Northampton 0 City 1

SOME things are still guaranteed in this ever-changing world. Death, taxes and City beating Northampton.

Games with the Cobblers have proved a shoo-in during recent seasons – and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink discovered that was still the case at Sixfields on Saturday. New boss but old habits.

The Dutchman might have thought fate would lend a hand. It was, after all, virtually seven years to the day since Peter Taylor's City were overcome by a Northampton side still high from beating Liverpool at Anfield less than 72 hours earlier.

Taylor's managerial masterstroke was to allow a team that had gone to extra-time and penalties – and then celebrated deep into the night – the chance to burn themselves out in the first hour before the Bantams would pick them off when fatigue set in.

The plan fell flat as Northampton ignored his script and were 2-0 up by then and cruising to victory.

But there were no seven-year itch for Stuart McCall as City made it 11 games without defeat since then and a fifth straight victory in those encounters.

The decisive goal from Tony McMahon was the stand-out moment of quality in a scruffy encounter. But just as they had done the previous week against Rotherham, the Bantams dug in to protect what they had.

To repeat a phrase fast becoming this season's cliche, this was another of those games that they would probably have drawn a year ago.

As Dominic Poleon mentioned after another recent away success at Peterborough, good teams find a way to win without always turning on the style. "It's all about the Ws," as he posted on the social media from the team bus home.

McMahon had recalled beforehand his Middlesbrough memories of Hasselbaink, the "angriest" player he had ever appeared alongside.

His sizzling set-piece will have ensured another death stare from the Northampton boss – and his current team-mates rushing for the headphones for the journey back to Bradford.

Colin Doyle had the misfortune to sit next to McMahon in the away dressing room and got the full running commentary at half-time.

"He kept telling me 'what a worldy'," laughed the keeper. "I wondered what he was on about!

"But to be fair, he's been putting in some unbelievable deliveries, so it was about time that he scored one himself."

Doyle's opposite number Matt Ingram may have done McMahon a bit of a favour by presenting such an inviting target behind the Northampton wall.

The on-loan QPR stopper moved well to the left – and was then left scrabbling at thin air as the right back lifted the free-kick into the opposite corner.

But take nothing away from the strike by a player currently in a rich vein of form. Don't underestimate the influence of such a big character in the team performing as well as he is.

It certainly lifted a scrappy affair that defined the term "winning ugly".

Hasselbaink may have enjoyed the sartorial advantage on the touchline, with his sharp designer suit outsmarting the tracky top and shorts combo preferred by his rival manager.

But McCall, once more, had the edge where it mattered, with his side carrying on the sturdy work from their previous outing.

Again, we should not underestimate how well the Bantams boss has done to forge this new side so soon into the season.

It was handy the fixtures fell as they did because of the similarity in approach from the opposition.

Like Rotherham, Northampton looked to hit the City penalty area long and early. There was none of this Dutch total football clap-trap in a side that McCall described as the biggest in the division.

The abundance of six-footers in the home ranks ensured another physical afternoon for the Bantams back four. Once again they emerged with flying colours.

Both sides took advantage of the Sixfields slope which, while it is hardly Barnet's old Underhill mark two, is more dramatic than it appears.

City could have made matters easier for themselves with a bit more of a clinical edge during a first half when they saw plenty of the ball.

Alex Gilliead and Nicky Law enjoyed an excellent playing surface to carry the ball deep into enemy territory and there were chances for Poleon and Charlie Wyke.

The centre forward, still looking to double a one-goal tally on the road in 2017, forced an excellent save from Ingram, while Poleon swung an air shot at an inviting cross from Romain Vincelot.

Law should have broken his duck for the season but went for placement rather than power. They could have been three up before McMahon stepped up to show how it should be done.

Northampton had a justified gripe about the legitimacy of the free-kick. On first view, Brendan Moloney appeared to get something on the ball as he halted Gilliead's mazy run just outside the D.

That explained the constant haranguing of referee Graham Horwood by the home fans from that point.

But City would have had equal grounds to moan at the official had Matt Crooks buried a gilt-edged opportunity just before the break after Matt Grimes had clearly controlled a cross with his right arm to set him up.

City's game suffered in the second half as they found themselves increasingly penned in. There was less composure on the ball.

Apart from one Gilliead raid, which Ash Taylor almost turned into his own net, Northampton called the shots – without forcing a real save from Doyle to threaten another shut-out bonus.

That solid defensive protection, in which Matt Kilgallon excelled once more, did give up two late opportunities.

Alex Revell climbed above Gilliead to head wide from six yards and then, well into stoppages, Marc Richards scooped a close-range volley over.

But the fortune was with City to record a third win in their five-match unbeaten start on their travels.

It sets up this week's home double-header nicely, although McCall has stressed there will be changes for tomorrow's visit of a Fleetwood side smarting from giving up back-to-back fours.

McCall had made that message clear to his players during Friday's team meeting, explaining: "I told them we will look to freshen it regardless of the result.

"It's not a slap in the face to anyone but we'll have a look at how we go with a few new personnel."