Marc Richards fired home a penalty to score his 18th goal of the season and send Northampton Town eight points clear at the top of League 2.

The 33-year-old netted from the spot in the second half to steal all three points against third placed Oxford United at the Kassam Stadium.

Incredibly, the Cobblers have now won eight consecutive games and have stretched the gap between themselves and the U’s to 12 points.

Danny Hylton forced Cobblers goalkeeper Adam Smith into action early on with a header from Jordan Bowery’s cross as the hosts put pressure on the league leaders.

And they continued to be the best team for the first 20 minutes before Chris Wilder’s men started showing their style when Lawson D’Ath back-heeled to Lee Collins who saw his shot from the edge of the box saved.

Ricky Holmes also had a chance for the visitors, but his effort was wayward and ended up in the car park behind the goal at the Kassam Stadium.

Zander Diamond had a chance to put the Cobblers in front before the break as he rose to head D’Ath’s free-kick over the crossbar.

On the stroke of half-time Benji Buchel pulled off a stunning save to deny a glancing header from Marc Richards who met Brendan Maloney’s cross.

The second period started in similar fashion as Buchel pushed John-Joe O’Toole’s stinging effort onto the post and it bounced away.

Marc Richards is firing Chris Wilder's side to glory. Pete Norton/Getty Images Sport

Northampton were then awarded a penalty when Johnny Mullins was judged to have handled the ball inside the box, despite protests from the hosts.

And skipper Richards stepped up to fire the ball high into the top of the net to put the visitors in front and send the 1,943 travelling fans wild.

Hylton set up Liam Sercombe as Oxford looked for an equaliser, but the midfielder shot wide.

Wilder’s team dropped deeper and deeper as the game went on, and despite a few U’s chances they hold on to extend their lead at the top of the table.

They are also now 18 points ahead of fourth placed Accrington Stanley, meaning that automatic promotion now looks almost certain despite having played two games more.

Northampton XI: Smith, Moloney, Buchanan, O’Toole, Diamond, McDonald, Rose, Holmes (Hoskins 75), D’Ath, Richards (Martin 67), Collins (Taylor (90+4).

Subs not used: Clarke, Cresswell, Prosser, Adams.

Oxford United XI: Buchel, Skarz, Roofe, Mullins, Wright (Dunkley 75), Sercombe, Hylton (O’Dowda 75), Kenny, Lundstram, Maguire (Ismail 85), Bowery.

Subs not used: Slocombe, MacDonald, Ruffels, Long.