City will be hoping that their third playoff final in four seasons will be a happier occasion than the previous two visits to Wembley, where stage fright appeared to take hold in a pair of tepid performances. That was then, this is now, and Matt Taylor will hope to become just the fifth manager in City’s history to achieve promotion. Taylor rang the changes for the decisive second leg against Colchester, one enforced after Lee Martin’s early departure from the first leg, while Jack Sparkes, who also limped off in Essex, was on the bench. The other changes were Collins for Atangana and Maxted in for Ward – the latter remains a quandary for Taylor but Maxted’s save in the dying seconds of normal time will probably have persuaded the manager to keep him in for the final. It is not known yet who will be impacted, but given comments about a smaller squad next season it could well be that there are players taking the pitch on Monday who will be unemployed on Wednesday – although that equally applies to Northampton.
When City left the field exhausted but triumphant after their extra time win over Colchester they will no doubt have been thinking ahead to a match against Cheltenham. 2-0 up after the away leg, the side from Gloucestershire, who’d moved ahead of City after adjustment for points per game, were firm favourites to progress. They didn’t reckon on Northampton, though, who stormed out of the blocks on their way to a 3-0 win to book their place at Wembley. For Keith Curle the final may represent a chance to get some revenge over City following his Carlisle side’s late defeat in the 2017 semis. Northampton scraped into the playoffs despite being in relatively poor form when the regular season was scrapped, having won two and lost five of their last seven league fixtures. Nicky Adams will pull the strings in midfield, while Sam Hoskins and Vadaine Oliver present differing threats up front.
One of those two wins mentioned previously came in a fractious encounter with City in late February. Taking the lead through Oliver inside the first minute, Northampton resorted to Wycombe-esque tactics for the remainder of the game while City were toothless. The sight of midfielder Ryan Watson, whose “head injury” was so serious it stopped his legs working (twice) as he made his way at snail’s pace to the touchline, yet he’d recovered in time to play 90 minutes (and score) just three days later, was one such talking point, before Hoskins made the game safe late on from the penalty spot after a foul from Pierce Sweeney. Neutrals will be hoping for a match like the return at the Park back in December. The Cobblers again took the lead through Goode, but City stormed to a 3-1 lead through Williams, Aaron Martin and Fisher before Hoskins ensured a nervy finish later on by reducing the arrears.
City and Northampton have often been at the same level, meaning this fixture has been a regular occurrence. Northampton have a huge lead in league head to heads with 49 wins to City’s 29, 30 matches finishing level.
The match officials for this game are:
Referee: Michael Salisbury
Assistant referees: George Byrne & Matthew Jones
Fourth Official: Leigh Doughty
Michael Salisbury has taken charge of five Exeter games, the most recent being the away game at Bradford City where he sent off Jake Taylor and Tom Parkes (though Tom’s was later rescinded). Details of those games can be found at https://www.grecians.co.uk/wordpress/?s=Michael+Salisbury
Pre-match thoughts from Matt Taylor
Pre-match thoughts from Aaron Martin
Pre-match thoughts from Ryan Bowman