With 1,000 socially-distanced supporters watching on from the West Stand, Sam Ricketts’ men got their home campaign off to a losing start in League One as Sarkic’s hashed clearance - a third keeper error in three games - handed the Cobblers a largely undeserved three points.
The safe return of fans, with Town one of seven EFL pilot clubs, was the headline act in Shrewsbury but the afternoon got off to a disappointing start for Salop as Mark Marshall swept Northampton into a 12th-minute lead after home debutant Marlon Fossey was caught out.
But from then on for much of the 90 minutes it was Ricketts’ side that dominated the ball and the majority of the chances.
Town, who lost Ethan Ebanks-Landell to a growing injury list inside the first minute, deservedly levelled through Shaun Whalley’s first goal of the season just before the hour and it looked like it was the hosts who would push for a winner.
But, out of nowhere, Wolves loanee Sarkic failed to connect with his clearance and Sam Hoskins profited on an ultimately disappointing afternoon on the pitch.
Sarkic’s nightmare brought back recent nightmares from Middlesbrough in the Carabao Cup, where two errors from Harry Burgoyne proved costly in Town’s exit.
But, in the stands, the presence of 1,000 Salopians was a fantastic and welcome sight with Town again proving themselves as a forward-thinking Football League club and Town’s PA thanked supporters at full-time, where 1,000 fans applauded Ricketts and his players.
There was a football match taking place, but the wider and far more important story today was something resembling a semblance of normality as Town returned to Montgomery Waters Meadow.
The entire matchday going experience - including for us reporters and media - is a routine we all take for granted and being back at the Meadow felt truly special after starting this strangest of all campaigns with two games on the road.
Driving up Oteley Road there were a handful of supporters draped in their blue and amber colours making the way to the stadium.
Being back inside the ground some 90 minutes before kick-off for the first time since March was a surreal but satisfying experience.
But the sight of supporters beginning to trickle into the West Stand was truly something to behold.
The football club have worked miracles in getting the stadium ready to deal with these Covid times and to be one of just seven clubs from a possible 72 in the EFL to stand out as a pilot for fans’ safe return, like safe standing before it, is something to be proud of.
Of course there was a match to watch, newly-promoted Northampton the visitors and, like Shrewsbury, were looking for a first win of the new League One campaign.
Keith Curle’s men were, unfortunately for Cobblers fans, ravaged by injuries, missing as many as eight first-team options.
Key men Fraser Horsfall, Luka Racic and Ricky Korboa were unexpected absences, joining the fine Northampton had missing. The visitors’ bench included five academy players.
The familiar figure of Steve Arnold was in goal for last season’s League Two play-off winners.
Ricketts was dealing with a few absentees of his own. Sean Goss and Dave Edwards were joined in the treatment room by youngster Ryan Barnett, while former Cobblers captain Aaron Pierre, who missed out through suspension.
The good news came in Ro-Shaun Williams being declared fit after a hamstring scare. He moved into his natural central position with Fossey the headline team news act - making his full senior league debut.
The Fulham loan right-back, 22, a former USA youth international, had impressed in cameos from the bench at Middlesbrough and Portsmouth and is ahead of Donald Love and Ryan Sears in Town’s pecking order.
Fossey was joined by fellow new boy Sarkic, in goal, and Huddersfield loanee Scott High in midfield, making his first appearance in front of Town fans.
Striker Rekeil Pyke, also brought in from the Terriers, made his bow in front of Salopians.
Town’s bench consisted of academy graduate Ryan Sears and academy youngsters James Rowland and young forward Louis Lloyd.
Town were also without their club captain Ollie Norburn. The midfielder, on his way back from knee surgery and likely to make the bench, revealed on Friday evening that he and his partner had lost their newborn son, Louie Ollie. The thoughts of everyone connected are with the Norburns.
The West Stand was as full as it was allowed to be come 3pm, with socially-distant fans sitting a few seats and row apart. Cobblers were out first followed a minute later by Town.
And it was a special moment as all 1,000 supporters cheered their players as Town emerged from the tunnel.
The contest began badly for the hosts. Inside 30 seconds Ethan Ebanks-Landell dropped to the deck after an aerial collision with fellow ex-Wolves man Benny Ashley-Seal and came off significantly worse.
After all the relevant medical checks, which took a good three or four minutes, the defender hobbled down the tunnel with a blooded head, forcing his manager into a instant re-think.
Brad Walker, so impressive at Portsmouth, dropped into centre-half with Williams and Josh Daniels entered for his Meadow debut, taking Walker’s role in midfield.
The incident did nothing to help Salop. Cobblers had all of the ball inside 10 minutes and, 12 minutes in, it was unsurprising to see them lead.
A neat ball out to Northampton’s left caught out home debutant Fossey as Sam Hoskins’ helped Joseph Mills take advantage, reaching the byline well and cutting back an expert crisp low cross for the onrushing Marshall to sweep high into the net, beyond Sarkic, to break the deadlock. There was nothing the on-loan Wolves man could do.
Audible anxiety began to spread around the West Stand, who had previously been loud with their clapping and encouragement.
