Exeter City fell to successive home defeats by suffering a 2-0 reverse at the hands of Northampton Town.
After Exeter saw plenty of chances come and go in the opening quarter of an hour, the scoring was opened at the other end by a close-range header from Marc Richards.
The scoring was completed just before the half-hour mark when former Bristol Rovers man John-Joe O’Toole was fed by ex-Exeter loanee Lawson D’Ath to hook in a second for the visitors.
Midfielder David Noble
returned to the starting XI for the Grecians for the fixture – his inclusion was the only change to the starting line-up, with Alex Nicholls beginning on the bench against his former club.
Within minutes of kick-off City had a great chance to take the lead – a smart ball infield from the left by Ryan Harley
was received by Tom Nichols
, and the striker left Lee Collins in his dust to go one-on-one with Matt Duke – but the big stopper just got a palm on the early side-footed effort to turn just a yard past the post.
Nichols again came within a whisker of opening the scoring as he was quickest to a ball over the top down the inside-left channel – he clipped a delicate shot over the head of Duke which dropped, agonisingly, a foot wide of the post.
Then when Nichols had another shot blocked by the body of Ryan Cresswell, Arron Davies
hit a dipping shot on the half-volley from 25 yards, which needed a fingertip save from Duke.
The Cobblers weren’t fashioning clear-cut chances in the opening stages, and Ricky Holmes’ shot from distance – which was high and wide – summed up City’s ability to keep the Cobblers attack out of the box.
But on 20 minutes, the Cobblers gobbled up their first chance of the afternoon to take the lead. Right-back Brendon Moloney saw a cross into the six-yard box glanced on by John-Joe O’Toole, and headed in at the back stick by Marc Richards.
Richards had a great chance to double his and Northampton’s tally for the afternoon as he intercepted James Hamon
’s goal-kick, which was meant for Craig Woodman
– but after sizing up a shot, the striker dragged his shot past the far post.
Striker Clinton Morrison tried to stop the visitors’ ascendency and got down the right to deliver a cross, but neither Nichols nor Ryan Harley
were able to get on the end of it.
The game wasn’t half an hour old when Northampton scored their second – it was a neat ball into the box by former Grecian Lawson D’Ath that allowed O’Toole to hook a right-footed shot on the turn, which nestled into the bottom corner on the far side.
Noble was the first name taken by referee Kevin Johnson, fouling Moloney, and from the resultant free-kick Joel Byrom clipped the roof of the net with a strike from a tight angle.
The game took a bit of an extended break when goalkeeper Hamon needed treatment after a melee in the area during a Cobblers corner. When play restarted, a forward burst from Christian Ribeiro
won a free-kick which Harley delivered – it was a touch too strong for any City players to get a touch.
Half-time: Exeter City 0 Northampton Town 2
Neither team made a change at the break, and City began the second period on the front-foot. Morrison did well in the left-hand channel to trap and turn a ball up from Woodman, and swung over a cross which needed clearing well.
D’Ath and O’Toole came close to combining again for the visitors as the midfielder got down the right to hang up a cross for forward O’Toole to head, but it hit the side-netting at the near post.
With half an hour remaining, Nicholls replaced Butterfield to add to the Grecians’ forward-line, with applause coming from all sides of the ground for the 27-year-old as he came on against his old club.
The forward had a great chance to register a second goal in City colours soon after coming on –near-namesake Nichols hung up a cross to the far post for Nicholls to attack, but the header only found the gloves of Duke.
and Graham Cummins
replaced Morrison and Nichols in attack at the midpoint of the second period, as manager Paul Tisdale introduced fresh legs into the front line.
City were finding it tough to pick holes in the Cobblers defence, and were almost made to pay after getting picked off upfield. O’Toole squared for Richards, who in turn tried to play a lay-off, but Davies was alive to cover well.
Nicholls – and the supporters in the Big Bank – were incensed when the forward appeared to be brought down in the box by former teammate Collins, but the referee shook his head at the penalty appeals.
Holmes missed a chance to sew up the three points with a third goal for the Cobblers after being released on the left by sub Emile Sinclair – he struck over on the outside of his right boot.
The wasted chance mattered little – City showed endeavour but were unable to breach a stubborn Cobblers defence, as the visitors held on for a win.
Full-time: Exeter City 0 Northampton Town 2
Hamon; Ribeiro, Butterfield (Nicholls 59), Oakley, Woodman; Davies, Sercombe, Harley, Noble; Nichols (Wheeler 66), Morrison (Cummins 66).
Unused subs: Pym, Bennett, Moore-Taylor, Keohane.
Duke; Moloney, Cresswell, Collins, Horwood; D’Ath, Taylor, Byrom, Holmes; O’Toole (Sinclair 77), Richards (Hackett 87).
Unused subs: Snedker, Carter, Tozer, Hornby, Warburton.
Goals: Richards (19), O’Toole (28).
Attendance: 3,519 (201 away).
Referee: Kevin Johnson