to allow them to do that. It wasn’t just their goals that were so important, but also their willingness to run in behind and harry defenders that proved key to Bury’s welcome victory.