Shrewsbury woke up and began to improve 15 minutes in. Sub Daniels began busying himself in a central midfield role, alongside Josh Vela and High, and Town were suddenly winning their 50-50s and seeing the ball.
Highlights included a couple of charges forward and clever passes by Jason Cummings looking to get Shaun Whalley and Pyke away.
A delicious pass by Cummings from the right set Pyke clear inside the Northampton box. Free inside the six yard box, the forward managed to get a shot away from under his feet but could not beat Arnold, who did well to narrow the gap.
Town improved and their fans responded. Daniels, Pyke and Cummings were sharp as the hosts looked for openings.
Fossey endured a tough opening half hour but never let his head drop, despite a couple of pieces of loose control and overhit crosses.
Scott Goblourne’s smart low cross from the left interested Pyke, who got across his defender but could not get enough on the flicked finish to test Arnold.
Curle’s visitors were seeing less of the ball but threatened as left-back Mills worked some room just inside the Salop box and flashed wide at the near post.
Cummings was full of endeavour, cutting in from his right flank and flashing a left-footed effort wide of the far post.
Walker and Williams got away with a slight miscommunication but, as half-time approached, Shrewsbury were firmly in charge.
Signs of the new Shrewsbury were there for all to see as former Huddersfield colleagues High and Pyke combined brilliantly to work themselves into the box and the latter’s fine cross was just away from his team-mate.
Seconds later Pyke worked it nicely out Whalley, who jinked past his marker along the byline and neglected against crossing, instead trying to catch out Arnold with a cheeky stabbed shot but the keeper was equal to it saving with his legs. The rebound unfortunately dropped to a white shirt.
Town did not want half-time to come. At the end of a lengthy period of added time, Fossey almost picked out Daniels inside the box with a fizzed low cross, the midfielder just miscuing his strike.
Cobblers could only clear as far as Golbourne, whose strike from 25 yards arrowed towards the bottom corner but Arnold kept it out with a parried save.
There was still time for Cummings to curl a measured strike narrowly wide of the top left corner after Whalley’s neat lay-off.
Ricketts’ men needed to begin the second period, attacking the goal at the Salop Leisure Stand, how they finished the first.
Town looked the brighter again. Cummings was harshly flagged offside when through on goal before the Scot combined well with Whalley, with a clever ball over the top, which led to the winger sending a stinging left-footed drive at Arnold.
Moments later, as the contest neared the hour mark, that combination was repeated and this time worked a treat.
Cummings’ pass was perfect and Whalley took on his defender into the Cobblers box and, from a tight left angle, sent a right-footed finish across the keeper which proved too hot for Arnold to handle - the ex-Town keeper could only help it into the net.
Town, and Whalley in particular, were all over the visiting Cobblers, who had two bites at the cherry attempting to end a rampaging Whalley run illegally. Christopher Missilou rightly booked for a foul on the edge of the box that Walker could only hammer into Northampton’s sturdy wall.
Shrewsbury were the only side looking for a winner but, with 25 minutes to go and out of absolutely nowhere it was the visitors who led through a Sarkic error.
Matt Warburton’s pass from the right touchline looked too strong for the Cobblers’ forwards and harmless but the Montenegro keeper, rushing outside his box to clear, made a hash of the clearance, missing it completely, to leave Hoskins the simple chance of converting from 20 yards.
After Harry Burgoyne’s errors at Middlesbrough it was the second time keeper mistakes have cost Shrewsbury this season.
That goal rocked Salop and took the wind out of their sails.
Sarkic, to his credit, attonned for the error with a stunning one-handed save to deny Hoskins after Town failed to clear a corner. The reaction stop was a true stunner.
Mills then blasted a rising drive over the angle before sub Caleb Chukwuemeka failed to stretch Sarkic from a tight angle.
Salop, who had sent on Daniel Udoh for the limping Pyke, attempted a response. Fossey’s knockdown just wouldn’t drop for a combination of Udoh and Cummings before High’s long-range effort flew wide via a deflection and Walker stabbed the corner off target.
Daniels was next to threaten a leveller. Zipping into the box and steering a low near-post drive inches wide.
As something of a curiously open, end-to-end contest neared its conclusion, Northampton’s Matt Warburton found the outside of the left post after his mis-hit cross sailed over Sarkic.
Whalley climbed well from a good right-sided cross only to send a good header chance over with four minutes left.
There was to be no equaliser for Shrewsbury on an afternoon that will be remembered for the day Town stood up to bring fans back to live football - and for another goalkeeping mistake.
Shrewsbury Town (4-3-3):
Sarkic; Fossey (Love, 85), Williams, Ebanks-Landell © (Daniels, 6), Golbourne; Walker, High, Pyke; Cummings, Pyke (Udoh, 69), Whalley.
Subs not used: Burgoyne (gk), Sears, Rowland, Lloyd.
Northampton Town (4-4-1-1):
Arnold; Harriman, Martin, Bolger ©; Marshall (Roberts, 90), Watkins, Missilou, Milles; Hoskins; Warburton (Lines, 87), Ashley-Seal (Chukwuemeka, 44).
Subs not used: Mitchell (gk), Johnston, Dyche, Flanagan.
Referee: Neil Hair