A youthful Cardiff City side bowed out in the First Round of the Capital One Cup after encountering a resolute Northampton side inside a fierce Sixfields Stadium.
It took Cardiff less than five minutes to open the scoring. Heidar Helguson marked his competitive debut by winning and converting an early penalty, the Iceman keeping his cool from the penalty spot to beat Northampton keeper Snedker. Stephen McPhail left the field with injury after twenty minutes, before Northampton's new signing David Artell got a headed equaliser ten minutes before the end of the first half.
The second half started in controversy. Northampton took the lead through another header, this time by Alex Nicholls, but the goal was scored when Cardiff were down to ten men. Jordon Mutch had been refused permission by the official to enter the field of play to replace Joe Mason for what appeared to be a problem with his footwear. Malky Mackay was visibly bemused by the incident.
City were unable to find an equaliser, though the match will have provided vital experience for many debutants who appeared in the tie, all of who produced fine contributions despite their inexperience.
Five teenagers and two new senior signings made the starting line-up for the Bluebirds at Sixfields, as City sought to leap the first hurdle of the 2012/13 League Cup.
Despite changes (forced by a combination of international call-ups and injuries) from the side that beat Premier League Newcastle at the weekend, it took just four minutes for the drama to start. Cardiff were awarded an early penalty following Kelvin Langmead's challenge on Heidar Helguson, which referee Phillips deemed to be unfair. The home side were unhappy - David Artell was shown a yellow card for his disagreeable reaction to the official's decision - though Helguson stroked home a confident-looking spot-kick to give Cardiff the advantage.
GOAL: NORTHAMPTON TOWN 0-1 CARDIFF CITY (Helguson pen, 4 mins)
Artell almost equalised immediately, his shot flying wide of Lewis's post. At the opposite end, Joe Mason brought the first save of the game from Cobblers keeper Dean Snedker, who was appearing as first-choice loan keeper Lee Nicholls was refused permission to play by parent club Wigan Athletic.
As the home side increased the pressure on City, Chris Hackett's eighteen-yard volley was deflected over for a corner, for which Cardiff's inexperienced defenders were resolute. Young French midfielder Kevin Sainte-Luce became the first City player to have his name taken by the official for his challenge on Joe Widdowson.
An early substitution was forced upon the away side following an injury to Stephen McPhail, whose comeback was agonisingly brief. Young Welshman Tommy O'Sullivan was brought on in his place, another young man making his competitive debut in City colours.
Cardiff Substitution: Tommy O'Sullivan on for Stephen McPhail (19 mins)
After a fairly even ten minutes, the home side got themselves back in the game, David Artell's header from Ben Tozer's throw cancelling out Helguson's opener. Artell, who only signed for the club the day before the match, had scored at this stage of the competition last season for former club Crewe Alexandra.
GOAL: NORTHAMPTON TOWN 1-1 CARDIFF CITY (Artell, 37 mins)
Tozer's throws were visibly causing Cardiff's defence problems, as with five minutes to half-time, another effort ended up at the feet of Ben Harding. He was unable to convert a volleyed attempt though and both sides then exchanged attacks which came to nothing up until the half-time whistle.
HALF TIME: NORTHAMPTON TOWN 1-1 CARDIFF CITY
Joe Mason did not return for the second half, though in a strange incident his replacement, Jordon Mutch, was not allowed onto the field, seemingly for a problem with his boots. While Cardiff were down to ten, the home side took the lead, a sickener for the young City side who had defended so well in the first half. Another header, this time from Alex Nicholls, put the League Two side into the lead. Debutant Nicholls, signed from Walsall, converted Ben Harding's cross from three yards out.
GOAL: NORTHAMPTON TOWN 2-1 CARDIFF CITY (A Nicholls, 48 mins)
Cardiff Substitution: Jordan Mutch on for Joe Mason (50 mins)
Mutch's first contribution on his competitive debut for the Bluebirds was an effort from just outside the penalty area which went just wide of the left-hand post. At the other end Langmead nearly extended the home side's lead, though his low shot from inside the six-yard box was well saved by keeper Lewis.
Another Northampton chance came when an unfair challenge on Clive Platt by Ben Nugent resulted in a free kick, which was crossed in from the right channel, bringing a save from Joe Lewis. Chris Hackett soon left the field to a standing ovation from the home crowd.
Northampton Substitution: Henoc Mukendi on for Chris Hackett (56 mins)
Malky Mackay sought to roll the dice by throwing on Nat Jarvis in place of Helguson, Jarvis having got a goal at Oxford in last season's first round of the competition.
Cardiff Substitution: Nat Jarvis on for Heidar Helguson (61 mins)
Joe Lewis was being called into action regularly for a small period, taking the opposition's crosses in his stride has he had done all night. Ralls' long-range effort sailed over the bar, as Cardiff sought to reverse the momentum.
There was plenty of banter from the away fans when ex-Swansea striker Adebayo Akinfenwa came on, the big man making his return to Northampton after a season-long spell at Gillingham.
Northampton Substitution: Adebayo Akinfenwa on for Clive Platt (69 mins)
Luke Guttridge's foul on Nat Jarvis earned him a yellow card from referee Phillips as Akinfenwa's introduction coincided with the match gaining a more physical dimension. Craig Conway was fouled by Alex Nicholls, before Oshilaja was shown yellow following a foul on sub Mukendi.
Akinfenwa's twelve-yard shot was blocked by Ben Nugent, before a Harding corner was flicked wide by Lewis. The tannoy announcer named goalscorer Artell as the home side's man of the match with ten minutes to go.
City were being denied repeatedly by the solid defending of Widdowson and company. Aidy Boothroyd's side were looking likely to hold on due to their determination as Nicholls missed another shot from close range.
Akinfenwa picked up a booking for a foul on fellow substitute Mutch before Tommy O'Sullivan was presented with City's best chance to equalise on ninety minutes; he was visibly disappointed at being unable to convert Declan John's cross. Cardiff couldn't repeat their road-to-Wembley heroics despite their youthful side battling bravely at Sixfields. Attention now turns to the Championship season opener at home to Huddersfield Town.
FULL TIME: NORTHAMPTON TOWN 2-1 CARDIFF CITY