Match Report: Northampton Town v Exeter City
Having snatched a winner at the death at Northampton last season it was a case of the tables turned at Sixfields as the hosts finally broke City’s stubborn resistance to record a 1-0 win. City made one change from the side that drew 1-1 with York last week – Matt Jay coming in for Aaron Dawson. So, City lined up: Pym in goal, a centre back trio of Bennett, Baldwin and Woodman, with wing backs Wheeler and Davies. In midfield were Oakley, Grimes and Sercombe, with Jay and Cummins up front. The bench comprised Hamon, Tillson, Dawson, Keohane, Riley-Lowe, Pope and Watkins.
With Sixfields currently a three-sided ground any attempt at atmosphere was provided by a small bunch of home fans while the away support was strangely very subdued, and the home side could have been out of sight in the first 15 minutes as they flew out of the blocks. It was former City loanee Chris Hackett pulling the strings, finding himself in acres of space on several occasions and providing pinpoint crosses only to find his forwards unable to apply the finishing touches or City’s defenders putting in fine defensive headers. Christy Pym on one occasion resembled Peter Schmeichel to save from point blank range from Joel Byrom, while Emile Sinclair should have done a lot better than to smack his shot against the roof of the stand when well placed.
City came into the game more as the half went on, albeit with the familiar issue of being unable to muster any real shooting chances. Jay was unable to get off a shot from the edge of the box, while smart work from Cummins deserved more than a blocked shot from Grimes. Matt Oakley was in masterful form in the first half, breaking up play and always playing with composure and linking well with his fellow midfielders, and David Wheeler was beginning to get forward, and it was from a Wheeler cross that Zander Diamond nearly lashed into his own net, forcing a superb reaction save from Matt Duke.
Northampton started the second half as they did the first, Sinclair again fluffing his lines in front of goal at the start of the half. City were competing well, still without too much penetration, but had a golden opportunity to go ahead. Wheeler, increasingly City’s biggest threat both aerially and on the wing, got to the byline and pulled back across goal – the ball reached Sercombe at the far post, unfortunately it was just behind him and he couldn’t get enough momentum on the ball to force home. Another Wheeler cross needed the slightest touch but it evaded everybody.
Substitutions were made – Ivan Toney replaced the ineffective Sinclair for Northampton, Keohane replaced Jay, then Paul Tisdale withdrew Wheeler for Dawson in order to go to four at the back. The Cobblers were finishing strongly and forced a number of opportunities but came up against the man mountain that was England Under 20s new boy Christy Pym, who pulled off a number of spectacular saves to keep it to 0-0 and found himself under the cosh from crosses, getting himself (and Richards) in the book following a scuffle after Pym felt he’d been fouled. On another occasion he claimed a cross only to drop it out for a corner albeit after a clear shove in the back, and momentarily appeared to lose it after the corner was given – Pat Baldwin calmed him down but Pym clearly had a case. Ivan Toney attempted an overhead kick that clattered against the bar, but this was just a precursor to the late heartache as Northampton scored in the last minute for the third successive league game. A long throw from the right found its way to Richards, who showed Toney how to do it by lashing his own overhead kick into the net beyond the despairing Pym.
With the board showing four minutes of added time, City attempted to pick themselves up off the floor but Northampton easily closed out the game to clinch what was ultimately a deserved win. Chris Wilder’s side is big, quick and physical, and with a bit more composure in front of goal (albeit they won’t come up against Christy Pym every week!) they will be up there amongst the challengers by May, something the club’s owner will expect for his outlay. For City, it was a gallant effort with no little adventure up front, but there still lingers the thought that if the meagre budget will stretch to it the side is crying out for someone who can play the killer pass from midfield to create clear chances in front of goal. Pym caught the eye with a series of superb saves, although thanks to a complete lack of protection from the officials he appeared vulnerable on crosses – but his decision making and distribution belies his youth. Wheeler is a colossus in the air and provided flair and energy, while in the first half in particular City’s midfield trio combined beautifully at times, Oakley in particular providing the benefit of his experience.
There is plenty to build on still, but there is definitely hope that City have enough in their locker – especially when the treatment room empties – to keep clear of the drop come season’s end.
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