Match report: Northampton 1 Exeter 0Exeter City lost 1-0 to a late Marc Richards goal at the hands of Northampton Town at Sixfields.
An open game saw chances at both ends, with City looking particularly potent in the first half but unable to beat Matt Duke in the Cobblers net.
Christy Pym was called upon on several occasions after the break and made a string of good saves as the hosts pushed forward, and City looked to have secured at least a point from the visit.
But the Exeter defence was breached a minute from the end when Richards volleyed in acrobatically to give Northampton all three points and send Exeter home empty-handed.
Youngster Matt Jay was handed his first start of the 2014/15 campaign, named alongside striker Graham Cummins in attack. Jay’s inclusion, replacing Aaron Dawson, was the only change to the Grecians’ starting XI, although Scot Bennett began back in the defensive ranks after his start as a forward against the Minstermen.
Meanwhile there were a few familiar names in the Northampton team, with ex-City player Chris Hackett starting and Lawson D’Ath among the subs.
The hosts provided the early threat and former Exeter man Hackett in particular found some space to work with. Released down the right, the winger got into the box to pull back for Emile Sinclair – the striker’s first-time shot was scuffed and then Christy Pym worked wonders to keep out Joel Byrom’s follow-up.
But Exeter soon showed their creative ability and Matt Grimes, who like Pym had been called up to England’s Under-20s earlier in the week, was pulling the strings in midfield.
It was he that showed clever feet to pick exploit space down the left and laid a ball for Jay to strike, but the teenager couldn’t quite get a clean contact from the edge of the area.
Jay and Grimes were again involved shortly after with some neat close-range passing – eventually the ball was worked to Liam Sercombe shoot as he cut in from the left flank, but it was straight at stopper Matt Duke.
The home support began to grow frustrated – the Cobblers were putting in incisive movement but weren’t pulling the trigger when chances presented themselves.
At the other end it was a smart ball with the outside of the right boot from Matt Oakley that allowed Cummins to control on the edge of the six-yard box, with his back to goal. The Irishman teed up Grimes, whose right-footed effort was blocked out.
An injury to Cobblers captain Lee Collins meant an enforced change on the half-hour mark; D’Ath came in and slotted in at right-back, with Tozer going to centre-half.
Exeter’s forward threat continued and Cummins, stepping off the left flank, lashed a right-footed effort but it missed the target by a distance. Soon after David Wheeler got up to the byline to deliver a fizzing cross into the centre for Cummins, and it was Zander Diamond whose touch needed a finger-tip over the bar from goalkeeper Duke.
Half-time: Northampton Town 0 Exeter City 0
The Cobblers missed a great chance to go ahead a minute after the break as Marc Richards got clear on the left and teed up Sinclair, who side-footed with power but without direction.
As Northampton continued pressing, it needed a strong header at the back stick from captain Scot Bennett to clear with a cross being floated in for Kaid Mohamed.
Stopper Pym had to beat his best to deny the Cobblers with a string of saves, keeping the game goalless as it entered the final 15 minutes.
First it was a tip onto the bar to deny Mohamed’s header that kept the Cobblers out, collecting well on the rebound.
Then when sub Ivan Toney rolled his man to get into the area, the 19-year-old had to stay big to keep out the youngster’s strike from ten yards with his legs.
The best of the lot came when Toney burnt clear on the left and pulled back for Mohamed – with seemingly the goal at his mercy, the midfield man was denied from six yards by a sprawling block from Pym to keep his sheets clean.
Hackett also tested the stopper from 25 yards with a shot on the spin, and it needed a strong right palm to turn the effort around the post.
Northampton looked the fresher in the final stages and continued to pour forward and put pressure on the Grecians’ box, with City looking to nick something at the other end.
And it was a late, late blow for Exeter when Tozer’s long throw was headed up rather than out, allowing Richards to bicycle-kick in the game’s only goal in the 89th minute.
Bennett went up top for stoppage time but it was to no avail as the Grecians were defeated at Sixfields.
Full-time: Northampton Town 1 Exeter City 0
Northampton Town: Duke; Tozer, Collins (D’Ath 31), Diamond, Robertson; Hackett, O’Toole (Ravenhill 78), Byrom, Mohamed; Sinclair (Toney 50), Richards.
Subs: Nicholls, Moyo, Archer, Roberts.
Exeter City: Pym; Wheeler (Dawson 75), Baldwin, Bennett, Woodman, Davies; Sercombe, Oakley, Grimes; Jay (Keohane 60); Cummins.
Subs: Hamon, Riley-Lowe, Tillson, Pope, Watkins.
Attendance: 4,053 (213 away).
Referee: Michael Bull