An uninspiring City display was punished by an early goal from Sam Hoskins and a late dagger from Patrick Brough as Northampton Town ran out 2-0 winners at St James Park.
After the elation of Tuesday night, the Grecians were brought back down to earth with a bump with a goal in each half, as they looked uncharacteristically sluggish in attack.
Manager Gary Caldwell named five changes from City’s midweek triumph over Luton Town with Vincent Harper, Pierce Sweeney, Reece Cole, Yanic Wildschut and Sonny Cox coming into the starting XI. Northampton Town came to St James Park in 18th position in the League One table, following a slow start to the season for The Cobblers.
The match opened with Northampton asking questions of the City defence with both initial attacks being diffused by a composed Alex Hartridge. City quickly retaliated with Zak Jules putting in, what is quickly becoming, one of his trademark runs down the left-wing. Shrugging off all challenging mint-green shirts, Jules drew a foul in a promising position for Cole to whip in one of his well-established trademark free kicks. The dead-ball was struck with venom but was unlucky not to find a City attacker.
20 minutes in Northampton took the lead via Hoskins. Shaun McWilliams slid Hoskins in behind the City defence leaving the Cobbler’s number seven in a one-on-one situation with Vil Sinisalo. Hoskins calmly played the ball through Sinisalo’s legs into the net and City found themselves behind. Not to be disheartened by going behind early, City continued to attack. Following a scramble in the Northampton penalty area, the clearance met Hartridge, who - with some fast-thinking - volleyed the ball to Wildschut. Wildschut was able to wriggle away from challenging defenders and get a low shot off, smothered by Lee Burge in goal.
There was not a lot of action to report on before the teams headed in at half-time. Jules continued to boost his progressive ball carrying stats, muscling his way through the Northampton midfield but to no avail as City struggled to find the final-ball to create a real chance.
The opening 15 minutes of the second-half was a scrappy affair. The ref was being lenient for both sides, allowing the game to flow when on another day it could have been very stop-start. The Cobblers had the best of the chances, generating a couple shots on target, fizzing into the palms of Sinisalo who kept City in the game. A frustrating afternoon for Grecians became a nervy one: As Akin Odimayo was shown a yellow for delaying a throw-in, some moments of individual defensive brilliance were required to keep the deficit to one.
Hartridge found himself faced by a stampede of four Cobblers but like a masterful shepherd, he herded the ball into his path and blocked the shot, ending the counter-attack. Sinisalo continued to put on a goalkeeping masterclass, denying a driven effort with his feet, before catching a powerful shot above his head like a scene from a superhero film. Whilst City were uninspiring going forward, Grecians can find solace in strong individual defensive performances, with the Finn in goal's man of the match showing perhaps a sign of the pressure the Cobblers put Caldwell's men under.
Going into the final ten minutes, City’s overhit passes and heavy touches continued to dampen any kind of attacking momentum they could garner. In the six minutes of given additional time, City continued to commit players forward, stringing together some intricate passes around the edge of the Northampton area without any look in at a final-ball.
City’s commitment to attack left them exposed at the back. Counter-attacking link-up play between Tyreece Simpson, Bowie and Brough left Sinisalo exposed at the back as the latter played the ball into an empty net, putting to bed any hopes of a late City comeback.
City have the chance to put things right on Tuesday when they head to Charlton Athletic, kick-off 7.45.
Exeter City: Sinisalo, Harper (Kite), Sweeney (Fitzwater), Aimson (C), Hartridge, Jules, Carroll, Cole, Taylor, Wildschut (Scott), Cox (Aitchison)
Unused subs: Woods, Borges, Richards
Northampton Town: Burge, Guthrie (C), Sherring, Hoskins (Monthe), Appere (Simpson), Pinnock, McWilliams (Fox), Bowie, Leonard, Odimayo (Lintott), Brough
Unused subs: Thompson (GK), McGowan, Haynes
Referee: Neil Hair
Attendance: 6,541 (365 away)